Elizabeth Keating on her new book, Words Matter

by Elizabeth Keating, coauthor of Words Matter: Communicating Effectively in the New Global Office

This post originally appeared on the CaMP Anthropology blog, and has been republished with their permission.

Interview by Ilana Gershon

Since the book is written for a general audience, could you say a little about how you would explain the book to linguistic and media anthropologists who are considering using this in a class, and want to know what it is about.

For teachers of linguistic anthropology concerned with having an impact on students’ understanding of language and culture, especially beyond the classroom, this book links the classroom with the paid work world. Concepts and methods in linguistic anthropology are highly relevant to job skills. For one thing, there is understanding how local one’s own communication habits and expectations of others are. For another, understanding how communication really works builds better skills to repair misunderstandings. This book rather unabashedly makes a connection between learning about linguistic anthropology and becoming a more flexible, interested cross cultural communicator. One of the main points in the book is that because of technology, many people are working in virtual teams, or virtually with colleagues in other places. This results in little face-to-face time, or time to hang out and learn about others’ habits, preferences, and life stories. There’s little environmental context. Without the ability orWords Matter Keating Jarvenpaatime to learn from each other, there is a role for linguistic anthropology principles to play in generating understandings. I’m thinking of general principles like how people do things with words, that meaning is negotiated, social roles, socialization, the workings of convention in meaning, common ground and context, etc. In the book there are examples taken from engineers’ workdays, engineers trying to design things together in virtual teams, while living and working in four different continents.

The value in the classroom is the application of linguistic anthropology concepts to the engineers’ struggles with their inadequate communication model.  The book proposes a better communication model based on linguistic anthropology. We discuss how culture affects language use, with examples from the engineers and from other researchers’ work. To take a simple example, if the students have never thought about differences in question asking behavior—that it might not be felt to be appropriate in a certain group to ask a question (or only appropriate for the boss to be asking questions)– they could have unpleasant surprises at work if they assume that an absence of questions means everything is understood.

In most linguistic anthropology and media classes, students are preparing for many different types of careers, some in similar settings to the engineers. It’s useful to have a way to link linguistic anthropology to students’ desire to prepare themselves for work after university. When my co-author asked one of her graduate business research assistants to read the draft book manuscript, he said afterwards that he didn’t think he should be paid, since he learned so much. Another reader from the business world said he finally understood the reason behind his colleague’s “exasperating” behavior of not asking questions.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Keating on her new book, Words Matter”

Editor’s Spotlight: Meet Edward Watts, associate editor of Studies in Late Antiquity

This post is part of a blog series introducing the editors of Studies in Late Antiquity (SLA), our new online quarterly journal scheduled to launch in February 2017. Stay tuned for more Editor’s Spotlights with other SLA editors leading up to the journal launch.

Watts photo 2-3
Edward Watts, UC San Diego

We are pleased to introduce Edward Watts, Professor of History at UC San Diego and one of the associate editors of Studies in Late Antiquity. Since receiving his PhD in History from Yale University, Watts has published four books and more than 40 articles on topics ranging from the Old Academy in the fourth century BC, to the relationship between orality and textuality in the early Byzantine period.

With his research focused primarily on the intellectual and religious history of the Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire, Watts’ expertise aligns perfectly with the journal’s editorial vision to connect the Mediterranean with other parts of the late ancient world.

We sat down with Watts to talk about his research interests, his involvement in the journal, and what makes Studies in Late Antiquity different from other journals in the field.

Can you tell us more about your research interests and areas of expertise?

unnamedMy research spans most of Roman, late antique, and early medieval history. The areas of Christianization, Roman intellectual and cultural life, ancient philosophy (especially Platonism), and Roman numismatics particularly appeal to me.

What inspired you to get involved with Studies in Late Antiquity?

The journal offers a unique platform to explore the chronological and geographic limits of late antiquity. As the field grows and matures, it needs venues that can accommodate new visions of what late antiquity research could encompass, while offering space for intellectual experimentation. Studies in Late Antiquity offers that space, and this is an an exciting opportunity to participate in the continued evolution of scholarship focused on late antiquity.

What sets Studies in Late Antiquity apart from other journals in the field?

Studies in Late Antiquity will enable scholars working on late antiquity to expand the geographical reach of their work, develop projects that transcend regional or linguistic boundaries, and publish more of the exciting work done on late antique material culture. By providing a venue for new and cutting edge projects, this journal will help chart future developments in the field.

Want to get more involved with SLA? Here are just a few ways:

  • Submit your papers to SLA. Visit sla.ucpress.edu for more information.
  • Recommend SLA to your institution. Give this Library Recommendation Form to your campus librarian to request that your library pre-order a subscription.
  • Sign up for SLA launch updates! For future updates on the inaugural issue, free sample content, and more, sign up for email alerts at sla.ucpress.edu.

On Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel Prize: An Ancient Greek Perspective

Bob Dylan just received the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Internet exploded. I own pretty much every album Bob Dylan’s ever put out, so you can guess where I stand on the issue. But there is an interesting question that keeps coming up in the online debate over Dylan’s award: Should a musician even win a literature prize? As Salmon Rushdie has pointed out, music and literature have long been closely linked—for much of human history and around the globe.


Take Ancient Greece. The tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides and the epic poems of Homer, for example, have been celebrated for centuries as foundational literary texts. However, we know that performance—public performance—was their primary medium. Greek tragedy was essentially musical theater (closer to, say, Hamilton than Strindberg), and it had all the hallmarks we associate with musical performance: meter, rhythm, melody, and instrumental accompaniment. Even dancing. One of the defining features of Greek tragedy was the chorus, which sang, danced, and led the audience through such intellectual and artistic heavyweights as Antigone and the Bacchae. The Greek word “chorus,” in fact, comes from a family of words signifying dance and movement, and it’s the same word we’ve used in English for five hundred years to refer to a group of people singing. Although it’s controversial whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were recited to instrumental accompaniment, they were both certainly performed, augmented by the power of rhythm, intonation, gesture, and pitch. In our recent edition of the Iliad, translator Peter Green does a wonderful job of capturing the fantastic, varied sounds of Homer’s poetry. Go to our website, where you can download for free the whole of Book IX. Read it out loud, and see for yourself.


Tragedy and epic poetry are just two examples, and Greek is one of countless traditions where the “musical” and “literary” converge. West Africa, the Middle East, and many other regions all had flourishing cultures that combined literary technique and musical expression. For the novel-lover and/or the Dylan-hater, I doubt pointing out this heritage will do much to persuade them that Dylan’s music is as deserving of literary status as, say, Philip Roth’s output. Maybe you think Dylan is crap. Or maybe you think awards should celebrate the many massively talented artists around the world who haven’t already had a lifetime of accolades. Those are entirely defensible positions, of course. But if you’ve only ever thought of literature as words on a page, maybe it’s time you gave it another listen.

Eric A. Schmidt is the Classics and Religion editor at UC Press.

4 Must-Read Journals at the 2016 Western History Association Conference

Get inspired at the 2016 Western History Association Annual Meeting (October 20-23, St. Paul, MN) with important Western History research from four UC Press journals: California History, Pacific Historical Review, Southern California Quarterly, and Boom: A Journal of CaliforniaIn celebration of this conference, each journal is offering free access to a special selection of #WHA2016 content—from WHA award-winning articles to virtual issues.

2016 WHA attendees: Be sure to visit UC Press at booth #29 to see our full list of books and journals in Western History.

California History

Editor: Josh Sides, California State University, Northridge

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 1.21.00 PMUnder the stewardship of the California Historical Society for nearly one hundred years, California History is pleased to offer a special virtual issue on Nature in California History. The virtual issue features historical research on the demise of the Galapagos Turtle during and after the Gold Rush; salt harvesting in Alameda County; the rise of sweet pea cultivation at the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century; irrigation in late nineteenth-century Los Angeles; Bee-keeping in early twentieth-century Los Angeles; the intrigue surrounding the killing of the second-to-last grizzly bear in California in 1916; and the “sprawl” of Yosemite after World War II.



Pacific Historical Review

Editors: Marc Rodriguez and Brenda D. Frink, Portland State University

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 1.30.49 PMThe official publication of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, the Pacific Historical Review has published dozens of award-winning articles. PHR is especially pleased to have been honored multiple times by the Western History Association. To celebrate two Western History Association prizes that will be awarded to PHR this year, we’re offering limited-time complimentary access to these new award-winning articles.

Ray Allen Billington Prize of the Western History Association

A Divide to Heal the Union: The Creation of the Continental Divide
James D. Drake, Vol. 84, No. 4 (November 2015): 409-47.

Jensen-Miller Award of the Western History Association

“A Little Home for Myself and Child”: The Women of the Quapaw Agency and the Policy of Competency
Katherine Ellinghaus, 


Southern California Quarterly

Editor: Merry Ovnick, California State University, Northridge

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 1.53.34 PM

The flagship publication of the Historical Society of Southern CaliforniaSouthern California Quarterly is pleased to present a special virtual issue on Home Strategies: Class, Race, Community, and Empowerment in 20th Century Los AngelesSince the journal’s first publication in 1884, Southern California Quarterly has consistently published articles that address housing development, discrimination, and empowerment, a sampling of which is showcased in this virtual issue.




Boom: A Journal of California

Editor: Jason Sexton, California State University, Fullerton

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 3.27.12 PMLed by guest editors Susan Moffat and Jonathan Crisman, and with contributions from UCLA and UC Berkeley’s Urban Humanities initiatives, Boom presents its Fall issue on “Urban Humanity.” The issue explores exciting and innovative ways that history, geography, and literature intersect with urban studies, art, and architecture to help us better engage with the world.

Read the entire issue for free at boom.ucpress.edu, and join the editors and contributors for special events in honor of the new publication.


Thursday, October 27, 5-7PM
UCLA, Perloff Hall courtyard, Los Angeles

Thursday, November 10, 5–7PM
UC Berkeley, 110 Wurster Hall, Berkeley

National Cookbook Month: North African Filo Pastries

by Joyce Goldstein, author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home

October is National Cookbook Month! Come back for a new recipe from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table each Wednesday, and click here to save 30% on some of our award-winning cookbooks.

New Mediterranean Jewish Table Joyce Goldstein

North African Filo Pastries (Bestels)

Bestels resemble borekas: thin layers of dough wrapped around a savory filling. But instead of a shortcrust or flaky pastry, Moroccan bestels are traditionally made with ouarka, which means “leaf” in Arabic. The same pastry is known as malsouka in Tunisia and as feuilles (leaves) de brik in France. The pastry is made from a rather springy semolina dough that is pressed in an overlapping circular pattern onto a hot flat pan called a tobsil and then peeled off when the paper-thin film of dough has set. Because the process is so time- consuming, most North African home cooks buy ouarka from those who specialize in making it. Feuilles de brik can be purchased from restaurant-food wholesalers, but first you must find a source and then the minimum order is typically quite large, usually about 250 sheets, which are difficult to store. (Some online sources have more reasonably-sized packages, but the pastry ends up costing about a dollar a sheet, which is insane, and it is likely not to arrive in the best condition because of the rigors of transit.) The good news is that you can make these pastries with filo, which is widely available.

Traditionally served during Rosh Hashanah and at special dinners, bestels come in two shapes, triangular and cylindrical; the latter are also called cigares or briouats. As evidence of the Spanish roots of these pastries, both Maguy Kakon in La cuisine juive du Maroc de mère en fille and Viviane and Nina Moryoussef in Moroccan Jewish Cookery call the meat filling migas, a Spanish term for bread crumbs enriched with meat juices. To ensure moisture, some cooks add a little tomato juice or some chopped tomatoes to the filling. Every family seasons the meat mixture in a different way. Some use quite a lot of garlic, others add onion, and still others favor ginger and turmeric along with, or in place of, the cinnamon. In Marrakech la Rouge, Hélène Gans Perez includes the juice of a lemon, and I have followed her lead. In 150 recettes et mille et un souvenirs d’une juive d’Algérie, Léone Jaffin offers an Algerian bestel filling that calls for a trio of large onions and nutmeg instead of cinnamon.
Continue reading “National Cookbook Month: North African Filo Pastries”

Celebrating in Song: A Nonstop Metropolis Playlist

In homage to ‘Singing the City: The New York of Dreams’, the first map in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we are celebrating the official publication of the book with a playlist curated from iconic songs from New York City’s boroughs.

The sheer range of songs celebrating New York, from Broadway musicals to hip-hop and every possible kind of ballad and rant in between, makes choosing which to feature nearly impossible.* So, we’re making it into a journey.

First stops, The Bronx and Manhattan:

Get a peek at the ‘Singing the City’ map and others in today’s feature on Brainpickings. Just like so many people have been inspired by one of Nonstop Metropolis‘ maps to envision the city’s subway map with stations named for famous women, imagine where your favorite New York song might fall on the map.

Stay tuned for our second Nonstop Metropolis playlist, featuring songs from Brooklyn & Queens.

And, if you’re just joining the party, see our series of posts about the atlas trilogy, as well as this selection of recent stories:

In a special event co-presented by Harper’s Magazine and BookCulture, Rebecca and Josh will be doing a reading and signing on Thursday evening. They will be joined in discussion by Paul La Farge.

*We also had to remaster our playlist of dreams based on what was available on Spotify. Some of those missing tracks might appear in future posts, but meanwhile feel free to tell us on Twitter what you’d add to the mix: @nonstopatlas.

The 25th Anniversary of the Great Oakland Hills Fire

by Gregory L. Simon, author of Flame and Fortune in the American West: Urban Development, Environmental Change, and the Great Oakland Hills Fire

Flame and Fortune in the American West cover

Another day, another menacing wildfire. This appears to be the new fire regime for much of the American West. These days it is not uncommon to learn of several fire events each week – many of which threaten human settlements and force the evacuation of hundreds at the urban fringe. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars are spent fighting dangerous fires each month – an ever-expanding budget that reached nearly one billion in California alone during the 2016 fiscal year.

Continue reading “The 25th Anniversary of the Great Oakland Hills Fire”

The Untold Story of Chianti

by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino, coauthors of Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine

Chianti Classico coverIn our new book, Chianti Classico, we tell the untold story of the wine region once known simply as Chianti. But it is not a simple tale. For anyone who has had the pleasure of navigating the countryside between the cities of Florence and Siena, the simplicity and majesty of Chianti’s landscape is inescapable. Narrow country roads curve through forested hills and sloped vineyards. Medieval castles, Romanesque chapels, and grand cypresses punctuate the scenery like the background of a Renaissance painting. Yet the story of Chianti as a wine region has been lost to history. Even for many modern-day wine consumers, Chianti does not connote an actual place, but rather an old-style Italian red wine in a straw-covered flask. By the early twentieth century wine labeled as “Chianti” was being made throughout Tuscany, Italy, and even in California!

Continue reading “The Untold Story of Chianti”

LIVE from the New York Public Library: Nonstop Metropolis on 10/18

Tomorrow, Oct 18th, from 7:00 – 9:00pm, lucky New Yorkers will get to hear about the creative process and stories surrounding the making of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas at LIVE from the New York Pubic Library (a limited number of tickets are still available; book ahead to avoid disappointment!).


A city is made of layers—of vitality, of diversity, of richness, but also of inequity and erasure. Weaving together a tapestry of this robust city, Nonstop Metropolis collects writings from linguists, music historians, cartographers, artists, and more. LIVE from the NYPL welcomes the minds behind this project—writer and activist Rebecca Solnit, geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, essayist Garnette Cadogan, and authors Suketu Mehta and Luc Sante—for a discussion about this thriving metropolis.

Nonstop Metropolis

About the authors:

REBECCA SOLNIT is a prolific writer, and the author of many books including Savage Dreams, Storming the Gates of Paradise, and the best-selling atlases Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, all from UC Press. She received the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography from the North American Cartographic Information Society for her work on the previous atlases.

JOSHUA JELLY-SCHAPIRO is a geographer and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, New York, Harper’s, and the Believer, among many other publications. He is the author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World.

GARNETTE CADOGAN is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He is the editor-at-large of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas and is at work on a book on walking.

SUKETU MEHTA is the New York-based author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found which won the Kiriyama Prize and the Hutch Crossword Award, and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the Lettre Ulysses Prize, the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. He has won the Whiting Writers’ Award, the O. Henry Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction. Mehta’s work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, Time, and Newsweek, and has been featured on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ and ‘All Things Considered.’ Mehta is an Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University. Mehta was born in Calcutta and raised in Bombay and New York. He is a graduate of New York University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

LUC SANTE‘s books include Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, and The Other Paris. He has been a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1981 and had written for a wide variety of other publications. His awards include a Whiting Writers Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Grammy (for album notes), an Infinity Award in Writing from the International Center of Photography, and Guggenheim and Cullman fellowships. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.


In Defense of Poverty

This essay was originally published as part of a series called “What is Inequality?” hosted by the Social Science Research Council on its online forum, Items.” The piece is reposted here in recognition of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. #EndPoverty #ItsPossible

By Ananya Roy, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

Inequality bothers me. I am troubled by the persistence and prevalence of wealth and income inequality in the United States. I join earnest social scientists and conscientious global citizens in condemning inequality. But that is not all that bothers me about inequality. The widespread use of the term inequality also bothers me. The language of inequality is everywhere—dominating newspaper headlines, gaining prominence in the agenda of philanthropic foundations, and anchoring a host of new university programs and centers. Readers might have noticed that I serve as director of the brand-new Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA. I worry that inequality has become a mere trope for social justice. I worry that the expansive use of inequality distracts attention from specific forms of impoverishment, exploitation, discrimination, and segregation. I worry that the institutionalization of inequality as a banner theme keeps the concept safely contained within the discourses and practices of liberal democracy, often twinned with other liberal themes such as inclusion and diversity.

For those of us involved and implicated in academic work organized under the sign of inequality, we must be constantly alert to such containments. Repoliticizing inequality is an ongoing project, one that increasingly demands vigilance and creativity on the part of social scientists. In this brief essay, I offer one approach to the task of repoliticizing inequality: the resignification of poverty as a critical concept. My defense of poverty is meant to be a provocation rather than a blueprint, although I outline some ideas about what such a conceptual commitment might mean for an agenda of social science research.

Poverty is a well-worn term. It is also, especially in the United States, seen to be a personal failing, a disgrace, a matter of shame. Poverty knowledge has thus often been tinged with the shadow of stigma, be it the efforts to wrestle with a so-called “culture of poverty” or in vocabulary such as “the underclass” or “ghetto.” Indeed, the intellectual history of poverty studies does not bode well for a defense of poverty as a critical concept to be mobilized in the efforts to repoliticize inequality. Yet, this is my intention. With this in mind, I pinpoint three elements of what can be tentatively called “critical poverty studies,” a field of inquiry that I believe is in the making in various corners of the social sciences.

The active relations of impoverishment

A welcome aspect of the widespread discussion of inequality in the United States is the simple and yet powerful mantra that there is nothing natural or inevitable about current patterns of inequality. Be it Joseph Stiglitz or Robert Reich, Emmanuel Saez or Paul Krugman, the consensus is unwavering: policy, for example systems of taxation, has produced inequality, often by allowing the hyper-rich to hoard and guard their wealth. Such stockpiling of prosperity contrasts with a generalized condition of precarity; one in which the American middle class lies in ruins, burdened by debt and stripped of key assets such as homeownership. This is the power of the trope of inequality. It identifies a common condition to which most of us belong; it names an indefensible hierarchy within which we all chafe. This, of course, is the rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street: we are the 99%.

My argument in defense of poverty is straightforward: we are not all equal in the experience of inequality. We are not all equally impoverished. We are not all equally indebted. We are not all equally precarious. The poor are uniquely so.

I recently participated in a simulation of the social services system organized by various nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles. This was not, as the organizers noted, a simulation of poverty, for that is simply not possible. It was a glimpse of the public assistance bureaucracy that the poor must navigate in order to survive. Despite being fluent in sophisticated understandings of poverty and inequality, the participants, mainly middle-class social justice professionals, were thoroughly disoriented by the sheer dehumanization wrought by the experience. Shunted from office to office, in search of basic paperwork, trying to meet convoluted criteria of eligibility, we the privileged experienced, for a brief moment, what it is like to be undeserving. We were reminded that we are not poor and that we barely understand the lived condition of poverty.

That lived condition, in the United States, is necessarily and persistently racialized. It is embedded in, and reproduces, systems of racial capitalism. To pinpoint poverty—to acknowledge how poor others are imagined, named, managed, and incarcerated—is to come into contact with this long-standing history. This history did not start with the Great Recession or even with the era of neoliberalization. It is the long history of racialized expropriation and quarantine. I worry that a general narrative of inequality elides both the specificity of poverty and the distinctive history of impoverishment.

Some of my current research is concerned with the relationship between bureaucracies of poverty and poor people’s movements. Following the seminal work of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, I see poor people’s movements as “both formed by and directed against institutional arrangements.” Most importantly, poor people’s movements are not organized around the cause of ending poverty. After all, these movements are acutely aware that racialized poverty is not an anomaly, but rather a necessary supplement to prosperity. Instead, be it the National Welfare Rights Organization or the National Union of the Homeless, poor people’s movements transform poorness from stigma to rights, from lived experience to political agency. I am also arguing that social science research must document and analyze the histories and futures of such organizing.

The problem of poverty

Describing the Industrial Revolution and its social transformations, Karl Polanyi,  wrote that “it was in relation to the problem of poverty that people began to explore the meaning of life in a complex society.” So is it the case today. The start of the new millennium is marked by the emergence of poverty as a visible, global problem. The constitution of poverty as a problem to be solved, in our lifetime, through cool gadgets and smart apps, through volunteerism and humanitarianism, through aid advocacy and micro-economic field experiments, requires critical scrutiny by social science research.

Roy.EncounteringPovertyIt demands the question that Michael Katz poses in Territories of Poverty, a book that Emma Shaw Crane and I recently coedited: “What kind of a problem is poverty?” It demands studying the forms of power and privilege that are exercised and extended by acting upon poverty and in relation to poor others, as does the Relational Poverty Network led by Sarah Elwood and Victoria Lawson. It demands an honest examination of how the global university fosters formats of service-learning such that well-heeled college students can build resumes filled with examples of poverty action and community service. Indeed, the “end of poverty”—Jeffrey Sachs’ influential phrase—has become a lucrative and alluring endeavor. As I have argued in ongoing work, new scripts for global citizenship and personhood, as well as new markets for global capital, are being negotiated and opened up through the staging of such encounters with poverty. Indeed, in Encountering Poverty, my colleagues and I argue that such scripts often enact an old coloniality of power in a new global order.

Social science research must thus pay attention to how, at specific historical conjunctures, poverty is constituted as a problem, and how acting on poverty makes possible the reconstitution of social class, professional expertise, and even our academic disciplines. Indeed, in studying the constitution of poverty as a problem, we study the making of authoritative knowledge, the marking of poor others, the assembling of humanitarian reason, the crafting of good will, and the constant rejuvenation of whiteness as the center of human experience. In other words, we come to study ourselves, both our liberal selves and our embeddedness in the institutions of liberal faith. The task of “critical poverty studies” is to not only make visible such processes but also to consider how encounters with poverty—whether in individual acts of goodwill or in the making of our disciplines—can be a space of doubt, critique, and even transformation.

Rethinking North and South

In 2012, as the discussion of inequality was heating up in the United States, the Pew Research Center released a report titled The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier. Highlighting severe income and wealth losses, the report notes that middle-class Americans looked to the future with “muted hope.” I am struck by the particular language in use here, that of a “lost decade.” Without intention or citation, it echoes descriptions of the bruising effects of structural adjustment policies, implemented in the 1980s, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, of a lost decade of development. Indeed, it is possible to think about the contemporary moment in the North Atlantic as structural adjustment returned home, a vicious austerity politics that has already played out elsewhere in the world. More interesting, such austerity politics is not necessarily the order of the day in the global South. While quite a bit of the inequality discourse (much of it concerned with the global North) has relied on broad generalizations about neoliberalism and its inexorable reach, the present worldwide history of welfare and development is marked by difference, divergence, and discrepancy. Of particular significance is the proliferation of social assistance and human development programs that are being envisioned and launched in the global South, whether by governments, development banks, or nongovernmental organizations. As Maxine Molyneux has argued, central to such formations of social policy is a concern with poverty or what she calls the “New Poverty Agenda.” None of this can be easily read in the register of North Atlantic neoliberalism. Instead, what is at stake is what James Ferguson has foregrounded as the revalorization of distribution, notably distributive state policy and distributional claims.

The resignification of poverty as a critical concept requires a transnational research agenda, one that is attentive to the “reinvention of development for the poor”—Richard Ballard’s phrase —that is afoot outside the territorial boundaries of the West. My own interest in such a transnational research agenda is not multinational comparison. Instead, I am interested in how the study of poverty, be it that of poor people’s movements or poverty expertise, can also resignify the familiar geographies and histories of North and South. As the “New Poverty Agenda” unfolds in discrepant locations, through processes that are necessarily differentiated and divergent, the South becomes, as the Comaroffs put it, “an ex-centric location, an elsewhere to mainstream EuroAmerica,” an “angle of vision” in “the history of the ongoing global present.” In their much-discussed text, Theory from the South, the Comaroffs read the global South as a prefiguration of the future of the global North. Following Obarrio’s response to the Comaroffs’ work, I am interested in this “anthropology of anticipations.” But as Ferguson notes in his own response to the work, the point of such an impulse is not to suggest that the global South is ahead of the North but rather to disrupt conventional ways of thinking about North and South and thus about “emergent new empirical configurations of the social” which may provide us with “clues for thinking about how we might re-imagine ‘the social’ as object both of theory and of politics.” Poverty, I have suggested, is one such configuration of the social. To study it with critical force may require us to rethink the geographies of research and theory through which we have configured the social sciences.


Ananya Roy is Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. She is co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World with Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, and Clare Talwalker.