Michèle Lamont: New Engines of Hope after the American Dream - Finding Recognition in the New Gilded Age


Monday, January 25, 2021, 12:15pm to 1:15pm



Michèle Lamont, Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, Harvard University

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Michèle LamontIn the context of COVID, growing inequality, and political polarization, I am writing a book that diagnoses some of the current challenges facing Americans and offers a way forward. This is achieved by drawing on survey data and interviews with boomers, Gen Zs, and leading “agents of change,” who are producing new narratives in entertainment, comedy, advocacy, religion, art, journalism, impact investing, and other fields of activity.

Neoliberal scripts of self, based on criteria emphatically centered on material success, competitiveness, individualism, and self-reliance, are increasingly associated with poor mental health across classes. Agents of change offer alternatives: they are promoting narratives of hope that emphasize inclusion, diversity, sustainability and authenticity – as part of an increasingly salient “politic of recognition” that broadens cultural citizenship and thus affects exclusion and inequality.

I aim to understand how their influence takes shape through “recognition chains” that mobilize philanthropy, new social movements, social media, and more. Drawing on collaborative papers, I also analyze how Gen Zs make sense of growing inequality and COVID, and find/produce hope during this period of high uncertainty by drawing on available cultural repertoires.

About the speaker

Michèle Lamont is Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University and director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

She is a former president of the American Sociological Association and recipient of several awards including the 2017 Erasmus prize and honorary doctorates from five countries.

A cultural and comparative sociologist, she is the author or coauthor of a dozen books and edited volumes and over one hundred articles and chapters on a range of topics including culture and inequality, racism and stigma, academia and knowledge, social change and successful societies, and qualitative methods.

Her most recent publications include her ASA Presidential Address “Addressing Recognition Gaps: Destigmatization and the Reduction of Inequality” (American Sociological Review 2018); and a special issue of Daedalus on “Inequality as a Multidimensional Process” (coedited with Paul Pierson; summer 2019).

An Andrew Carnegie Fellow for 2019-2021, she spent 2019-2020 on sabbatical at the Russell Sage Foundation.

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See also: Spring 2021