Stephen Pimpare

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Stephen Pimpare

"My doctoral dissertation was completed at the City University of New York Graduate Center under the supervision of Frances Fox Piven and Andrew J. Polsky, and defended before a committee that also included urbanist John H. Mollenkopf, Columbia University sociologist Herbert Gans, and Bryn Mawr social policy professor Sanford Schram. Entitled No Relief: The Politics of Welfare Retrenchment, 1873-1898 and 1973-2002, it sought to advance our limited understanding of Gilded Age poor relief policies (thereby filling a large gap in American welfare history), place them in the context of the late-century transformation of the urban economy, and to juxtapose those policies and their outcomes with the only other sustained and successful assault on American relief programs in our history, which culminated in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. With few exceptions, scholarship on the American welfare state has devoted itself to understanding expansions of relief; this was an examination of the political dynamics of welfare state contraction, and challenged claims that the welfare reform of 1996 was historically unique, or that its most direct antecedent was the English Poor Law of 1834. The heart of the dissertation became my first book, The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages, which was published in 2004...

"My second book was a partial response to the challenges I lay out in that piece. Published in 2008, A People’s History of Poverty in America re-tells American welfare state history – from the 17th century to the present -- from the perspective of relief recipients themselves, and does so through first-person narratives culled from letters, diaries, case records, previously-published ethnographies, and journalists’ accounts. It is, I hope, a volume that will come to be used regularly as a counter-point and supplement to the traditional welfare state histories I argue against, like Walter Trattner’s well-regarded From Poor Law to Welfare State, and one that will help to create a counternarrative to the one that dominates in elite discussion of poor and welfare-reliant men and women. The further hope is that an unsettling of the conventional historical narrative can create spaces for new understandings and new avenues for research on contemporary issues of poverty, inequality, and effective service delivery. That book received the 2009 Michael Harrington Book Award from the American Political Science Association’s Caucus for a New Political Science." [1] CV




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  1. Research Statement, Stephen Pimpare, accessed October 11, 2009.