Research
On 25 August 2022 Jacob Didia-Hansen will defend his PhD thesis ”Liberty and Obligation – The Moral Universes of the White Middle Class in Northeastern and Southern US“

Invitation to PhD defence by Jacob Didia-Hansen

Jacob Didia-Hansen will defend his PhD thesis ”Liberty and Obligation – The Moral Universes of the White Middle Class in Northeastern and Southern US“

Time

25.08.2022 kl. 13.00 - 16.00

Description

Abstract

The focus on individual responsibility in American social policy has meant that communities and extended family have historically been important sources of security in American society. However, since at least the 1950s, critics have considered the white American middle class as a proponent of an individualized mainstream culture that undermines the moral force of communities and extended families. The white American middle class thus appears exceptionally individualized with no sense of obligation towards fellow citizens, communities, or extended family.

In the 1980s, a theoretical perspective emerged, which I in the thesis refer to as the Sociology of Situated Judgement. In the thesis I explore if this theoretical perspective might challenge the one-dimensional image of the white middle class in America. Are they individualists through and through, or do they take a more nuanced position if asked about obligations towards fellow citizens, communities, and extended family respectively? These reflections led to the following research question:

How do white middle-class Americans define their moral obligations towards their fellow citizens, their community, and their extended family?

In continuation of the wish to challenge the one-dimensional image of the individualized white middle class, I conducted a comparative case study. I interviewed 45 white middle-class Americans—19 from the liberal Northeastern city of Boston, Massachusetts, and 26 from the conservative Southern city of Knoxville, Tennessee.

The findings do challenge the one-dimensional image of the individualized and outer-directed white middle class. Although the Boston interviewees appear more individualized than the Knoxville interviewees, their moral lifeworlds are rooted in regional cultural history. They are not simply the product of structural forces such as bureaucratization or consumer capitalism. The fundamental moral principles of these moral lifeworlds seem to shape how the interviewees explain their obligations towards fellow citizens, communities, and extended family.

However, the findings also challenge the situationism of the sociology of situated judgement by demonstrating that regional moral culture provides the interviewees with a coherent moral lifeworld. The findings call for more research on the influence of regional culture on perceptions of moral obligation compared to other influential factors such as class and race.

Members of the assessment committee

Associate Professor Merete Monrad, Aalborg University (Chair)
Professor Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University
Professor Steffen Mau, Humboldt  University of Berlin

Moderator

Professor Lars Skov Henriksen, Aalborg University

Light refreshments will be served after the public defence.

Registration

Please sign up at this link no later than 19 August 2022 at 12:00.

Host

Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University

Address

Fibigerstræde 5, room 33, 9220 Aalborg East and online via Zoom

Registration Deadline

19.08.2022 kl. 12.00

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