Campus & Community

FAS names Bruce Western professor of sociology

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Bruce Western, a leading social scientist in the field of inequality, whose work is focused on incarceration and labor market stratification, has been appointed professor of sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), effective July 1. In addition to his appointment in FAS, Western will also direct the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy, which brings together faculty and students from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Western, 42, was previously professor of sociology at Princeton University.

“Not only is Professor Western one of the foremost sociologists of inequality, but he is also cognizant of the multidisciplinary implications of inequality, extending into the fields of government and economics,” says David Cutler, dean for the social sciences in FAS. “This, combined with his rigorous academic methods and his prolific scholarly work, reinforces the fact that he will be a considerable asset to the Department of Sociology.”

Western’s work has focused on the role of incarceration in social and economic inequality in American society. He shows the link between incarceration and unemployment, which therefore leads to inequality. With a strong background in statistics and quantitative methods, Western has widely utilized Bayesian analysis in his work, which has contributed to his reputation as a leader in the development of more sophisticated methodologies in the discipline of sociology.

Western’s first book, “Between Class and Market: Postwar Unionization in the Capitalist Democracies” (Princeton University Press, 1997), concerned the growth and decline of unions in capitalist democracies. In this volume, Western argues that unions declined in countries that had neither centralized labor markets, union control over the administration of unemployment policies, nor strong working-class parties. His research includes extensive quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

In his second book, “Punishment and Inequality in America” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), Western asks what role incarceration plays in the increasing class stratification of American society. He shows that the elevated numbers of incarcerated African Americans in the 1990s have caused a rift in African-American society, and that those with less education are increasingly separated from those with higher education. The book also explicates further economic ramifications of the trend toward mass incarceration: By removing large numbers of poorly educated young men from the labor market, statistics on wages and unemployment were artificially skewed.

Western received his B.A. in government from the University of Queensland, Australia, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Western was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2005, and a Jean Monnet Fellow with the European University Institute between 1995 and 1996.

He received the James F. Short Jr. distinguished article award, Crime, Law, and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association in 2006, for his article “Black-White Wage Inequality, Employment Rates, and Incarceration.” His book “Punishment and Inequality in America” won the 2007 Albert J. Weiss Award from the Crime, Law, and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association.

He is on the board of overseers for the General Social Survey and the Technical Review Committee of the National Longitudinal Survey, as well as the Council of the American Sociological Association. In 2007, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.