Mitchell Duneier

Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Science
Office Location: 
155 Wallace Hall

Photo of Mitchell Duneier holding a bookMitchell Duneier is Chair of the Department of Sociology and author of Slim’s Table (Chicago), Sidewalk (FSG), Ghetto, and Introduction to Sociology (with Giddens et. al., Ninth Edition, 2012). His ethnographic film, Sidewalk (with Barry Alexander Brown. 2010) begins where the book ended and updates his stories of the vendors on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he works in the traditions of urban ethnography that began there in the 1920s. Recent graduate seminars include “Ethnography and Public Policy,” “The Chicago School,” and “Ethnographic Methods.” Undergraduate courses include “Introduction to Sociology,” “The Ghetto,” and “Sociology from E-Street: Bruce Springsteen’s America.”

How Do Science And Politics Come Together In Urban Ethnography?

I tend to choose my ethnographic projects with an eye to revealing both the common and distinctive elements of humanity.  Most people have common bases of life, and many who are presumed to be quite different have some salient “moral” characteristics in common.  Slim’s Table was an effort to document commonalities between an invisible inner city black working poor and mainstream society.  Sidewalk tried to disentangle what is common and what is distinctive about unhoused black men on the streets, accounting for the distinctions and similarities in light of history, situation, and structure.  These and other urban ethnographic projects have pivotal agendas that are both scientific and political: to systematically study the lives of the urban poor in a period of U.S. history characterized by a strong current of ideological and cultural dehumanization of marginalized social groups.  In such an era, it is important to account for difference and to reaffirm elements of commonality in accordance with the highest standards of evidence.  To do so rigorously is both a scientific enterprise and a political project.