Symposium: Social Forces Revisited
Friday, December 2, 2011

This major symposium covered topics as diverse as the role of social documentary both in the progressive era and the contemporary moment, the history of social work, and how contemporary public policy is shaping the evolution of urban America.

The first part explored historical perspectives on social work. This session examined Progressive-era campaigns in the realm of social welfare, the tensions and common ground among different human service organizations, and the multiple strains of social work in the 20th century.

A second section on community activism and media addressed how charity and welfare organizations since the progressive era have used various media (photography, lantern slides, film, journals, newspapers, etc.) as "social publicity" as well as pedagogical tools to engage all members of the community (including those underprivileged groups the organizations sought to aid) to take personal and political action.

Professor Michael Katz provided a keynote address titled "From Underclass to Entrepreneur: New Technologies of Poverty Work in Urban America" that stems from work on his new book Why Don’t American Cities Burn, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. In the 1980s and 1990s, research and writing on urban poverty were dominated by the idea of "underclass," a euphemism for poor black people in the nation's cities. Underclass was a variant of a pathological model of poverty inherent in the centuries' old idea of the undeserving poor—an idea that saw poverty rooted more in behavior than in lack of income and work. Now, the underclass idea is used infrequently. It has been replaced in part by what I call four new technologies of poverty work. Four distinct if overlapping market-based strands are braided through poverty work: rebuilding markets in inner cities, microfinance, asset-building, and conditional cash transfers. This lecture sketches their emergence.

Session on historical perspectives on social work
Panelists: Professor Gertrude Goldberg, Adelphi School of Social Work; Professor Michael Reisch, University of Maryland, Baltimore; Ethan Sribnick, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Children, Poverty, & Homelessness; Professor Daniel Walkowitz, NYU
Moderator: Professor Barbara Simon, Columbia University School of Social Work

Session on documentary photography
Panelists: Professor Susie Linfield, NYU; Professor Maren Stange, Cooper Union; Professor Terri Weissman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Moderator: Professor Elizabeth Hutchinson, Professor of Art History, Columbia University and Barnard College

Keynote Address: "From Underclass to Entrepreneur: New Technologies of Poverty Work in Urban America," Michael Katz, University of Pennsylvania