Professor Karen V. Hansen awarded Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge grant

Hansen awarded $100,000 grant for 18-month poverty and economic mobility study, will partner with Boston University professor Nazli Kibria

Karen HansenPhoto/Heratch Ekmekjian

Brandeis professor Karen V. Hansen will participate in the Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge, an 18-month study of national poverty and economic mobility which carries a $100,000 grant.

Hansen, faculty in the sociology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies departments and director of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis, is the university’s first-ever Grand Challenge grant recipient. 

As part of the initiative, she will work with Boston University professor Nazli Kibria on a project titled “Cascading Lives: Stories of Loss, Resilience, & Resistance.” They will gather and disseminate the life histories of people who have suffered economic decline to highlight the dynamic nature of inequality. Using an intersectional approach, they aim to convey the human face of misfortune and resilience.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be working with a network of people who are creatively articulating new narratives about poverty and economic mobility  in the U.S.,” Hansen said. “Through this grant, Nazil and I will be making important inroads in our field of study. I am grateful to Brandeis University for helping me develop this project, first through a Provost Innovation Grant and also with scholars and students in an interdisciplinary environment.”

Launched in September 2019, the Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge seeks to offer alternatives to the confusing, conflicting and often inaccurate accounts of what poverty is, why it happens and how to best address it. 

The Grand Challenge is co-sponsored by eight philanthropic organizations: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the James Irvine Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Omidyar Network; the Raikes Foundation; the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation; and the Schultz Family Foundation.

Grant recipients will gather and collaborate over the next 18 months as a cohort and receive access to research, coaching and other technical support so they can incubate their individual projects in view of a fall 2021 prototype launch. Incubation efforts will be managed by Purpose, Inc, a social impact agency that uses public mobilization and storytelling to build and support movements that fight for an open, just and habitable world.

Hansen, an expert in gender, class, race and ethnicity, historical sociology and kinship studies, was selected for the Grand Challenge from a competitive pool of 1,225 grant proposal submissions.

In their research summary of “Cascading Lives: Stories of Loss, Resilience, & Resistance,” Hansen and Kibria say economic and social decline often lurches in fits and starts over a lifetime, driven by diverse, interrelated factors such as family resources and structural conditions.

While most studies on social mobility focus on a specific moment in time, Hansen and Kibria will undertake an alternative approach in which they will conduct life history interviews with 30 men and women between 25 and 60 years old from diverse backgrounds who have experienced an economic shock in the last decade. They will assess their personal, familial, and neighborhood settings; their emotions and key events; and how they relate to their economic circumstances over time.

Hansen and Kibria will also harness the capacity of young people to change public opinion by working  with high school and college students to develop effective strategies to disseminate the stories to their peers.

“People’s voices have power.  This project sets out to honor and respect the voices of those who have been marginalized because of their gender, economic status, or race-ethnicity,” Hansen said. “We think listening to people’s stories will help us understand the ups and downs of their lives and identify those critical moments when things could have gone differently. These personal stories can illuminate policymaking and change narratives about economic hardships in this country.”

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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