Linda M. Burton: Neuro-Ethnography, Trauma, and Poverty: Social Capital Trajectories among the Rural Poor


Monday, November 7, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Linda M. BurtonJames B. Duke Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Social Sciences, Duke University.

Using longitudinal ethnography and neuroscience approaches, I interrogate the relationship between everyday and critical-event based trauma and brain responses to reward/threat cues in low-income rural families. The ultimate goal is to link poverty, trauma, self-discrepancies, and brain responses to individuals’ abilities to create social capital. 

While the data I present are exploratory, preliminary analyses show that mothers and their children with high-impact life course trauma profiles compared to those who do not have those experiences have distinctly different brain responses to reward and threat cues which may ungird their potential for garnering social capital related to upward mobility. The patterns are not anchored in genetics/heredity but rather socialization processes. 

The implications of this work for future research and prevention /intervention programs will be discussed. 

About the speaker

Linda M. Burton is the James B. Duke Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Social Sciences at Duke University. She came to Duke in 2006 from Penn State where she was Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Sociology and directed a research center on family diversity and context.

Dr. Burton's program of research is conceptually grounded in life course, developmental, and ecological perspectives and focuses on three themes concerning the lives of America's poorest urban, small town, and rural families: (1) intergenerational family structures, processes, and role transitions; (2) the meaning of context and place in the daily lives of families; and, (3) childhood adultification and the accelerated life course.

Her methodological approach to exploring these issues is comparative, longitudinal, and multi-method. The comparative dimension of her research comprises in-depth within group analysis of low income African American, White, and, Hispanic/Latino families, as well as systematic examinations of similarities and differences across groups. She employs longitudinal designs in her studies to identify distinct and often nuanced contextual and ethnic/racial features of development that shape the family structures, processes (e.g., intergenerational care-giving) and life course transitions (e.g., grandparenthood, marriage) families experience over time.

Dr. Burton is principally an ethnographer, but integrates survey and geographic and spatial analysis in her work. She was one of six principal investigators involved in an multisite, multi-method collaborative study of the impact of welfare reform on families and children (Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study). She directed the ethnographic component of the Three-City Study and was also principal investigator of an ethnographic study of rural poverty and child development (The Family Life Project).

Her work has been nationally recognized, most recently with a Distinguished Career Award from the American Sociological Association, the Inaugural Wiley Alexis Walker Award for Outstanding Research in Family Science, and the Family Research Consortium IV Legacy Award. 

See also: Fall 2016