The 2013 William Form Alumni Lecture on April 26, 2013 featured Dr. Timothy Moran Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Stony Brook University, SUNY. Moran received his PhD from the University of Maryland Department of Sociology in 2000. Moran’s talk, titled “Studying Social Stratification: From Art/Soc to the World as a Whole,” covered his work in stratification and social mobility which has led to a research partnership with Dr. Patricio Korzeniewicz, the current Chair of our department.
Jonathan Jackson, a 3rd year graduate student, wrote this reflection on Moran’s talk.
I enjoyed Dr. Moran’s talk in part because it was nice to put a face to one of the many papers I had to read for comps. Moran’s research with Dr. Patricio Korzeniewicz on global inequality helped ground my overview of the topic. And as I found out, the amount of reading I had to do for my exams paled in comparison to what graduate students had to cover in the 1990s.
One of the things I appreciated most about Dr. Moran’s talk was the summary he gave of the main issues in stratification. I have brought up many of these issues in the class I am currently teaching on inequality in the U.S. For example, inequality in the U.S. has dramatically increased since the 1970s, but it is quite small compared to inequality between nations. A look at how many countries have a lower per-capita income than what most Americans spend on their dog is truly profound. Luckily, between-country inequality has started to decline with the rising prominence of China. Yet, I still was left wondering whether this represents progress or if the poor are simply becoming increasingly similar around the world. Some of the most exciting issues stratification scholars will uncover over the coming decades relate to the implications of this trend and how it will change the world we inhabit.
Another point that stuck out to me in Dr. Moran’s talk was his notion that the most significant path to social mobility for the world’s poor is international migration. Such a fact is no doubt troublesome considering the trend toward stricter regulation on migration. Yet I remain skeptical as to how much tightening the flow of people exacerbates global inequality. As Dr. Moran rightly points out, people were largely free to move around 200 years ago. At the same time, passports, immigration quotas, and visas did not become a common fixture for most countries until the 20th century, meaning other forces were driving the rise in between-country inequality in the 19th century and probably now as well. While Moran may be right in arguing that restrictive borders will continue to perpetuate the status quo, stratification scholars still need to bring attention to other sources behind massive levels of global inequality.