Joan Maya Mazelis

Surviving Poverty

Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor

New York University Press 2016

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network March 16, 2017 Richard E. Ocejo

A number of recent events (the Great Recession, Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign) have brought inequality and poverty into national conversation....

A number of recent events (the Great Recession, Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign) have brought inequality and poverty into national conversation. In an age of economic uncertainty and a declining social safety net, understanding the lives of people dealing with impoverished conditions has been a key task of social scientists. Focusing on people living below the poverty line and struggling to survive, Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor (NYU Press, 2017) is an excellent addition to this literature. Through in-depth interviews and fieldwork, Assistant Professor Joan Maya Mazelis examines the important role of what she calls “sustainable social ties” for alleviating poverty among the poor. Comparing members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a grassroots organization operated by and for the poor, with non-members, she learns about the value of social networks for helping poor people’s daily survival. Along with advocating on their behalf, the organization also mitigates the negative feelings of reciprocity that often leads poor people to refrain from asking others for help. Readers will hear an array of rich, personal stories about the struggles of living in poverty, and learn some of the strategies poor people use to survive.


Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as City & Community, Poetics, Ethnography, and the European Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork (Routledge; 2012) and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Metropolitics, Work and Occupations, and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.

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