Metropolitan America in a Globalizing Age: Inequalities and Opportunities

By Daniel Amsterdam and Todd Michney


Metropolitan America emerged from the final decades of the twentieth century transformed: embedded in the global economy as never before, sprawling further into the hinterland, populated by immigrants from around the globe, and riddled with often new forms of inequality, including between city and suburb, between suburbs themselves, between different metropolitan areas, and between those who can and cannot access quality jobs, education, health care, transportation, and even water and air.  On April 22, Georgia Tech’s School of History and Sociology (HSOC) will host a one-day symposium that seeks to investigate various dimensions of inequality, metropolitan growth, and the impact of America’s heightened globalization since roughly 1970.  It especially seeks to foster a discussion between sociologists and historians to help forge a path for future inquiry.  From the get-go, sociologists have been on the front lines studying many of the changes that metropolitan America has experienced in recent decades.  But too often they have had to proceed without the insights gained from historians’ close scrutiny of context and change over time.  Indeed, urban and metropolitan historians have only recently begun to examine the post-1970 period in the United States.  Through a series of plenary and smaller sessions featuring preeminent scholars, Metropolitan America in a Globalizing Age aims to move toward a compelling, usable account of metropolitan America’s recent past.[1]

Phoenix sprawl
Phoenix, AZ. Uncredited.

The upcoming symposium will feature four distinguished scholars.  Elizabeth Higginbotham, a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware, is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Georgia Tech’s School of History and Sociology for this 2015-16 academic year.  She is the co-author of Race and Ethnicity in Society: The Changing Landscape (2012) and author of Too Much to Ask: Black Women in the Era of Integration (2001), among many other books, book chapters, and over thirty articles exploring identity and inequality, and in particular the employment issues facing professional Black women.  Andrew Needham is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at New York University and author of the award-winning Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (2014).  Needham explores the environmental costs of that metropolis’s explosive growth after World War II, and particularly how the process fostered inequality, including in the Navajo Nation which supplies much of the Southwest’s electrical power.  Becky Nicolaides is a Research Associate at UCLA’s Center for Study of Women, the author of My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles (2002) and co-editor of The Suburb Reader (2006).  Her work has been among the most influential in broadening our understanding of suburbia’s historical development by focusing attention on factors including class and ethnicity.  Finally, Thomas Shapiro is a Professor of Law and Social Policy at Brandeis University as well as Director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy there.  His co-written Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (1995) became an instant classic by drawing attention to severe race-based discrepancies in asset accumulation, traceable to past policies restricting black access to jobs and housing; more recently, Shapiro continued this line of inquiry in The Hidden Cost of Being African American (2004).

Professors Higginbotham, Needham, Nicolaides, and Shapiro will conduct a Roundtable, followed by Breakout sessions in which each will lead a discussion about a pertinent topic or article-length reading of their choosing.  Interested participants must register for these sessions at by April 1.  A informative session, “The 1996 Atlanta Olympics: Assessing Multiple Legacies,” will precede the Roundtable (details below).  The symposium will conclude with a reception.  The proceedings will take place at Georgia Tech’s Wardlaw Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics: Assessing Multiple Legacies

Moderator: Mary G. McDonald, Georgia Institute of Technology

“The Atlanta Olympics: How the Event Turned Atlanta Around”
– Mike Dobbins, Georgia Institute of Technology
– Leon Eplan, Partner, Urban Mobility Consult, LLC
– Randy Roark, Georgia Institute of Technology

“Lords of the Olympic Rings: Power and Politics as seen through Atlanta’s Centennial Olympics”
– Maurice Hobson, Georgia State University

“Shadow of the Domes: Community Response to the 1992 Georgia Dome and the 2017 Mercedez-Benz Stadium”
– Kate Diedrick, Historic Westside Cultural Arts Council
– Christopher Le Dantec, Georgia Institute of Technology

[1] Historians studying American urban and suburban history have in recent years settled on the descriptor “metropolitan history” as a concept which better encompasses the extensive and fluid connections between cities, suburbs, and in an era of urban sprawl, exurbs.  For some sense of the discussions along these lines, see Matthew D. Lassiter and Christopher Niedt, “Suburban Diversity in Postwar America,” Journal of Urban History 39:1 (January 2013): 3-14.




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