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Joan Maya Mazelis

Associate Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University-Camden
Areas of Expertise:

About Joan

Mazelis specializes in the study of urban poverty and social support, using qualitative interview methods to explore the meaning and understanding people have of their own situations. Her work focuses on rising inequality, the power of American individualism in perceptions about poor people, the erosion of the public safety net and the importance of the private safety net, and how people both build and avoid social ties with others. She is an affiliated scholar at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University-Camden.


Give Low-Income Renters More Housing Stability

  • Joan Maya Mazelis

No Jargon Podcast

In the News

"Punishing the Poor Isn't Just Bad Policy, It's Wasting Taxpayer Money," Joan Maya Mazelis, The Hill, February 20, 2018.
"Subsidized Housing Can Change Lives, Now It's Facing Deep Cuts," Joan Maya Mazelis, The Inquirer, February 16, 2018.
"Helping the Poor Put Dinner on the Table Without Giving Them a Seat at the Table," Joan Maya Mazelis, The 1A, WAMU, American University Radio, June 26, 2017.
"Poverty Really is the Result of a State of Mind — among Rich People," Joan Maya Mazelis, Washington Post, June 20, 2017.
"The Joyful Urban Ballet Increases Public Safety," Joan Maya Mazelis, The Inquirer, June 16, 2017.
"Trump's Proposed HUD Cuts Spell Disaster," Joan Maya Mazelis, WHYY, March 17, 2017.


Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor (NYU Press, 2017).

Examines the experiences of people living below the poverty level, looking at the tension between social isolation and social ties among the poor to explore how they survive and the benefits they gain by being connected to one another. Studies participants, half of whom are members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a distinctive organization that brings poor people together in the struggle to survive and helps members create mutually supportive relationships that last for years, even decades, contrasting dramatically with the experiences of participants without such affiliation. 

""I Got to Try to Give Back": How Reciprocity Norms in a Poor People's Organization Influence Members' Social Capital" Journal of Poverty 19, no. 1 (2015): 109-131.

Discusses how the norms of reciprocity partially govern social support behavior, particularly in the context of an organization requiring participation in an exchange network. Examines how reciprocity fosters social capital for those who fulfill norms of reciprocity and hinder social capital for those who violate them.