Seminar Description and Objectives:

Beginning in the late 1980s, a general mood of urgency swelled around the growing concentration and persistence of poverty in inner-city America. Scholars, policymakers, and practitioners on the front lines noted with alarm that many of the problems seen in distressed urban communities seemed virtually intractable and non-responsive to conventional policy and program approaches.

This conundrum was especially aptly described by sociologist William Julius Wilson in his seminal book, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, where he noted that, “unlike the present period [1980s], inner-city communities prior to 1960 exhibited the features of social organization -- including a sense of community, positive neighborhood identification, and explicit norms and sanctions against aberrant behavior.”
Today, the profound economic dislocation, increased rates of crime and incarceration, along with the simultaneous emergence of an underground economy that Wilson and other urban policy researchers highlighted have severely altered the cohesion of inner-city communities.

This seminar then, is a critical introduction to some of the most pressing -- and contentious -- issues concerning the nation’s inner-cities today: the nature, origins, and persistence of ghetto poverty; racial residential segregation and affordable public housing; social organization, civic life, and political participation; crime and incarceration rates and prisoner re-entry; marriage and family structure; adolescent street culture and its impact on social mobility; women and poverty; labor force participation and economic dislocation; entrepreneurship and inner-city revitalization; as well as broader questions regarding social and economic inequality.

In addition, we will critically examine a number of the most pressing issues confronting the neighboring inner-city communities of Chester and Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD; we conclude by exploring the utility of “social capital” to address the long-standing problems plaguing distressed urban communities.