Wilson Center Experts
Mary DeLorse Coleman
My career in higher education has spanned 25 years and has included opportunities to teach, conduct research, and contribute to the betterment of society through research and service learning. After receiving the Ph.D. in Political Science from UW-Madison, I was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship from the University of Maryland-College Park in Public Policy. At College Park I worked on revisions of the dissertation and it was eventually published in a manuscript by Greenwood Press in 1993. While at Maryland I also examined the poverty literature and wrote a proposal to examine the pace and rates at which the rural poor exit poverty. The Ford Foundation awarded a small grant to begin this fieldwork. I returned to Mississippi to teach and to conduct interviews. Three hundred seventeen intergenerational families in Sunflower County, Mississippi, (the same place where Dollard's Caste and Class in Southerntown was written and where Powdermaker's After Freedom was also written), were interviewed from periods ranging from three hours to full days. Over the next decade I went in and out of Sunflower County tracking families and observing the youngest cohort of children as part of the exits study. At the same time, I became chair of the department of political science and continued to rear my son, Kiese Laymon, who is now an assistant professor of English at Vassar College. As a teacher, I was able to develop award-winning courses on servitude, poverty and citizenship; and to be twice recognized for my teaching by the Mississippi Humanities Council and to be five times selected to participate in competitive college teachers seminars and institutes by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Those institutes focused on qualitative interpretation of social science, oral histories of segregation from North Carolina to Mississippi, morality and society, and the civil rights movement. The extensive readings and critical discussions improved my teaching (in fact, I developed and team-taught a course with an historian that was a direct consequence of the Duke University NEH 1991 seminars), and better informed the protracted research I was conducting in the Mississippi Delta. A post-doctoral fellowship in Law and Political Science from Harvard Law School was awarded in 1992; I spent the year at Harvard teaching one course in judicial politics and studying Human Rights Law with a twin focus on theories of law and family law in the United States and Japan. I had been impressed (as I had traveled throughout the world), that poverty's grip and contours did not comport with the conventional poverty literature in terms of spatial isolation and joblessness which characterized much of the American poverty scholarship. Anemic civil society, absence of the rule of law, and limited spaces for sustaining citizenship figured prominently in my observations of these countries' poor and vulnerable. My work continued to examine poverty in comparative ways throughout the next five years: I wrote proposals to do democratization work in Eastern Europe and South Africa. I wrote a Fund for the Improvement for Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) proposal that was funded so that South African and African American students might analyze poverty and citizenship struggles with a rigorous comparative lens. Hence, my hope is that students on both hemispheres are becoming first-rate social scientists and informed citizens. Over the last decade, I have observed elections in Eastern Europe, taught comparative poverty and law classes in Zimbabwe, researched deliberate democracy's application to poverty and citizenship in former Soviet republics, and participated in cross-cultural discussions in Cuba, Austria and the United States. As the 21st century unfolds, I am more aware than ever of the importance of analyzing these interviews and better engaging the policy community in an understanding of the conditions under which intergenerational/familial exits from poverty lead to robust citizenship-—private and public, in rural contexts in this country and abroad.
B.A. (1975) Political Science and Economics, Jackson State University; M.A. (1976) Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Ph.D. (1990) Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Post-Doctoral Fellow (1991-92) in Law and Political Science, Harvard Law School
Eastern Europe,Southern Africa
Poverty and citizenship in the deep South; Southern Africa; Eastern Europe and Cuba
This project examines the nature of rural poverty at the turn of the last century for former slaves and sharecroppers in Sunflower County; for newly arrived eastern European immigrants who settled there two decades into the twentieth century; for the Chinese who were brought there to work the fields during the first decade of the twentieth century; and for the newer Latino poor who mine the catfish, soybean and rice factories. The following questions will be answered by this research. Are exits time bound or are there patterns to the ways of exits and to routes and pace of exits and reentry into poverty over time? If so, what are these patterns, routes, and pace of exits and reentry into poverty? If not, what conditions predispose people and places for poverty's pathway? What networks of familial/civic support/structure have been used to help successive generations permanently exit poverty's grip? Under what conditions have permanent exits from poverty converged with efforts to expand citizenship opportunities and the development of civil society?