Stony Brook University’s Center for the Study of Inequality, Social Justice and Policy (CSISJP) seeks to stimulate and support inquiry into entangled inequities such as of race, ethnicity, gender, (dis)ability and environment, especially as these intersect with inequalities of class, work and wealth; and to promote innovative approaches and collaborations for social justice.
We live in an era driven by worsening inequalities that beg for greater academic understanding and engagement. Globally, yawning gaps in wealth and opportunity have spurred mass migrations and demographic shifts. Nationally, the decline of a middle class has trapped millions in low-wage jobs or poverty, while riches and power increasingly concentrate in the hands of a few. Centuries of racial disparities and violent oppression endure; from the systematic anti-blackness and police shootings that inspired Black Lives Matter to mass incarceration disproportionately targeting people of color and the recent alarming rise of neo-Nazis and white nationalism. Other inequalities, whether from the exploitative pressures of Neoliberal labor regimes or the slow violence of an environmental toxin or a warming planet, seem woven into the very places where we live and work. Fuller understanding of these inequalities, from their causes and consequences to the questions of justice that attend them, demands that we recognize just how deeply interconnected they may be. We need fresh veins of interdisciplinary discussion and scholarship as well as new forms of scholarly engagement in classrooms and communities beyond.
In this context, the Center aims to provide a regional and national forum for substantive exploration of a wide array of topics pertaining to inequality and social justice, through supporting and promoting:
- Scholarly interchange and collaboration
- Curricular and student enrichment, other engagements with inequalities and injustice within the academy
- Public and community engagement and collaborations beyond the academy
- Dialogue between scholars, activists, and public policy makers
One commitment of our Center is intellectual: to an intersectional and contextual understanding of inequality. We seek to illuminate interlocking relationships between inequality and multiple systems of oppression, axes of domination defined by class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, geography, and other markers of constructed difference, as embedded in contexts of wealth, poverty, and power. The Center’s second keystone commitment is to promoting social justice, both within and beyond the academy, in communities and causes on Long Island, Greater New York, and beyond. A third core of our mission is to bridge the gap between academics, community groups, and public policy makers by sponsoring dialogue and debate over public policies that can address our society’s yawning inequalities and injustices. We thereby aim to deliver critical and interdisciplinary perspectives on what can and should be done to address crucial needs, with special regard for the most vulnerable, whose voices are often least likely to be heard.
The seeds of the current center lie in the Center of the Study of Working Class Life (CSWCL) founded by the Stony Brook economist Michael Zweig in the 1999. In anticipating the retirement of Professor Zweig from 2015, an interdisciplinary Steering Committee of faculty was formed. In the summer of 2016, when Professor Zweig retired, CSWCL then underwent a transition that resulted in the current center. A changeover of leadership brought Christopher Sellers in as Center director, with Robert Chase and Lori Flores as Deputy Directors, also with a switch in its official departmental location from Economics to History. With an implementation plan proposed and approved in spring of 2017, the new Center was then officially starting in September of that year.
In the interest of stirring broader interest and engagement among faculty, we’ve recast the Center’s title and mission, orienting these around the “study of inequality, social justice, and policy.” While working class studies and labor-related questions remain at the heart of the Initiative ’s agenda, we feel this change captures the growing richness of scholarly as well activist thought on display at Stony Brook University in 2016. Our hope is also to widen scholarly as well administrative support for this initiative, in order to sustain its work. By highlighting inequality and social justice more generally, we aim to turn this initiative into a prominent regional and national forum for an expanding array of related interdisciplinary and community-engaged projects led by Stony Brook faculty.
We have laid our five thematic clusters that capture the interests and expertise of participating faculty in Labor and Class Studies, Carceral Studies, Environmental Justice Studies, Immigration and Mobility Studies, and Race and Social Justice Studies. After an initial year or so of setup, our current idea is to rotate our focus and emphasis between these themes, so that leadership also switches between different clusters of faculty. Every two to three years, we will provide a vibrant agenda of activities addressing each of the themes, both on campus and in the surrounding community. We plan to remain open, as well, to further clusters of themes and projects faculty may propose (e.g., LGBTQ studies; Native American/First Nation Studies).