Jan. 10, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 7

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    Scholars to debate research at Black Civil Society conference

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    A two-day conference sponsored by the University’s Black Civil Society Project will bring together a diverse range of the country’s leading scholars in an effort to set a research agenda for the study of race and civil society for the next decade.

    In examining and debating the hypotheses and research findings of more than 30 scholars, conference participants will seek to answer two central questions: What role should race play in the study of civil society and, conversely, what role should civil society play in the study of race?

    The conference “Race and Civil Society,” which will be held Friday, Jan. 11 and Saturday, Jan. 12, at Wingspread, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed conference center in Racine, Wisc., is an integral part of the Black Civil Society Project, said Michael Dawson, the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science and director of the project. The 3-year-old project’s goal, said Dawson, is to improve civil society––the civic institutions and the organizations of political expression––within the black community.

    Not only will the conference participants highlight the findings of the project’s seven core researchers, who largely focus on the African-American community, but also they will focus on the findings of scholars who approach the study of civil society from different perspectives.

    Several of the conference attendees, for instance, will present the findings of their research on civil, political and educational institutions in Asian American, Latino and immigrant communities.

    Friday’s panel discussion “Comparative Perspectives on Civil Society” will feature Janelle Wong, a professor at the University of Southern California whose research has focused on the role of community organizations in the political development of Asian Americans. Friday’s panel also will feature University of Illinois professor Louis DeSippio, who has studied political organizations in Latino immigrant communities.

    The Saturday panel discussion on questions and methods in race and civil society research will feature Cathy Cohen, a Yale University professor who is currently visiting at Chicago. She will discuss her research project on black youth and civil society in Chicago.

    Other participants will focus on topics such as the development of issue-oriented civic associations, the role of gender in the structure of civil society and the influence of African-American churches on black civil society. Some of the more prominent attendees, including Iris Young, Professor in Political Science and the College; R. Drew Smith, Director of the Public Influences of African-American Churches project centered at Morehouse College; Claire Kim, professor at the University of California, Irvine; and Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, will not present papers, but instead will engage in dialogue. Other prominent scholars who will be delivering papers are Larry Bobo and Pedro Noguera, both of Harvard University. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science and the College, also will be participating.

    The diversity and depth of the conference participants will enrich the dialogue while helping to clarify and advance the research agenda of the project, said David Alexander, study director for the Black Civil Society Project.

    “We’re trying to understand the nature of civil society in the black community and in the nation as a whole. To do that, we need to ask the right questions and figure out what kind of research needs to be done,” he added.