Posted on Michael Katz (historian, social theorist) visits the Serious Times Lecture Series — “America’s Archaic Poverty”

The Proseminar on Serious Times  begins its Fall 2013 calendar with a visit from historian and social theorist, Michael Katz. He will join seminar leaders, Jeremy Cohan and Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo, to discuss:

“America’s Archaic Poverty”

The United States is the richest nation in history. Yet even though productivity has more than doubled since the mid-seventies, poverty has only increased. A redistribution of wealth in the USA would conceivably guarantee everyone a full half year surcease from labor (see Juliet Schor, The Overworked American). Yet poverty instead now claims twenty-two percent of all children nationwide.

Much of the political-economic situation in relation to poverty in America is very old. Especially persistent is the sharp division between social insurance and welfare, with welfare reserved for the haunting and ragged figure of the undeserving poor. They are the weak willed; the morally corrupt; those who, exclusively through their own lapse and fault, have fallen away from the good company in god’s always economically ascending chariot of the elect and thus tumbled onto the hard times exclusively reserved for their kind. These are the people who do not deserve “insurance”—the kingdom secured for the true hearts, the veterans, the aged who had worked their share, the widowed, and so on.

Alongside these longstanding matters, we face new developments: a retrenchment of social provision over the last forty years has reached a scale that would have seemed impossible from earlier vantages that once assumed that history was on the side of the beleaguered.

Michael Katz will speak to us about the persistence of “the undeserving poor” as a concept in American social action, political psychology, and national mythology. He will help us inquire why policy continues to insist on a now outdated “individual responsibility” and what the emotional valence of “poverty talk” reveals about the country’s studied obtuseness to its reality. Alongside examining this deep-rooted orientation, he will guide us through some of the transformations that have taken place since the seventies with the establishment of the “war on welfare” as consensus politics. Is the whole project of “welfare,” thus far conceived, a bust? If so, what happens to the “surplus population” created by the society? How will persons live?

We hope to make some headway in questions of continuity and transformation, and the way in which poverty condenses truths about the nature of the society as a whole.

What the department looks like
Full program description
Paul Chan interviews Robert Hullot-Kentor
Breixo Viejo interviews Robert Hullot-Kentor about the One-Year MA Program