Mario Luis Small: The Rising Heterogeneity of Poor Neighborhoods across Cities


Monday, March 6, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Mario Luis Small, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology, Harvard University.

Mario SmallIn the 1990s, researchers came to understand poor urban neighborhoods as blighted, depopulated areas, based on important fieldwork by ethnographic observers in a handful of cities. This image deeply informed research on the mechanisms behind neighborhood effects. Was this image representative of poor neighborhoods of the time?  Is it representative today?

Based on a study of the largest 100 U.S. cities, we document an important transformation in the conditions of poor neighborhoods. Whereas depopulation remains typical of many poor neighborhoods, the extent of inequality between cities has risen. Whereas ethnographers in the past would have witnessed depopulation almost regardless of city, whether they did so today would depend on the city they happened to observe. 

In turn, how much neighborhood poverty affects certain outcomes probably depends more on the city in question than it did 25 years ago.  

About the speaker

Mario L. Small is Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Author of numerous award-winning books and articles on urban poverty, support networks, qualitative and mixed methods, and many other topics, Small is currently working to transform how social scientists use newly available forms of data to understand urban poverty and writing a book on how actors mobilize their networks when seeking social support.

Small has made numerous contributions to research on urban neighborhoods, personal networks, and qualitative and mixed methods. He has shown that poor neighborhoods in commonly-studied cities such as Chicago are not representative of ghettos everywhere, that how people conceive of their neighborhood shapes how its conditions affect them, and that local organizations in poor neighborhoods often broker connections to both people and organizations. Small has demonstrated that people's social capital—including how many people they know and how much they trust others—depends on the organizations in which they are embedded.  His work on methods has shown that many practices used to make qualitative research more scientific are ineffective.  

Small is currently working to understand why ghettos differ from city to city and how people decide whom to turn to when seeking support. He is writing a book, informed by recent work in psychology, economics, and other fields, on why people are consistently willing to confide their deepest worries to people they are not close to.  

Small, the only two-time recipient of the C. Wright Mills Best Book Award (for Villa Victoria in 2005 and Unanticipated Gains in 2010), is also a two-time recipient of a Mirra Komarovsky Best Book Award Honorable Mention (2005 and 2010), and a recipient of the Robert Park Best Book Award (2005), a Choice Outstanding Academic Title designation (2010), the Robert Park Award (now Jane Addams Award) for Best Article (2004), a Best Book on Culture Award (now Mary Douglas Prize) Honorable Mention (2004), and a Best Article on Culture Award (now Clifford Geertz Award) Honorable Mention (2003), among other honors.

Born and raised in Cerro Viento, Panama, Small received a B.A. in 1996 from Carleton College, and an M.A. in 1998 and a Ph.D. in 2001 from Harvard University. As a Sociology Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, Small was a member of the very first cohort of Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellows at the program's founding in 1998.

Learn more about Small's work


Registration Closed
See also: Spring 2017