Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture Series to feature Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond will be the featured speaker this fall during the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture Series.

Desmond’s visit on Tuesday, Nov. 13, will include a lecture and question-and-answer session beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the University Theatre. A reception and book signing will follow in the Fine Arts building. The lecture is free and open to the public. 

Desmond, a social scientist and professor at Princeton University, wrote “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which examines the impact of eviction on the lives of the urban poor and its role in perpetuating racial and economic inequality. The book chronicles the stories of eight families living in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. As part of his research, he lived in tenement houses and a trailer park, spending time with residents and landlords. Desmond concludes that eviction is a cause, rather than merely a symptom, of poverty.

“Desmond’s ethnographic research and nationwide eviction database give us tools to better understand the wide-ranging impact evictions have on other community health indicators such as poverty and homelessness,” said Sarah Beth Estes, also a sociologist and associate provost at UA Little Rock. “This topic may be of special importance in Arkansas, where tenants have fewer rights than in other states.”  

For his work, Desmond was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. He also received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2015. His latest project is The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, where researchers and students have built the nation’s first database of evictions. They have collected more than 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Several UA Little Rock faculty are using “Evicted” in their fall courses.

Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris, associate professor of rhetoric and writing and coordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Online Writing Instruction is incorporating Desmond’s book into her rhetoric course  “Research in Nonfiction Writing.”

“Students are reading the book to learn about how to write about ethnographic research for a more general audience,” she said. “Students will be analyzing his writing and applying his writing style to their own nonfiction work.”

Dr. Jess Porter, a geographer who chairs the history department, is using “Evicted” in his course “History, Geography and the News,” a current-events based course that helps students understand the broader historical and geographical contexts of what’s happening in the world right now.

“We will tackle a dozen contemporary issues this semester, one of which is poverty and housing,” Porter said. “We’ll read an excerpt from Desmond’s book, then explore and discuss the Eviction Lab to get a better spatial sense of the problem.”

The History Department will also be giving away a number of hardback copies of “Evicted” via its social media platforms, he said.

Students in Dr. Rebecca Glazier’s survey research methods class are discussing Demond’s research in class and plan to attend the public talk on Nov. 13.

“In this class we are mostly focusing on quantitative survey research methods, but Desmond’s work uses both qualitative participant observation as well as data-driven survey research,” Glazier said. “This balance is really interesting for answering important questions like those about how and why evictions happen. My class is also doing community-based research this semester into how congregations and nonprofits partner to provide services in the community. Desmond’s methods provide great discussion fodder about how to answer these tough community problems.”

Desmond’s work has been in the national spotlight recently. He has been interviewed by Marketplace Morning Report, the New York Times, and by NPR.

Desmond is a former associate professor of social sciences at Harvard University, where he was co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project. He’s a former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, the author of the award-winning book, “On the Fireline,” co-author of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America.


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