Symposium: Social Forces Revisited + Panel: Documentary in Contemporary Art

Symposium: Social Forces Revisited + Panel: Documentary in Contemporary Art

Columbia University

November 22, 2011
Symposium: Social Forces Revisited + Panel: Documentary in Contemporary Art

Two programs presented in conjunction with the exhibition Social Forces Visualized: Photography and Scientific Charity, 1900–1920 explore the legacy of American social documentary photography and its relation to Progressive-era and contemporary politics.



Friday, December 2, 2011; 1:00–7:00 pm
Columbia University; 612 Schermerhorn Hall/501 Schermerhorn Hall
Co-sponsored by the Wallach Art Gallery and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
Two thematic panels followed by a closing, keynote address by Michael Katz, author of Why Don’t American Cities Burn?, will explore topics as diverse as the role of social documentary both in the progressive era and the contemporary moment, the history of social work, and how contemporary public policy is shaping the evolution of urban America.
Schedule & Participants


1:00–1:30 pm – Welcome and introductory remarks by David R. Jones from Community Service Society
1:30–3:00 pm – Session on historical perspectives on social work


Professor Gertrude Goldberg, Adelphi School of Social Work
Professor Michael Reisch, University of Maryland, Baltimore
Ethan Sribnick, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Children, Poverty, & Homelessness
Professor Daniel Walkowitz, New York University

Professor Barbara Simon, Columbia University School of Social Work

3:15–4:45 pm – Session on documentary photography


Professor Susie Linfield, New York University
Professor Maren Stange, Cooper Union
Professor Terri Weissman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Professor Elizabeth Hutchinson, Professor of Art History, Columbia University and Barnard College

5:00–6:00 pm – Reception at the Wallach Art Gallery


6:00–7:00 pm – Keynote Address: “From Underclass to Entrepreneur: New Technologies of Poverty Work in Urban America,” Professor Michael Katz, University of Pennsylvania


Katz’s lecture stems from work on his new book Why Don’t American Cities Burn? published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. In the 1980s and 1990s, research and writing on urban poverty were dominated by the idea of “underclass,” a euphemism for poor black people in the nation’s cities. Underclass was a variant of a pathological model of poverty inherent in the centuries’ old idea of the undeserving poor—an idea that saw poverty rooted more in behavior than in lack of income and work. Now, the underclass idea is used infrequently. It has been replaced in part by what I call four new technologies of poverty work. Four distinct if overlapping market-based strands are braided through poverty work: rebuilding markets in inner cities, microfinance, asset-building, and conditional cash transfers. This lecture sketches their emergence.



Saturday, December 10, 2011, 4:00 pm
Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
8th floor, Schermerhorn Hall 


Martha Rosler, Trevor Paglen and Lucy Raven discuss their work in relation to the origins of social documentary photography and progressive politics. Moderated by exhibition curators Huffa Frobes-Cross and Drew Sawyer.






Social Forces Visualized offers an innovative view of the beginnings of social documentary photography in the United States. The exhibition includes over 125 photographs by seminal photographers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Jessie Tarbox Beals, and others were selected from the Community Service Society records at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Since the 1930s, Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine have been established as the progenitors of the social documentary tradition in the United States. However, their most well-known images are almost always shown in isolation, without the publications, exhibition displays, and lantern-slide lectures in which they first appeared and circulated. This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue place their photographs, along with those by other photographers, within the diverse and multi-media visual strategies employed by two charity organizations, the Charity Organization Society (COS) and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP), during the first two decades of the twentieth century.


For more information on the exhibition or the Wallach Art Gallery please visit

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November 22, 2011

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