Joe Soss

Joe Soss

Cowles Professor for the Study of Public Service, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Department of Political Science, and Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota

About Joe

Soss studies the interplay of democracy, various forms of inequality, and public policy, with a particular focus on poverty politics, race and politics, and the ways that policy choices affect political dynamics and the vitality of democracy. Soss works extensively with social service agencies at the state and local levels and with non-profits, foundations, and advocacy groups working on issues of poverty and social justice.

In the News

"Demonizing the Poor," Joe Soss (with Sanford Schram), Jacobin, September 3, 2015.
Joe Soss's research on poverty discussed by Lori Sturdevant, "It’s Rarely a Luxury to be in Need of Charity," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 24, 2011.
Joe Soss's research on economic inequality and political participation discussed by Lee Drutman, "How the Poorest Americans Dropped out of Politics," Miller-McCune, May 21, 2009.
"The Poverty Fight," Joe Soss, Contexts Magazine, Spring 2011.


"Learning Where We Stand: How School Experiences Matter for Civic Marginalization and Political Inequality," (with Sarah Bruch), forthcoming.

Argues that schools operate as sites where individuals have their first, formative experiences with the rules and cultures of public institutions, authority relations and their uses by officials, and what it means to be a member of a rights-and-obligations-bearing community of putative equals. Develops a novel account of how schools construct citizens and position them in the polity. Shows, first, how race (in conjunction with class and gender) structures experiences of school relations and, second, how these experiences matter for citizens' positions and dispositions in the polity. 

Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race (with Richard C. Fording and Sanford F. Schram) (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
Studies the transformation of programs and policies aimed at the poor in the United States over the past fifty years.
"The Organization of Discipline: From Performance Management to Perversity and Punishment" (with Richard C. Fording and Sanford F. Schram). Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21, no. 1 (2011): 203-232.
Reveals the negative consequences that market-based performance systems have for policy implementation and for disadvantaged citizens.
"From Policy to Polity: Democracy, Paternalism and the Incorporation of Disadvantaged Citizens" (with Sarah K. Bruch and Myra Marx Ferree). American Sociological Review 75, no. 2 (2010): 205-226.
Shows how the authority relations created by policy designs shape levels of civic and political engagement among low-income citizens.
"Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice, and Punishment at the Frontlines of Welfare Reform" (with Sanford Schram, Richard Fording, and Linda Houser). American Sociological Review 74, no. 3 (2009): 398-422.
Documents and explains racial biases in the application of penalties to welfare recipients.
"A Public Transformed? Welfare Reform as Policy Feedback" (with Sanford F. Schram). American Political Science Review 101, no. 1 (2007): 111-127.
Explains why welfare reform failed to move public opinion in a direction more favorable to anti-poverty investments, as many liberal reformers had hoped.
"Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?" (with Laura Langbein and Alan Metelko). Journal of Politics 65, no. 2 (2003): 397-421.
Shows how white support for the death penalty in the U.S. emerges from an interplay of racial attitudes and racial contexts.