Addressing social issues with social science: An interview between Professor William Julius Wilson and Sara Miller McCune

How should scholars address the “wicked problem” of inequality in American society? William Julius Wilson, an expert on race relations and inequality and the 2017 SAGE-CASBS award winner, recommends an interdisciplinary approach.

“I developed an overarching theory that incorporated the works of scholars from different disciplines, a theory that focused on concentrated poverty, a theory that also associated the growing joblessness of poor blacks with the changes in the economy and so on,” Wilson said of his landmark text, The Truly Disadvantaged, in an interview with SAGE Publishing founder and chair Sara Miller McCune. “And this book… created a paradigm that stimulates research across disciplines.”

SAGE Publishing and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University honored Wilson, currently the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University, on June 8th at CASBS. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the behavioral and social sciences that advances our understanding of pressing social issues. Exemplifying this, Wilson, spoke about his scholarship—which attracts interdisciplinary audiences of historians, economists, political scientists, sociologists, as well as policymakers and a former White House administration.

“I see that interdisciplinary focus in your work as a great part of why your work has stood the test of time,” said Miller McCune. She noted the common frustration that “academic work is often trapped in disciplinary silos.”

Wilson recommends that for the next generation of social scientists to engage the broader population, including policymakers, they must discuss issues that dominate the public agenda.

Watch Wilson’s interview and view his SAGE-CASBS award lecture, Reflections on American Race Relations in the Age of Donald Trump, which followed the interview.


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