Claire Dunning presents "Nonprofit Neighborhoods: An Urban History of Inequality and the American State" in conversation w/ Peter Sabonis

Claire Dunning presents "Nonprofit Neighborhoods: An Urban History of Inequality and the American State" in conversation w/ Peter Sabonis

Wednesday, March 15th 2023
11:00 pm
Red Emma's
An exploration of how and why American city governments delegated the responsibility for solving urban inequality to the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits serving a range of municipal and cultural needs are now so ubiquitous in US cities, it can be difficult to envision a time when they were more limited in number, size, and influence. Turning back the clock, however, uncovers both an illuminating story of how the nonprofit sector became such a dominant force in American society, as well as a troubling one of why this growth occurred alongside persistent poverty and widening inequality. Claire Dunning’s book connects these two stories in histories of race, democracy, and capitalism, revealing how the federal government funded and deputized nonprofits to help individuals in need, and in so doing avoided addressing the structural inequities that necessitated such action in the first place.

Nonprofit Neighborhoods begins after World War II, when suburbanization, segregation, and deindustrialization inaugurated an era of urban policymaking that applied private solutions to public problems. Dunning introduces readers to the activists, corporate executives, and politicians who advocated addressing poverty and racial exclusion through local organizations, while also raising provocative questions about the politics and possibilities of social change.

“Illuminating. . . Dunning compels us to consider how promises of grassroots empowerment ended up maintaining the racialized and economic boundaries that imbricate the urban poor. . . . [She] leaves us with the dispiriting conclusion that the enlarged role of nonprofits has failed to mitigate and has even worsened urban inequality.” —The Baffler

Nonprofit Neighborhoods is a timely and original account of how the federal government has delegated urban policymaking, social service provision, and anti-poverty efforts to the private sector. This eye-opening book explains the proliferation of urban nonprofits —a distinctive feature of the American welfare state—and offers a sobering critique of the limitations of neighborhood-based solutions to persistent urban inequality.” —Thomas Sugrue

Claire Dunning is assistant professor of public policy and history at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Peter Sabonis is the Human Rights Development Program Director at Partners for Dignity & Rights.

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