(p. ix) Foreword: Those Left Behind
(p. ix) Foreword
Those Left Behind
Midwinter, back in the late 1990s, I was sitting with a group of graduate students from the University of Naples, Federico, one of the world’s oldest universities. The young sociologists leaning together over a venerable round table at a cafe near the corner of Piazza Plebiscito had been studying racism and the sociology of poverty in the United States. Over endless cappuccinos they did not hesitate to fault America’s lack of universal healthcare and the absence of a commitment to the social welfare of its citizens. Yet, these students asked me during their indictment of the United States and with a turn to uncertainty and somehow expecting me to have an answer: “Why did Italy endure centuries of persistent poverty in the Naples ghetto and elsewhere in the country? Apart from the surge of global immigrants to Naples, centuries of Italian families faced persistent poverty, and as Edmondo, one of the students, told me, “We do not have racism to blame.”
I did not have an answer to their query. Poverty lingers, even in rich countries and is holding steady or getting more severe among countries that provide substantial assistance within a welfare state. Even with the aid of the welfare state, most poor families remain poor. These structural factors remain a constant reminder of how important this interdisciplinary and comparative collection of chapters authored by global scholars is to poverty research. This Handbook provides a basis for a global discourse on poverty. These scholars ask questions beyond the local and beyond the urban that challenge us to scrutinize new frames of analysis. They ask us to observe poverty through the lenses of time and space and across generations. They follow population movements and particular social experiments and policy assumptions through a global hologram. And, they demand that we pay attention to social policies and practices that shape and are shaped by many actors, and policies that require us to ponder intractable social forces that create greater equality in some nation states and not in others.
Many of the authors in this volume chose to focus on the structural violence of poverty from the time they were young scholars, and over the decades they continued to pay attention amid the tensions of evolving time and space. We learn as we read through this volume that the ideologies about the poor and what they need, and how (p. x) they need to change, but have not changed much despite the tenacity and vigilance of scholars who have entered into the fray and never left the scene. At the same time that the scholars who penned these pages have broadened their lenses and advocated globally for greater attention to poverty, they have often found themselves as public intellectuals occasionally trapped within some of the same stifling and paradoxical language and structures they critiqued in the early days of their careers. Yet these authors persist as the consequences of poverty deepen, as many of the same old debates grow new teeth, and in the face of the global context of racial and ethnic disparities, immigration, deportation, refugees, early morbidity and mortality, asylum, hunger, gender inequities, and criminalization. With intelligence, and for some, with decades of dedication, the authors in this Handbook collectively and individually are making some headway, bringing new and compelling questions into the conversation. Their contributions insist on interdisciplinarity and together they are building a conversation across countries and disciplines that unearths the commonality and complementarity of the scholarship of poverty in the United States, other rich democracies, and developing countries.
Back to Edmondo and his colleagues at the cafe in Naples. During a month of conversations he began to teach me as he taught himself that the ghetto poor in Naples had worked and served at the bottom rung of society for centuries for a pittance, and the niche they occupied slowly had quickly disappeared, like quicksand, with new immigrant workers who lacked a voice, who lacked citizenship, and did the “dirty work” in their place. This worldwide phenomenon has framed a new narrative on poverty. But the old narrative and the people left behind by staying in place still lack a permanent solution.