Harvard Magazine offers a wonderful discussion of sociologist Matt Desmond’s extraordinary research on eviction and it’s disastrous consequences for low income people. Among other things, they discuss the method of ethnography, embedding oneself with the people being studied. On the lessons one learns when trying to fit in, Desmond tells this story:
"Desmond… lived in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood in Madison, so ‘it was not a huge leap’ for him to move into poor neighborhoods in Milwaukee for his fieldwork, he notes. Still, reminders that he was an outsider sometimes surfaced at unexpected moments, revealing how complicated and challenging it is to recognize and discard one’s own implicit biases. One New Year’s Eve, he was sharing a meal of chicken wings with fellow tenants at the rooming house. Without giving it a second thought, Desmond asked the woman who had prepared the food if she had a paper towel. The woman and her husband responded with friendly ridicule, remarking on the cost of paper towels and saying he should be content, as they were, to lick his fingers to clean them off.”
A well-written and compelling read about a top-notch sociologist and an important research project. Continue reading at Harvard Magazine.