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Michèle Lamont: Seeing Others


Michèle Lamont

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Kelly has a timely conversation with Harvard University professor Michèle Lamont to discuss her new book "Seeing Others: How Recognition Works and How it Can Heal a Divided World."

I think it will surprise people to understand the kind of damage that happens – not just when someone is put down – but when they are not considered or seen at all.

“I'm so glad you're pointing to that piece of evidence, because this is something that many people don't know. And it means that working class people never see positive representations of themselves in the mainstream media. All they see is glorification of rich people or glorification of professionals. I connect this directly with the opioid epidemic and deaths by despair. It's been a story of steady decline for the last 50 years. So the first 2 chapters of the books are really downers, because it explains not only the growing inequality figures you mentioned, but also the way in which a society that is so deeply organized around the celebration of college educated professionals, and managers, is constantly sending to others the notion that they are outside, and that no matter what they do, it's really difficult to feel worthy.”

Also, when people soak in ideas like “grit,” they assume that people who are disadvantaged just didn’t work as hard as they did or should.

"Yeah, yeah. Because you know the concept of grit as Angela Duckworth formulated is very much, an internal capacity to meet challenges. You know, it also kind of downplays the environmental determinants. So instead, I promote this notion of social resilience, which asks the question, ‘How do you create a society that gives people the tools they need to be able to deal with the challenges that come their way.’ So that's very different. We can engineer our society differently.”

I’m curious how much faith you have in Generation Z around these issues?

“As we all know, the pandemic was really hard on them. Many of them have had mental health issues, and their solution is to create the world they want to live in right now, and not when they are 60. They don't want to jump on the hedonistic treadmill of consumption. Instead, they believe that living together in a more inclusive society, in a more caring society, a less hierarchical society is how we're going to get happier. I'm not saying they all do this. But there are major themes in the way they approach their life, and one of them is the idea of social inclusion, and they are very involved in politics, too. And they are pushing a lot of the current revival of the workers unionization push which is tied to the involvement of Gen. Z.”

Photo Credit: Mark Ostow

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