Affiliated Faculty, NYU Wagner; Professor of Sociology, NYU Department of Sociology
Eric Klinenberg is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He also serves as Research Director of Rebuild by Design, which began as a federal competition to generate innovative infrastructure plans for the region affected by Hurricane Sandy, and now helps cities around the world transform to address climate change.
Klinenberg’s research projects focus on cities, climate change, culture, politics, media, technology, and social policy. He often teaches qualitative methods for doctoral students and undergraduate courses on the social challenges of climate change.
His most recent book is Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown Publishing, September 2018). The book argues that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks that help us form crucial, sometimes life-saving connections. These are places where people can gather and linger, strengthening personal ties and promoting interaction across group lines. They are vital parts of what he calls our “social infrastructure,” and they are necessary for rebuilding societies everywhere.
Klinenberg is also the coauthor, with Aziz Ansari, of the #1 New York Times bestseller Modern Romance, and author of the acclaimed books Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, and Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.
Klinenberg has published in the American Sociological Review, Theory & Society, the American Journal of Public Health, and Ethnography. In addition to his scholarship, Klinenberg has contributed to The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, the London Review of Books, Wired, and This American Life.
At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?
This article focuses on the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) controversy as a case study in the politics of risk assessment. It examines struggles among diverse actors–think tank experts, journalists, politicians, and government officials–engaged in the contentious process of establishing a legitimate definition of risk. In the field of homeland security, the means of conducting rational risk assessment have not yet been settled, and entrepreneurial officials from urban and regional governments use different techniques to identify local risks and vulnerabilities. In this contentious process, federal bureaucrats are responsible for determining how to allocate resources fairly and rationally to different cities and metropolitan regions, given that local officials have clear incentives to request funds and little cause to refrain. Although “rationality” is supposed to replace “politics” in making bureaucratic decisions over the allocation of resources, what we find instead is a political struggle over how to define, measure, and manage risk. For political actors, victory in debates over urban security comes from codifying one’s interests within the technical practice of risk assessment.
A paradox of contemporary sociology is that the discipline has largely abandoned the empirical study of journalistic organizations and news institutions at the moment when the media has gained visibility in political, economic, and cultural spheres; when other academic fields have embraced the study of media and society; and when leading sociological theorists have broken from the disciplinary canon to argue that the media are key actors in modern life. This article examines the point of journalistic production in one major news organization and shows how reporters and editors manage constraints of time, space, and market pressure under regimes of convergence news making. It considers the implications of these conditions for the particular forms of intellectual and cultural labor that journalists produce, drawing connections between the political economy of the journalistic field, the organizational structure of multimedia firms, new communications technologies, and the qualities of content created by media workers.
Through a case study of the scientific, political and journalistic treatment of dead bodies in the 1995 Chicago heat wave, this article questions what kinds of truths are written on or contained within the body and what happens to the study of society once the body is not simply brought in, but made a core object of analysis. I focus on the kinds of social information bodies convey and conceal when they are made to stand in for the social in scientific and journalistic inquiries. During the heat wave, the dead bodies served as a double distraction from the sociological issues that the disaster might have made visible: first as commodified spectacles, in the media representation of the crisis; second, as scientifically defined objects, in the narrowly medical attribution of the deaths. In Chicago, the dead bodies were so visible that almost no one could see what had happened to them. This suggests that bodies can either lose their capacity to substantiate truth claims or turn into evidence for false claims when they turn into the subjects of spectacle or fetish.
In July 1995 over 700 Chicago residents, most of them old and impoverished, died in a short but devastating heat wave. As part of a `social autopsy' of this disaster that goes beyond natural factors to uncover the institutional forces that made the urban environment suddenly so lethal, this article examines the social production and lived experience of everyday urban isolation. Accounts from ethnographic investigations in the affected neighborhoods and of the city agencies entrusted with dealing with the issue are used to highlight four key conditions: (1) the increase in the number and proportion of people living alone, including seniors who outlive or become estranged from their social networks; (2) the fear of crime and the use of social withdrawal and reclusion as survival strategies; (3) the simultaneous degradation and fortification of urban public space, particularly in segregated neighborhoods that have lost major commercial establishments and other attractions that entice people out of their homes; (4) the political dysfunctions stemming from social service programs that treat citizens as consumers in a market for public goods despite a growing population of residents who lack access to the information and network ties necessary for such `smart shopping' for city support. Together, these conditions create a formula for disaster that the 1995 heat wave actualized for the city of Chicago and might yet recur in other US metropolises.
The dominant discourse on the changes in journalism brought about by new technologies stresses the creation of an international network, transparency, increased professional autonomy; it interprets these phenomena as progress prompted by the explosion of the traditional spatial and temporal frameworks. An ethnographic study conducted at Metro News, the American media group that adopted new techniques of news production and diffusion on a large scale, shows radically contrasting tendencies, unfortunately rarely underscored by sociologists, who have it is true often shunned empirical research on journalism. If journalists' temporal structures are changing, it is first of all due to generalized pressures on their time that have become systematic in all areas of their activity. Far from favoring a broader mental outlook, however, the new technical possibilities only add to the break- up of American society, to the narrowing of news coverage to local interests specific to small communities ; this is, accompanied by growing subordination to the omnipresent, constraints of the market.
This paper traces the use of the World Wide Web as a medium of political communication during the 1996 American presidential campaigns. Beginning with the Republican campaigns’ use of the medium during the primary election season, a typology of uses of the web is outlined. While all campaigns felt it necessary to participate in the World Wide Web, different candidates used the medium differently. Furthermore, no campaign made full use of the much-publicized interactive capacity of the web; they used it more as a new means of transmitting traditional mass-media literature (video, graphics, etc.) and as a way of providing access to large volumes of campaign information (voting records, speeches, position papers, etc.).