April Swanson

UP 260

Professor Salo

17 November 2013

Writing Assignment #5: Margaret Kohn and Chimamanda Adichie

In Margaret Kohn’s essay, Public Space in the Progressive Era, Kohn tackles significant differences between the Olmstedian vision and the progressive approach to public space.  She states that while the former provided cultural sites of social interaction that were aimed towards improving the lives of the poor and working class, it was the latter that not only fostered these spaces for more sustained social interactions between people of differing backgrounds, but also provided the social learning of both the working and elite populations. The progressive approach therefore accomplishes something the Olmstedian vision does not. It does not utilize public space to solely expose the working class to middle-class values but rather to encourage mutual understanding between these groups. She examines the paternalism of elites as an example of how the Olmstedian approach did not question existing power relations. Instead, this view leads to misconceptions and prejudices of the working class that greatly hinders any meaningful interactions between them and the middle class. Chimamanda Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story reflects on these power relations. She uses personal narratives of her life growing up in Nigeria to point to the ideas of development in Africa as compared to the United States. She uses these ideas to present the shortcomings of society’s elites in understanding the world outside of their own, as Kohn does in explaining how the Olmestedian paternalistic tendencies toward the working class undermines their ability to participate cooperatively.

          The progressive approach claims that it is not exposure to difference that alleviates the prejudices of society, but the engagement of difference that promotes inclusiveness. The Olmsted vision, which relied on simply supplying the physical environment for the working class to experience a middle class way of life, did not provide the tools for long-term engagement between the two. This is what Kohn deems so important about the Progressive era theory. She claims that this approach understands that the value of diversity can only be fully employed in the context of shared goals and interdependence (Hayward & Swanstrom 98). While the Olmsted vision produced public parks that were sites of imitation rather than cooperation and interaction, progressives like Jane Addams were able to capture social differences for the benefit of both the working and middle classes. Public parks utilized space for the moral improvement of the working class. However, this engagement went only in a single direction. Public parks served to assimilate the working class into middle class ideals of contemplation and family time. It was the progressive approach that used difference to its full advantage.  Initiatives such as the Jane Addam’s Hull House other settlement houses were considered more inclusive approaches to improving the lives of the poor because they valued participatory democracy. These places brought together immigrants and professionals to discuss solutions to local problems and were environments that cultivated the benefits of leisure and play, much unlike public parks which were supposed to be utilized for their aesthetic benefits. Just as progressives warned Olmstedian visioners against their single track, middle-class biased approach to social improvement, Adichie argues the same danger applies to the western-biased single stories we are fed concerning the reality of the world outside the Western hemisphere.

Progressive thought allows individuals to capture connections with others that we otherwise render so impossible to connect in open space. Adichie says that in order to make these connections, we need to structure society so that it that stresses the importance of exploring differences which are often uncovered in naïve understandings of the world. Throughout her talk, Adichie paints us a narrative of her life as a Nigerian girl. She explains the danger of a single story through many experiences of her young life. Starting with the books she was so engrossed with as a child, she notes that the only books that were available to her were of stories in Western settings, of European and American characters whose lives seemed to be very different than her own but very homogenous across her readings. Through her experience with books, she unconsciously generated a single story of the Western culture. By the same nature, Adichie’s American roommate was unconsciously conditioned to believe a closed view of African culture, one that was only presented to her with a strong Western-bias. She proposes that the most accepted ways of thinking often are often constructs of superior ideology. Her assimilation into American society was hindered by the prejudiced views her roommate and other American’s held of her and her seemingly “underdeveloped, third world” home. She believes single stories generate prejudice and inequality, obstructing the potential for cooperation and social intercourse between people of differing backgrounds (Hayward & Swanstrom 86). Much like how the Olmsted vision for public space only allows privileged values to impact the broader society, Adichie claims that the danger of the one sided story is that it prohibits the inclusion of the voice that it suppresses.

Kohn’s argument on the need for public spaces is rooted in efforts of community organizations to promote an inclusive urban environment. While outlining the differences between the two schools of thought, Kohn suggests that the spatial design is imperative to the success of a participatory democracy. While the Olmsted missioners focused on efforts to increase public park space, the progressive movement constructed public spaces that were more conducive to the economic, social, and political needs of a variety of people. By structuring social space to be more inclusive of the entire economic and social spectrum, these development projects can have more positive affects for everyone. Access to semi-public conveniences such as libraries, galleries, and community centers fosters intimate forums for debate and sociability between all groups and demographics. Compared to public parks and open spaces, which themselves do not provide the necessary tools for community participation and improvement, public space in the progressive era addresses the needs, assets, and culture in the communities and contexts in which they exist.

The reciprocal relationships that progressive public spaces cultivate also produce benefits for the multiple parties involved. These spaces challenge the dominant conceptions of democracy. Democracy requires uprooting racial, gender, class, and other prejudices through meaningful personal relations. Much like having many different voices come together under the structure of a more inclusive and democratic social space, different voices come together to create the structure for a more inclusive society. Chimamanda Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story points to the importance of a variety of voices by addressing the limitations of single narratives as excluding the alternate side to a story. The design and allocation of public space for collaborative projects and organizations dismantles existing power struggles and prejudices. Differences can only be rendered valuable under the foundations of a space that promotes a healthy, mutual benefaction between the two.


Works Cited

Hayward, Clarissa R. & Swanstrom, Todd. Justice and the American Metropolis. Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.


Discussion Questions

1.      Are there always common patterns of social response in similar types of public space?

2.      Do you think they success of inclusive social efforts is more successful in collectivist societies compared to individualist societies?



April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

05 November 2013

Critical Response #4: Thick Injustice in Champaign-Urbana

Thick injustice refers to the unjust “power relations” that are deeply embedded in the social structure of contemporary America. This injustice lies deep below the surface of the urban metropolis and is often difficult to see because it is rendered invisible in physical space, has historical roots, and has connections to local governance. Thick injustice is presented through these three mechanisms; however, these traits blur the existence of injustice as a serious issue facing the American metropolis.

To introduce these traits of thick injustice further, place for instance, causes injustice to thicken when it is concealed from the view of the elite. The privileged are therefore desensitized are largely unaware of this thick injustice built into society. This also occurs as a result of the commonly accepted but fabricated belief of personal preference when it comes to public residential choices. This view does not expose the factors that cause people to dwell in the areas of residence that they do and in a sense naturalizes unjust power relations between social classes. History is an interesting facet of modern thick injustice as well because although unjust legal doctrines discriminating against race and gender were eliminated mostly as a result of the civil rights movement, these historic acts of discrimination have molded current urban policies to have biased outcomes. Institutions also have a profound impact on the workings of thick injustice and its impermeability. The shifting institutional structure of America from a state centralized government to a decentralized system of smaller local governments working with private organizations may seem fairly democratic on the surface. One might think that this structure opens more opportunities for citizens to become involved in their local community. When one delves beneath the surface, however, it is difficult to assign responsibility for injustice and inequality among these smaller but more numerous actors, in turn creating an institution that is unresponsive to social issues.

In Champaign-Urbana, efforts have been made to uncover the thick injustice both on and off campus. After attending several Planners Network meetings, I became aware of one of the current main goals of the organization. The Planners Network, a student based organization, has been collaborating to fight against the Champaign County’s budget proposal to include 20 million dollars for expanding the existing county jail. The Planners Network, through bimonthly meetings of the organization, has been successful in disseminating information concerning this serious issue to students on campus interested in urban social justice. The biggest success is that through all the effort put forth by these social justice advocates, the County Board decided to halt the proposal entirely and have complied to allocate $200,000 for the funding of social programs.

The Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ), is a local organization led by citizens of the Champaign-Urbana community has also been involved in the recent missions to mobilize the public to resist the current county budget proposal. The organization is firmly committed to allocating these funds to preventative measures instead of jail expansion and believes that these alternative measures will resist the injustice that mass incarceration creates.  This group and the Planners Network have been in accordance with local government by frequently attending Champaign County Board meetings in order to cease the jail expansion proposal. Both organizations note that this is a local instance of the nation-wide trend toward mass incarceration. They believe that it is important to take action because it is an institutionalized mechanism that targets the already blighted demographics of a larger society. These community activists have presented preventive solutions to this institution in lieu of the continuation of the prison pipeline that mainly affects low-income minorities. This is especially true of the current Champaign county jail facility in which 60% of prison inmates are African-American, although this demographic comprises only 12% of the population of Champaign (Dolinar, 2012). These organizations have been informants of other stark statistical realities concerning this issue. In the Planners Network meetings that I have attended, it has been presented that a large majority of the people in the Champaign jail are detained as a result of traffic violations. Although the jail enforces maximum security which has drained tax payer dollars in the county, the CUCPJ and the Planners Network has argued for minimum security facilities for those with minor, non-violent violations in order to conserve tax payer dollars for social services including but not limited to job training, youth education, and re-entry programs. Although the Planners Network and the CUCPJ have been successful in publicizing the county proposal that would have otherwise gone largely unnoticed by community members and students alike, the real goal of these organizations was to not only expose the injustice in mass incarceration but to reverse the trend and empower those who have already been swept up into the system and those who are riding precariously close.

Place is an important aspect of the thick injustice generated by mass incarceration as well. Champaign is a small town in East-Central Illinois and is primarily affiliated with the University of Illinois. The university campus, however, is vastly contrasted to the outskirts of the town and even more so with the rest of Champaign county. The campus is situated in the very center of the county’s boarders and is a concentrated hub of student facilities, tight-knit residences, commercial centers, and night life entertainment. The university campus is a place that has an ascribed social meaning that is determined by those who inhabit it: students. In a way, campus itself is a lived experience that hides the injustice in mass incarceration that occurs mainly outside of its boundaries. Students, who can be seen as the privileged demographic of the town, become desensitized to their surrounding community outside of campus. Place thickens injustice when it hides it away and causes unjust power relations to become obscure (Hayward & Swanstrom, 2011). The CUCPJ and the Planners Network are committed to bringing mass incarceration and it’s prevalence in the local community to the forefront of students concerns. Both organizations deem it important to be integrated in the community outside of campus and by attending County Board meetings, privileged students strengthen the voice of the less powerful.

The historical context of the issue makes this injustice thick as well. This is apparent in the structure of the legal and political institutions of local governance that has shaped current relations of power in the Champaign area. In decades past, minorities have been outright discriminated against through legal practices and although these injustices have been eliminated in law, they are still deeply embedded in contemporary society. In Champaign especially, there is a certain hierarchy prevalent that grants power to some and affliction to others. Historically, African-Americans were not allowed to attend the University of Illinois and today, they constitute a small minority of the student population. Very few African-American Champaign residents end up attending the university because the low-income population of the town consists of these citizens. Instead of receiving higher education, these low-income residents are targeted for their economic standing; increasingly their inability to pay off traffic violations that turn into larger infringements, causing many to become imprisoned. This has caused Champaign officials to propose the building of more jail cells for the county, a continuation of the injustices of mass incarceration. This proposal is not neutral in its effects because it has disproportionate effects on non-violent community members who cannot pay off their minor infractions. This illustrates the connection between historical amnesia and thick injustice of racial and class discrimination (Hayward & Swanstrom, 2011). The CUCPJ and the Planners Network work to dissolve the hierarchy that stands between the citizens of the Champaign area and the justice that is inherently deserved to them. Just because the local laws are not outright discriminatory does not undermine the power disparity highlighted by Champaign’s interests in mass incarceration. Although the current generation of students attending the university did not experience the Jim Crow era, efforts are being made to uncover the injustices that still lie below the surface.

Local groups comprised of student and community residences, including the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice and the Planners Network have worked to exercise social justice at a local level. As nation-wide trends of mass incarceration continue to spiral out of control, the Champaign County has been no exception. Efforts made by both of these organizations to reverse this trend have caused the County Board to reconsider the social injustices caused by mass incarceration. These organizations have challenged a larger institution, the Champaign County Board, on the injustices ingrained in physical place which has been a result of governmental interest in mass incarceration and its connection to historical discrimination. Both community residents and students were able to become leaders in halting a massive continuation towards social inequality and were successful in uncovering thick injustice by determining responsibility and motivating collective action.


Works Cited

Hayward, Clarissa R. & Todd Swantrom. Justice and the American Metropolis. Minneapolis,

MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.

Dolinar. CU Citizens for Peace & Justice, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.


Discussion Questions

  1. Is a collapse of the status quo and social disorder often the first step in reversing thick injustice?
  2. To what extent can we attribute thick injustice to personal preference? Although it is not the best approach in explaining injustice, how does the socialization play a role? I am thinking about University Housing and how Florida Avenue Residence became affiliated with the black student community and how the university chooses students to live in each residence?

April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

29 September 2013

Critical Review #3

Not only is the United States home to the highest incarceration rates around the globe, but is also increasingly plagued by what is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. This system of education and public policies has both directly and indirectly funneled countless students from their seats in the classroom to a life behind iron bars. Students are forced out of their elementary, middle, and high schools for minor offenses that would have traditionally been handled by administration staffed by the school. Particularly after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, many zero-tolerance policies have been adopted (Amurao, 2013). This shift in administration is targeted at public schools, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods and including a large proportion of children who are of historically suppressed identities, namely African American boys and children with disabilities (Amurao, 2013). The historical and social groundwork of these victimized areas perpetuates the lack of opportunity these children have at a democratic education.  Deregulation and lack of investment in public education are markers of neoliberal ideology that have helped to fuel the increase in inequality among American children and their access to pursue an education.

Historical inequalities in the United States education system heavily impact how school faculty and law enforcers deal with children of varying socioeconomic and racial backgrounds both within and between schools in modern America. Areas of heavily concentrated poverty are susceptible to the prison pipeline. The students that attend schools in these areas are not seen as fit to serve positions as human capital for the prevailing neoliberal system (Giroux, 2012).  These children tend to score low on the standardized tests that are implemented to manufacture the generation that will fill the ranks in corporate America, sucking the education system dry of a democratic right to education. As more school mentors, social workers, and counselors are laid-off because of severe budget cuts, disabled students and those from troubled backgrounds are unable to attain the necessary resources to become successful students. The neoliberal concepts imbedded in the national education sector do not allow this demographic to succeed beyond what is expected. African American students also tend to receive harsher punishments than white students for the same misconducts in school (Amurao, 2013). These disciplinary issues are also increasingly conducted by law officials than by social workers and school administration. African-American students originating from low-income families often come from neighborhoods where the alternative to school is the streets and eventually the jail cell. As schools around the nation close and become privatized because of insufficient funds allotted for education within city and statewide budgets, children of these neighborhoods become greatly influenced by their destructive environment. Through school closings often caused by privatization, these children are even more likely to be thrown in jail for offences on the street. That is, if they already have not been imprisoned in juvenile detention centers for a minor offence made in school.

It is no surprise that many zero-tolerance policies have been formed, as states are investing more in constructing and sustaining prison facilities than in the education of children. The neoliberal framework ensures that a capitalist society be maintained through accumulation of profit (Giroux, 2012). Advocates of neoliberal policies are more concerned with filling prison cells than classroom seats. Investment is not given to low-income students in the form of educational resources that help to blossom them into powerful adults; rather the investment is given to what they are more predisposed to become: prisoners.  These zero-tolerance policies do not allow school officials to work with mildly troubled students, who would probably otherwise be easily integrated young citizens. Instead, these policies cause high rates of suspensions and expulsions in certain inferior demographics. A white child, for example, would more likely be dismissed from any punishment that would hinder their completion of school than would an African-American. These equity issues cause more low-income, minority children to become suspended or expelled eventually leading to an overall increase in drop-out rates. The schools most affected by these statistics are the first to close. (NAACP, 2013).

As Alan Goodman stated in his Race is a Myth, Racism is Real lecture given at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom, race is a cultural construct and there is no biological basis for its reasoning. It is society that builds inequalities between people on the basis of historical hierarchies and in this case it is the neoliberal society that dismisses the largely African American lower class youth of their right to a fruitful education. This culturally appropriated “inferior” race does in fact carry the capitalist society on its back. These inferior children are funneled from the classroom to prisons in order to generate an exorbitant sum of profit for mainly private hands of a higher valued race. Similarly in pre-Civil War times, African Americans were considered the foundation of the United States economy, as it thrived and sustained itself on plantation slavery. The current movement of children from schools to prisons is a parallel situation of the modern day racial hierarchy that targets many innocent youth, preventing them from grasping their supposed equal right to education.

The No More Jails in Champaign campaign is a local initiative raised by concerned activists called the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ). This campaign was developed to fight the construction of a new twenty million dollar prison in the Champaign County. Mass incarceration has not only deepened its presence on a national level, but specifically in the Champaign area of Central Illinois as well. Not only are its advocates concerned with discouraging the county budget from including over twenty million dollars to be spent on a new prison facility, but they are adamant about reforming the budget to include funding for preventative programs such as investment in education. If education fails to become a priority of the government, citizens dealing with this same issue will continue to be ravaged by neoliberal policies that are unconcerned with welfare programs and more concentrated on turning a profit through mass incarceration. These programs and are actually preventative methods that keep unwarranted citizens out of prisons. Shifting the focus to improving education can be crucial in reversing the current school-to-prison pipeline.

The inequality generated by neoliberal policies has forced many schools to close, privatize, and militarize their policies as well. Primarily minority and disabled students are targeted as many schools around the nation adopt zero-tolerance policies that increase suspension and expulsion rates. Law enforcement presence in schools is becoming more wide-spread as privatized prison facilities are hungry for more students, particularly those originating from low-income households. The historical and social groundwork of the communities susceptible to the school-to-prison pipeline is perpetuating a whole generation of young citizens who cannot grasp the reigns of upward social mobility. Seen on a national and local level, this social inequality in the education system is created by neoliberal policies that undermine the abilities of thousands of misunderstood children.

Works Cited

Amurao, Carla. Fact Sheet: How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline? PBS: Tavis Smiley

Reports. 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/education-under-arrest/school-to-prison-pipeline-fact-sheet/

Giroux, Henry. Henry A. Giroux: Can Democratic Education Survive in a Neoliberal Society?

Truthout. 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12126-can-democratic-education-survive-in-a-neoliberal-society

School to Prison Pipeline. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  2013. Web. 29 Sept.

2013. http://www.naacpldf.org/case/school-prison-pipeline


 Discussion Questions

  1. Are there any other large causes of the education crisis in America aside from neoliberal policies or does it all stem from this ideology?
  2. It seems as if though education in America would be heavily invested in because children are the future generators of all the profit for the nation, how does neoliberalism justify its adverse effects on the economic situations of thousands of capable children?


April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

22 September 2013

Critical Review #2

            Neoliberalism although successful in theory, has created severe repercussions for the lower and middle-class citizens it fails to empower. This political and economic philosophy mainly accepted by American political conservatives has driven the wealth of the United States into the hands of very few people who rest at tip of our capitalist society. The ideals of the free-market prized by neoliberalists are all-inclusive, however, power in reality is granted to those who are most able and affluent. The core of neoliberalism advocates for the domination of the market, works to reduce government spending for social services, and privatizes as many public goods as possible (Martinez and Garcia). As a result of neoliberal policies, the gap between wealthy corporate society and the working poor, particularly in American society has loomed large. We can see the connection these policies have to the stark inequality that resides in our local communities on topics of incarceration, food assistance programs, and immigrant rights.

Prison rates in the United States are the highest among all nations of the world. It is no coincidence that this social issue is rooted in a society dominated by the neoliberal doctrine. Prisons all around the nation, along with other formerly state owned enterprises have become privatized. Because United States prisons work under the framework of a corporate system, they are heavily based on profit and accumulation. The only way prisons in the United States can operate is if the cells maintain occupancy. Therefore, mass incarceration is not due to criminal insecurities, but by the prison system’s profit insecurity (Wacquant, 2010). The No More Jails in Champaign County campaign and its proposal to stop Champaign County from building another 20 million dollar prison is a rally for equality. Mass incarceration, specifically in this Central Illinois town, is due to many mild crimes such as minor traffic violations which are written up to fulfill a given quota. Many of those incarcerated for such crimes were unable to pay off the fines of the initial violations which then led to warrants and eventually their arrests. This inequality continues even after many of these prisoners leave the institution. Because re-entry employment and housing programs are not in favor by our neoliberal economy, countless former prisoners cannot sustain and improve their position after their release.

A recent cutback in funding for a major welfare program, The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), is a serious tactic of American House conservatives to decrease government expenditures (Krugman, 2013). Although the recession ceased in 2009, enrollment for this particular program has almost doubled in the past six years alone (Krugman, 2013). After this economic crash, very few people at the upper end of the income distribution have been able to financially restore themselves while the majority of lower income earners have actually continued to slide down this distribution. The neoliberal policies that have fueled this slash in government spending have also had an impact on who has the ability to climb the social ladder when these programs are unavailable. Decreasing assistance to this large chunk of society will have serious consequences for demographics including but not limited to single mothers and the disabled. These groups are largely unable to better their living situations through a neoliberal social structure. Without programs like these, the portion of society hit the hardest will not be able to attain an average quality of life, nevertheless be able to strive beyond the restrictions of a neoliberal society.

Neoliberal politics strengthen the rights of the most fortunate of society, mainly white men who claim generations of family members made their millions investing in stocks, passing down the family wealth to their predecessors. Neoliberalism mutilates the rights of those on the opposite end of the spectrum: poor immigrants. Inequalities in education, housing, and healthcare are buried here, bearing great consequences for those who come from overseas to seek light at the end of the neoliberal tunnel. Immigrants are without a doubt integrated into the capitalist framework favored by neoliberalism. Immigrants fill positions that many natives are not willing to accept, therefore, immigrants provide the foundation of cheap labor for the wealth to accumulate at the tip of the hierarchy (Serra, 2013). These people are able to find jobs they might not necessarily find back in their home nations but they are exploited by the system that neoliberalism supports. Immigrants fill the vacancy in a neoliberal society with cheap labor and are unable to climb to even the middle of the capitalist pyramid. Worker’s rights are phased out by private enterprises and wages and unions are sacrificed (Martinez and Garcia). Education programs for immigrants are also unavailable and as tuition for post-secondary education continues to rise, only those who can afford higher education and those who are eligible for student loans are able to grasp these opportunities. Neoliberal societies fail to assimilate immigrants into higher society and refuse to provide them with basic public goods that only those of higher classes have private access to (Serra, 2013).

The unregulated economy prized by neoliberalism works to help the economy flourish at the expense of majority of social groups. Only very few who are fortunate to sit upon their continuous returns established by generations of socially superior ancestors are able to reap the benefits of a free-market economy. As the income gap widens due to neoliberal policies, society is likely to experience a shrinking middle-class, an expanding lower-class, and majority of the nation’s wealth inflating among a few elite. Free-market economies create an imbalance of power, generating differences among race, class, gender, ethnic background, among many other distinctions. The main goals of the neoliberal school of thought are free-market domination, reduction in government spending for social and welfare services, and to morph many public domains into private spheres (Martinez and Garcia). The acceptance of neoliberalism and its ideals promotes an individualistic work ethic over collective social union (Haddis, 2010). Neoliberal politics have constructed a two-tier society in which inequality is presented as the norm and a huge divergence in humanity has created excessive social unrest among the majority of its subjects.










Works Cited

Haddis, Mekonen. The role Of Neo-Liberalism, in widening the income gap between

the rich and the poor. Political Snapshots. 5 Jun. 2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/the-role-of-neo-liberalism-in-widening-the-income-gap-between-the-rich-and-the-poor/>

Krugman, Paul. Free to Be Hungry. The New York Times: The Opinion Pages. 22 Sept 2013.

Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/opinion/krugman-free-to-be-hungry.html?hp>

Martinez, Elizabeth and Garcia, Arnoldo. What is Neoliberalism: A Brief Definition for Activists.

CorpWatch. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376>

Serra, Benjamin. Neoliberalism: Immigration’s number one enemy. The Prisma: The

Multicultural Newspaper. 3 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.theprisma.co.uk/2013/02/04/neoliberalism-immigration%E2%80%99s-number-one-enemy/>

Wacquant, Loıc. Crafting the Neoliberal State: Workfare, Prisonfare, and Social Insecurity.

Sociological Forum. Jun. 2010. Web PDF. 22 Sept 2013.




Discussion Questions

  1. What cases in history has neoliberal implementation seen relatively low levels of inequality? Where was there little inequality and where was there more?
  2. Would the founding fathers of the U.S. constitution think protection from government is a way to achieve equality?  

April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

15 September 2013

Critical Review #1

There are many divisions among various dimensions in society. Social conflict is rooted in race, class, gender, age, and countless other categories that we may find ourselves born into or in which society places us along our human journey. As our world has transitioned from a hunter-gatherer society based on reciprocity to a largely industrial and post-industrial society governed by profit and accumulation, social inequality has burrowed itself into contemporary society. The sociological approach to understanding urban inequalities acknowledges that inequality is grounded in patterns that arise from groups of people, not solely the individual. It is the social context and structural factors that shape individual choices. Despite differences among theorists, there is no doubt we live in a more globalized world as a result of differences that have historically divided us and followed us into contemporary society.

The parameters of inequality are rather arbitrary. As the repercussions of inequality have become more prevalent in society, there has been an important system created by the United Nations in the Human Development Report to measure income, wealth, and overall well-being. This approach is comprehensive in the sense that it seeks raw data in addition to income to measure inequality in multiple areas (Sernau 2014). The Human Development Index was developed to capture a more accurate snapshot of a nation’s well-being in three major areas: income, health, and education. Such an approach is important to investigate which particular sector a nation is excelling or needs improvement in. For instance, one may presume the United States has high life expectancy at birth compared to most other nations because of the seemingly available resources to its citizens. However, the Human Development Report shows that in 2011, the United States life expectancy at birth was only 78.5 years old, keeping it at the bottom of the list of nations with overall very high human development. This may not be attributed to general lifestyle trends like obesity, but more alarmingly because of unequal access to health care and preventative measures for infant and child death among minority populations. In order to pursue possible solutions to inequalities like this, an in-depth consideration for the major challenges facing development and equality are necessary to consider and the Human Development Report is a great takeoff point.

The Human Development Report not only helps to highlight significant statistics of a nation as an individual unit, but it also is a major resource to aid in comparing and contrasting between nations. Although this double divide is made visible by the raw numbers generated by the report, it fails to tell the whole story of a nation’s history of inequality and where it stems from. Historically, the colonization of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and ultimately the Americas had an immediate effect on inequality between nations. The colonizers defeated local supremacy by extinguishing indigenous rulers, controlling a middle-class by offering limited education, and enforcing a strong labor institution (Cogneau, Guenard 2003).  Generally, the Europeans created malfunctioned capitalist institutions and disrupted social patterns by laying the groundwork for a more unequal society. By embarking below the surface of modern day inequalities, we can allow ourselves to see who and what may be to blame for underdevelopment and inequality.

The other side to this double divide looks at the gap within nations rather than between them. At the local level, St. Louis, Missouri is a prime example that we can consider. In recent times, East St. Louis has been isolated from the rest of the surrounding communities due to economic and social distress, but East St. Louis once began as a thriving economic center of the nation. New railroads and infrastructure allowed East St. Louis to thrive as an industrial and commercial hub and was one of the nation’s fastest growing cities from the 1890s until roughly the 1920s (Baugher, Timlin, and Child, 1995). At this time, political corruption and labor frustrations were mounting and race riots began. Large corporations began settling outside of the limits of East St. Louis and devastated the local economy, in turn causing a wave of “white flight.” Now East St. Louis is home to some of the sickest children in America due to malfunctioning sewage disposal and emissions and spillage from nearby plants (Kozol, 1991). A strong majority of children are born to single mothers and the high crime area has allowed violence to be perpetuated throughout the generations (Kozol, 1991). Neighboring St. Louis communities of primarily non-minority population’s experience a starkly different world only miles away and do not travel to East St. Louis. This example is one of many instances of inequality within nations and local communities. Environmental factors such as the closing of local businesses reveal the inequality already cemented in society and explain why areas as devastated as East St. Louis never seem to rebound from hard times.

Several important theorists have constructed ideas concerning the questions of inequality. The modernization school of thought attacked traditionalism and attributed poverty to traditional outlooks, technologies, and institutions (Sernau, 2014). Majority in contemporary academic circles have rejected this theory. This may not be the most comprehensive approach because it does not follow the more widely accepted Kuznet Curve phenomenon illustrating that as societies have moved toward industrial production, their level of inequality has tended to increase. Many nations who have modernized by the help of outsourced jobs are still falling victim to inequality because of the low wages they acquire compared to domestic labor. Approaching inequality through the lens of modernization may not give full consideration to underdeveloped societies that have difficulty adjusting to a modern political and economic system.

The counterargument to modernization approaches inequality from its conflict issues. The dependency theory claims poor countries rely on wealthier countries and as a result face exploitation, domination, and economic malfunctions (Sernau 2014). This theory explains that the system under which poor countries fail to work is because these areas have not been able to resist domination. Poor countries have acted as puppets for generations because of the history of the relationship between them and their colonizers.

Another approach, neoliberalism, has taken the reins as the most accepted, particularly in the United States. This approach also promotes more modern ideas but specifically holds a strong emphasis on a free-market economy to attain prosperity. The key neoliberalism ideal of the free-market economy can be used as a framework to reverse inequality. However, many people contend that when neoliberalism is put in practice, it often times favors the elite. Tax cuts for the rich and opposition to government welfare programs are common because neoliberalism favors minimal governmental interference with the free-market (Sernau, 2014). Brazil in the 1990s is an example of a case where neoliberalism ideals prevailed and inequality grew deeper. Although investments were stimulated, privatization skyrocketed and Brazil ultimately saw itself as a capitalist nation (Smith, 2012). Although many neoliberalists pride themselves on advocating for equal opportunity, it is important to consider who has access to this opportunity. The neoliberalism approach helps us to consider that economic structure is a vital part of equality.  However, there is more for us to understand about those in society that cannot attain this far-fetched opportunity. To successfully establish the free-market system, it may be necessary to improve on neoliberalism ideals by providing the practical groundwork for the impoverished to become incorporated into economic society.

The modern global economy is also no stranger to inequality generated by globalization. Although the world economy has grown more integrated, there are extensive implications for the overall well-being of citizens among various statuses. Largely through the outsourcing of jobs due to the attractiveness of cheap labor to wealthy consumer countries, many nations have seen a wave of prosperity they have never seen before. However, this wealth of cheap labor is incomparable to the accumulation of the companies for which they work for. In nations such as India and Mexico, which have been great players in this global field, there have been several important advantages of globalization such as an increasing middle-class. However, this has come at the price of much economic exploitation and domination. Large corporations have been allowed to thrive on their profits, while many over-seas families are now surprisingly content with their meager daily earnings. The issue raised here is whether or not globalization is socially sustainable. The future of these patterns relies heavily on support from nations like India and Mexico. As the wealth gap increases, it will be left up to these nations if this limiting prosperity is worth the social repercussions.

Contemporary inequalities have been heavily influenced by the history that has been imprinted in modern society. As social inequality is continually dissected and understood, it is important to look at the ideals and theories behind the divide in society and decide in which areas they are helpful and in which they are not. Since inequality is rather arbitrary, constructing methods to measure well-being is important. Delving into the history both between and within societies aids in constructing a more comprehensive background than raw numbers of income and wealth. By understanding the traditional relationships between nations, it is easier to consider their contemporary ties within a globalized future.  


Works Cited

Baugher, Barb., Diane, Timlin., Child, Mark. A Timeline of the East St. Louis Area. East St.

Louis Action Research Project. 29 Oct. 1995. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.


Cogneau, Denis and Guenard, Charlotte. Colonization, Institutions, and Inequality: A Note on

Some Suggestive Evidence. May. 2003. PDF. 14 Sept. 2013.

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities, Life on the Mississippi: East St. Louis, Illinois. Third    

World Traveler. 1991. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.            <http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Third_World_US/SI_Kozol_StLouis.html>

Sernau, Scott. Social Inequality in a Global Age. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2014. Print.

Smith, Candace. Neoliberalism and Inequality: A Recipe for Interpersonal Violence? The

Society Pages. 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/2012/11/06/neoliberalism-and-inequality-a-recipe-for-interpersonal-violence/>



Discussion Questions

  1. What do dependency theorists offer as a feasible way to attain wealth?
  2. Is outsourcing increasing reliance of underdeveloped nations to wealthier ones?