As a pioneering urban anthropologist, my earliest fieldwork took place in cities in Colombia (Medellin and Bogota) where I studied class formation and urban poverty. In the 1970s, I began several decades of urban ethnography in Philadelphia. leading ethnographic team projects which focused on race, ethnicity, class, and immigration supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, among others. Within the American Anthropological Association, I helped to found SUNTA (Society for Urban, National and Transnational Anthropology) in the 1970s, and SANA (Society for the Anthropology of North America) in the 1990s and served as President of each. In 2000, I was honored to receive the SANA Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Critical Anthropology of North America. I also was a founding Chair of the COPP (Committee on Public Policy) of the AAA which is working to make the voice of anthropology more central to debates about public issues.
My recent work uses ethnography to explore how the assumptions and techniques of post WW II "policy science” relating to development and modernization, social provisioning, multiculturalism and immigration unintentionally ignore and frequently contradict the grounded knowledge and strategies of the people they are designed for. I seek to identify the specific contingent events, structures and cultural constructions at the local, national and global scale which produce these outcomes.
These ethnographic projects are all framed by the political economic trajectory of Philadelphia, in the second half of the twentieth century, especially in relation to the production of local space, and the key axes of social difference and social movements. I seek to demonstrate how the national and global shift from the Keynesian welfare state to neoliberal privatization played out in one specific locality and the consequences of this for governance, politics and personhood.
My most recent work examines the ways in which the actual global position of Philadelphia alongside the vision and actions of city boosters and planners has affected the ways immigrants are incorporated and transnational communities are formed.
1973 Urban Poverty in a Cross-Cultural Context New York: Free Press. 300 pp. (with Edwin Eames)
1977 Anthropology of the City. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 350 pp. (with Edwin Eames)
1988 Job-Saving Strategies: Worker Buyouts and Quality Work Life, Kalamazoo, Michigan: The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. (Co-authors - A. Hochner, C. Granrose, E. Simon and E. Appelbaum)
1994 Reshaping Ethnic and Racial Relations in Philadelphia: Immigrants in A Divided City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 282pp. (with Jo Anne Schneider)
2001 The New Poverty Studies: The Ethnography of Politics, Policy and Impoverished People in the United States: New York University Press. (co-edited with Jeff Maskovsky). 494pp.
2005 "Dousing the Fire or Fanning the Flames: The Role of Human Relations Practice in Inter-Group Conflict" Transforming Anthropology :v 13:1.
(Reprinted in Lee Baker (ed.) Life in American: Identity and Everyday Experience. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Pp. 62-84. 2004 (NOTE: Reprint published before journal version.)
2006 Whose Social Capital: How Economic Development Programs Depoliticize the Urban Poor (with Robert T. O’Brien) in Richardson Dilworth III (ed.), Social Capital in The City Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp.159-176.
2006 Faith-Based Organizations in Philadelphia: Neoliberal Ideology and the Decline of Political Activism, Urban Anthropology. Vol 35: 203-36
2008 'Social Pathology' in International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences. Neil Smelser, (ed.) Macmillan Press.
2009 Producing Knowledge for Public Use: Challenges in Neoliberal Universities. Anthropology in Action vol. 16(3): 5-19.
2010 The Campaign for New Immigrants in Philadelphia: Imagining Possibilities and Confronting Realities in Nina Glick Schiller and Ayse Calgar (eds.) Locating Migration: Global Immigration and Urban Scale, Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press.