Eric Klinenberg

Affiliated Faculty, NYU Wagner; Professor of Sociology, NYU Department of Sociology

Institute for Public Knowledge 20 Cooper Square, 5th Fl. New York, NY 10003
Eric Klinenberg

Eric Klinenberg is Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University, and editor of the journal Public Culture. His new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, has just been released by the Penguin Press.

Klinenberg's first book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, won six scholarly and literary prizes (as well as a Favorite Book section from the Chicago Tribune) and was praised as "a dense and subtle portrait" (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker); "a remarkable, riveting account" (American Prospect); "intellectually exciting" (Amartya Sen); and a "trenchant, persuasive tale of slow murder by public policy" (Salon). A theatrical adaptation of Heat Wave premiered in Chicago in 2008, and Judith Helfand is directing a feature documentary based on the book.

Professor Klinenberg's second book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media, was called "politically passionate and intellectually serious," (Columbia Journalism Review), "a must-read for those who wonder what happened to good radio, accurate reporting and autonomous public interest" (Time Out New York), and "eye-opening "required reading for conscientious citizens" (Kirkus). Since its publication, he has testified before the Federal Communications Commission and briefed the U.S. Congress on his findings.

Klinenberg is currently working on three research projects: The first, a study of the problem of urban security, examines the rise of disaster expertise, the range of policy responses to emerging concerns about urban risk and vulnerability, and the challenge of cultivating a culture of preparedness. The second explores how social media, crowd sourcing, and the distrust of experts is changing communications during crises. The third is an ongoing ethnographic investigation of news production in a digital age.

In addition to his books and scholarly articles, Klinenberg has contributed to popular publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The London Review of Books, The Nation, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate, and the radio program This American Life.

At NYU, Professor Klinenberg teaches courses on the sociology of cities, culture, and media, as well graduate seminars on research methods, ethnography, and urban design.



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?


Klinenberg, Eric.. Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Penguin Press, 2012



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.


Klinenberg, Eric.. Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media. Metropolitan Books, 2007



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.


Klinenberg, Eric.. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 2003



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.


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.



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.).