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).