Reading Groups

The Welfare State, Economic Equity, and Economic Growth

Run by Chalem Bolton of the University of Michigan, this group explores the relationship between inequality and other aspects of political economy. We have discussed work on the welfare state, wealth inequality, and education policy in the past. Our early 2023 set of meetings will focus on contemporary opportunities and patterns in worker organizing.

Please contact Chalem Bolton ( if you would like to be added to the group's listserv and calendar invites or if you need the Zoom link for a meeting.

Early 2023 Details and Schedule

Day and time: Select Tuesdays 1-2pm EST

Zoom link: contact Chalem or see calendar invite


February 21 (2/21)

Worker Empowerment Research Network- U.S. Workers’ Organizing Efforts and Collective Actions: A Review of the Current Landscape

March 7 (3/7)

Bernhardt and Osterman 2017 - Organizing for Good Jobs: Recent Developments and New Challenges

March 28 (3/28)

Rosenfeld 2019 - US Labor Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Laborism Without Labor

April 11 (4/11)

White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment Report to the President

Labor Movement

How can we revitalize the labor movement to reverse inequality, beat financialization, and win worker protections from the state?

Unions once served as the “core equalizing institution" of American capitalism, as sociologist Jake Rosenfeld demonstrated in What Unions No Longer Do. In the 1950s, union membership in the U.S. was on par with Germany, Finland and Canada. Now the share of workers who engage in collective bargaining here is nowhere close to levels in those countries. The role of unions as a “countervailing power” against big business has nearly disappeared. Since the 1970s, the fall of union density has been the reverse image of the rise in income inequality and financialization. Workers’ power, wages, and dignity have suffered.

How can we change that?

We invite you to answer this call in a reading group. A new labor movement is rising. Teachers are launching illegal strikes in "red" states, “essential” workers are walking out of warehouses, hospitals, and restaurants, pension funds with worker representation are weaponizing “labor’s capital,” graduate students are unionizing, and service sector employees are winning a $15 minimum wage. Chiefly, we seek to understand “how labor can win” in America’s gigged, financialized, and plutocratic economy. We will therefore survey a variety of initiatives and strategies put forth in today’s labor movement. We aim to examine these issues through a sociological lens.

Perhaps the most important task of this book club will be to brainstorm new methods and lines of research that can illuminate the many ways, new and old, in which people can use collective action in the workplace to expand economic and political democracy.  We hope this reading group can serve as a wellspring for innovative sociological research that can deliver practical value to aspiring employee activists, organizers, and policymakers.

Will you join us? If so, please write to Teke Wiggin ( and Devin Wiggs ( with a brief description of your interests and propose any books/articles/issues you would like the group to eventually discuss. We meet for an hour once a month to discuss articles or a book that the group chooses. 

Solving Global Poverty

What would a sociological approach to solving global poverty look like?  The economists have their approach, randomized controlled trials, but the limits of this approach are well-understood by now.  The philosophers have their approach, effective altruism (going to work on Wall Street and then giving away all your money) but this approach will only work if global systems are well-functioning but under-capitalized.

What happens if we bring sociological understanding of organizations, systems, governance, and collective action to international development?  And what happens if we use a sociological perspective to try to solve, not just describe or critique, global poverty?  In the first few years this group will work to identify a sociological approach to solving global poverty, and in ensuing years we will work to set up the infrastructure for this approach.

Please contact Monica Prasad at to join this group.