Serious Nerds Only: Qualifying Exam Reading Lists

In spring 2013 I’ll be taking my oral qualifying exams, which I need to pass in order to formally advance to PhD candidacy. The exams themselves are not a big deal, because your faculty advisors will not let you in to the conference room unless they know you’ll pass. The big deal is the sheer amount of preparation the exams require. Chalk these up as another reason why American PhDs take so long.

The rationale behind these exams is that you should be able to teach a complete undergraduate sociology class in each of three fields by the time you sit them. Everybody at Berkeley is required to take an exam in sociological theory, which is my NIGHTMARE. I am not a theory person. I am A Policy Person. The other two substantive areas are up to the student to decide. I chose stratification and political sociology, the latter with an emphasis on urban sociology. What follows is my reading list for political sociology. I have not yet drawn up the theory one because, like I said, NIGHTMARE. The stratification list needs a few additions. Anyway, here are approximately one-third of the books and journal articles I’ll be going through between now and April. I’ve already read some of them, but…well, I think I’m going to completely burn out what is left of my eyesight. And my bank balance. My poor, poor bank balance. If any of you reading this have been through the process before and you think there are any glaring omissions, please tell me. (Obviously, I can’t cover everything in depth because I would like to finish this PhD before I’m 50.) Otherwise, if you need me, I’ll be trawling the used offerings on Amazon and listening to John Head doing Shack’s “Cornish Town” solo over and over. The latter is waiting for you at the end of the list.


Essential Theory

Marx (1978) [1846]. “The German Ideology,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bourdieu. (1994) “Rethinking the State: Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field,” Sociological Theory  12:1-18.

Foucault. (1991) “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gramsci. (1971) “State and Civil Society,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks.

Lukes. (2005) [1974] Power: A Radical View. New York: MacMillan.

Weber, Max. 1958 [1919]. “Politics as a Vocation” “Bureaucracy,” and “Class, Status, and Power,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.


State Formation

Bendix. (1969) Nation Building and Citizenship. New York: Anchor Books.

Poggi. (1978) The Development of the Modern State: A Sociological Introduction. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Skocpol. (1979) States and Revolutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tilly. (1992) Coercion, Capital, and European States. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.


Welfare States

Brady, Kiser and Beckfield. (2005) “Economic Globalization and the Welfare State in Affluent

Democracies, 1970-2000.” American Sociological Review 70: 921-948.

Esping-Andersen. (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Huber and Stephens. (2001) The Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Korpi and Palme. (1998) “The Paradox of Redistribution and Strategies of Equality: Welfare State Institutions, Inequality, and Poverty in the Western Countries,” American Sociological Review 63: 661-87.

Marshall. (1963) “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Class, Citizenship, and Social Development.  New York: Doubleday.

Pierson. (1995) Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Piven and Cloward. (1972) Regulating the Poor. New York: Random House

Quadagno. (1987) “Theories of the Welfare State.” Annual Review of Sociology 13.

Steensland. (2006) “Cultural Categories and the American Welfare State: The Case of Guaranteed

Income Policy.” American Journal of Sociology 111: 1273-1326.

Weir, Orloff, and Skocpol. (1998) The Politics of Social Policy in the United States.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.

Policy Development

Campbell. (2004) Institutional Change and Globalization. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dobbin. (1994) Forging Industrial Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Domhoff. (1996) State Autonomy or Class Dominance: Case Studies on Policy Making in America. Piscataway: Aldine Transaction.

Hall. (1993) “Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain,” Comparative Politics, 25(3):275-296.

Sewell, Jr. (1992). “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation,” American Journal of Sociology, 98(1): 1-29.

Weir. (1992) “Ideas and the Politics of Bounded Innovation,” in Structuring Politics; Steinmo, Thelen, and Longstreth (eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .

Weir and Skocpol. (1985) “State Structures and the Possibilities for ‘Keynesian’ Responses to the

Great Depression in Sweden, Britain, and the United States,” in Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Governing Process

Bartels. (2008) Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dahl. (1961) Who Governs? New Haven: Yale University Press (selections)

de Tocqueville. (1969 ed.) Democracy in America. New York: Harper Perennial. (selections)

Mills. (1992 ed) “The Power Elite,” in Social Stratification : Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, D. B. Grusky, ed., New York: Westville Press.

Schumpeter. (1962) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, New York: Perennial. (selections)


Urban Sociology: Formation, Positioning, and Globalization

Hamnett. Unequal City: London in the Global Arena

Hannerz. Exploring the City: Inquiries Toward an Urban Anthropology

Logan and Molotch. (1987) Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sassen. Cities in a World Economy

Sassen. Global City: New York, London, Tokyo.

Wirth.  (1938) “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44:1-24.

Park and Burgess. (1967)[1925] The City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Urban Sociology: Crisis and Social Problems

Gamm. (1991) Urban Exodus. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Harvey.  (1973) Social Justice and the City.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Harvey. (1978) “The Urban Process under Capitalism: A Framework For Analysis.”  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.  2:101-131.

Massey and Denton. (1993) American Apartheid. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sampson. (2012) Great American City.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

South and  Crowder.  (1997) “Escaping Distressed Neighborhoods: Individual, Community, and

Metropolitan Influences.” American Journal of Sociology 102:1040-84.

Squires  and  Kubrin. (2005) “Privileged Places: Race, Uneven Development, and the Geography of Opportunity in Urban America.” Urban Studies 42:47-68.

Sugrue. (1998) The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tach. (2009) “More than Bricks and Mortar: Neighborhood Frames, Social Processes, and the Mixed-Income Redevelopment of a Public Housing Project.” City and Community 8(3):269-299.

Teaford. (1986) The Twentieth-Century American City. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson. (1990) The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson. (1997) When Work Disappears. New York: Vintage.


Urban Sociology: Community and Spatial Outcomes

Briggs. (2010) Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brooks-Gunn et al. (1993) “Do Neighborhoods Influence Child and Adolescent Development?”

American Journal of Sociology 99: 353-95.

Gans. (1965) The Urban Villagers.  New York: The Free Press.

Morenoff and Sampson. (1997) “Violent Crime and the Spatial Dynamics of Neighborhood Transition: Chicago, 1970-1990.” Social Forces 76:31-64.

Sampson and Raudenbush. (1999 ) “Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces: A New Look at

Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods” American Journal of Sociology 105, 3:603-651.

Swaroop and Morenoff. (2006) “Building Community: The Neighborhood Context of Social Organization.”  Social Forces 84:1665-1695.

Power and Houghton. (2007) Jigsaw Cities. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Ravetz. (2001) Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment. London: Routledge.

“Close your eyes and come and cross my street, and I will take you there if you will come with me.” That’s a great line, everyone. That. Is. A. Line.


Now this is cool

See the Guardian’s interactive map of where bombs fell on London on the first night of the Blitz.

I love maps. I love London. Not so big a fan of war, but it’s important to know history, so here you go: Where bombs fell on London this day in 1940 – the first night of the Blitz.

The northernmost bomb hit Eade Road, off Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park. I would say that Eade Road still looks like a bomb site today, but…eh, it’s not that bad, just dull. Second northernmost hit just down the street from where I used to live in Holloway. Reckon they were aiming for the railways…

Today, Eade Road is home to the appropriately-named Low Profile House. Hurr hurrrrrr.

Chicago, Maps, and a Mess

Today I arrived in Denver for the 2012 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. I’m presenting a paper on drivers of neighborhood satisfaction in London regeneration zones this Saturday. It’s my first time in Denver, and so far, this is my impression of the city: take the Chicago Loop, shrink it both in spread and height of buildings, and abandon a chunk of it, and that’s Denver. Disclaimer: I’ve been here six hours, and my taxi took me through one hell of a rough patch. That being said, ranch dressing makes sense here. The amount I put on vegetables for dinner was truly sickening and I am proud.

I’m also finishing up Robert J. Sampson’s fantastic book Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, which is the product of years of meticulous, large-scale research into the persistence of poverty and inequality. This is the kind of book that proves social science is a field as worthy as any other. I won’t summarise it here (GO READ IT), but I want to mention that I hold a special place in my heart for Chicago because it was where I first really became fascinated with cities in and of themselves – the start of an obsession that has led me to become an urban sociologist. I lived there for a good chunk of my childhood. All the neighborhoods Sampson mentioned are familiar, if not from actual memories then at least by name.

Chicago, despite being the third largest city in the United States, has a parochial feel to it. People cling to their neighborhoods. The city has 50 official administrative wards, each represented by an alderman who may or may not be entirely corrupt, but there are 77 “community areas,” and, depending on who you ask, nearly 200 informally designated neighborhoods. Here’s a map of the community areas. Bored in school, I memorized this map and loads of more detailed ones to the point where I was able to write out the names of 308 Chicago streets entirely from memory (and not the numbered ones, those don’t count. I mean the names that sing in your head and which tourists don’t see: Ponchartrain Boulevard. Throop Street. Menomonee, Oleander, Armitage, Seely, Ainslie, Kedvale, Caldwell, Argyle, Lamon, Laramie, Larabee, Montrose, Rosemont, Kinzie, Kedzie, Stony Island, Cottage Grove, Washtenaw, Racine. Commerce Parkway. Solidarity Drive.) Yes, I was a very bored child in school. But the point is, these places in Chicago had an intrinsic meaning in their names. For me, they represented a hell of a lot more than just the boundaries drawn by the street grid. They were each their own self-contained world.

Unfortunately, the downside to this compartmentalization is that, in Chicago, it translates to extreme racial segregation. Sampson repeatedly illustrates this and shows it to be at the heart of why so many Black Chicagoans live in the kind of poverty that barely touches even low-income White people. I lived in a neighborhood that was very White, with a significant Asian minority. My mother, a native New Yorker who never lived outside the five boroughs until she was 30, couldn’t believe how segregated it was. A working-class woman from a Polish family, she had worked as a nurse alongside women from Jamaica and Haiti in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and now she was sending her kids to a primary school that had one Black student among over 300 White and Asian. She never liked Chicago and was glad to leave. As a kid, whenever I spoke with a little too much of the nasal honking the city is known for, she would quickly correct me and make me pronounce the word properly – that is, with anything other than those Midwestern vowels. Chicago would not become my voice. I’d have to get that somewhere else.

Our sister school on the West Side was entirely Black. When the students came to ours for a day, they spoke in awe about how clean our bathrooms were, how we actually had paper towels and working locks on the doors. You know, the basic things American schoolkids should take for granted. We thought it was strange then, but hey, we were kids – we understood that they were poor and we were middle-class, that they lived West and we lived North, they were Black and we weren’t and these things weren’t a coincidence, and even at a young age we could put two and two together. But look at the data – especially Sampson’s data about where people move – and it’s clear it will take a lot more than twinning schools and throwing kids together for a couple of days each year in order to address the fact that Black and White so rarely interact meaningfully in Chicago.

Having been educated in both the US and the UK, it’s amazing how uniquely American this kind of segregation is. In Britain, a lot of people have a hard time believing that so many explanations really do boil down to the implications of race in America. “Why is everything about race?” they ask me, and then Americans ask me, “Why are Brits so obsessed with class?” While racism is of course an issue in the UK, the extent and institutionalized degree of it there was never so vast as in the United States. I truly can’t overstate that.

I’m 27 now and I still love maps. Once upon a time, a big glossy one of Chicago neighborhoods hung on my wall. The colors were arbitrary – pinks, yellows, blues, greens, all the names in the same even hand, not the slightest hint of the implications behind each demarcated place name. There’s a picture of me standing in my bedroom on a council estate in West London, and taped to the wall behind me, blurry but recognizable, is the entire London tangle of Tube and rail. Now in my San Francisco apartment there’s an old style New York subway map tacked on the wall down the little hall from where pre-war North London bus routes hang in a sturdy frame. Crouch End, Wood Green, Finsbury Park, Hornsey, Harringay – all the places you’ll go along those red lines, all the places I’ve been more times than I can remember. The buses will take you there and then who knows what you’ll find, what you’ll get up to by yourself? Then down on the floor are the great big wooden panels where I’ve been painting and sculpting and suspending scraps of maps that I’ve transfered onto sheets of acrylic and cut up with a Stanley knife until they’re just how I want them, trying to make a bit of art out of my life so far. Trying to convince myself I still have a bit of those places in my heart even though I’m not walking those streets and may not be again for a long time.

Having a specific spot in space is important to me, as is knowing exactly where I stand – literally – so that I can never be put in the vulnerable position of not knowing where I’m going. When you name a place and claim it as where you’re from, you pick up more than an address. You get a bit of tangible history, and automatically you’re a player in that story. There are some places where I’ve spent years living but which don’t feel like part of me as well as spots I’ve merely passed through in the grand scheme of things but which somehow have gotten into my bones.

I could never go back to living in Chicago. By that I mean, I’m not willing to do so. When I think of Chicago I recall small-mindedness, corruption, segregation, and really REALLY cold winters with flat grey landscapes that could not have been bleaker if they’d been illustrations from a Victorian novel.I remember how cruelly people treated my mother when she was nothing but kind to everybody. I remember how my family was resented and scorned for no fault of our own. I remember finding out that all those years when I’d been cheering on my older brother from the sidelines when he played soccer, other children’s mothers were laughing at “the Jew.” I remember wanting to get out of there so, so badly, and never looking back. Maybe some people could choose Chicago over New York or London, but I’m not one of them. I don’t want to be the capital of the middle, I don’t want to be the cozy warm heart of things – I want to be in the great big mess teetering on the edge. That being said, Chicago’s lack of pretension was refreshing sometimes. It knew it couldn’t compete with New York or Los Angeles, so it didn’t try. Nelson Algren said there was never a city so real, and I’d have a hard time arguing with that. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may find lovelier lovelies, but never one so real. But it’s not my reality now. Chicago was someplace I had once, and it was useful, but it outlived that role for me personally and so I’ve folded it up and put it away. I have no family there. Almost all my friends are elsewhere. It’s a place I can read about and shake my head and understand, but it’s not me.

Some people have perfect pitch. Others have uncanny photographic memories. I have perfect direction. Wherever I go, I always know which way is north. I always have at least that much of an idea where I am going and where I have been.