Research Expertise and Interest
political science, political sociology, sociology, American political development, urban politics and policy, comparative studies of the welfare state, metropolitan inequalities, city-suburban politics in the United States
Professor Weir received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 1986. Her research and teaching fields include political sociology, American political development, urban politics and policy, and comparative studies of the welfare state. She has written widely on the politics of social policy and inequality in the United States and Europe. Most recently she has edited The Social Divide: Political Parties and the Future of Activist Government, (Brookings Institution and Russell Sage Foundation Press, 1998), a study of the politics of social policy in the Clinton administration. Other books include Politics and Jobs: The Boundaries of Employment Policy in the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992); The Politics of Social Policy in the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988) (co-edited with Ann Shola Orloff and Theda Skocpol); Schooling for All: Class, Race and the Decline of the Democratic Ideal (New York: Basic Books, 1985) (with Ira Katznelson). Weir is also the coauthor of a textbook on American government We the People (New York: W.W. Norton:1997) (with Benjamin Ginsberg and Theodore Lowi). She is currently at work on a study of metropolitan inequalities and city-suburban politics in the United States. She is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. The Social Divide: Political Parties and the Future of Activist Government (1998) The extraordinary swings in the scope and content of policy agenda since 1992 have revealed a fundamental partisan divide over the social role of the federal government. This book argues that the recent conflicts over social policy represent key elements in strategies that politicians designed as they attempted to consolidate their party's hold over the federal government. The most striking feature of policymaking across issues was its contentious and intensely partisan character. This highly politicized process, combined with deeply entrenched institutional barriers to change, prevented either party from enacting its major transforming agenda. But neither can the outcome of these years of intense political conflict be characterized as stalemate. Instead, a patchwork of failures and achievements underscores the way politics restricted the range of tools that American policymakers use to respond to new social and economic conditions. The poor have been the biggest losers as Democrats and Republicans fought to win the middle class over to their vision of the future. The book highlights three distinctive features of politics and policymaking in creating this politics: the polarization of political elites; the predominance of advertising politics and intense fragmented interest group politics as political parties have ceased to mobilize ordinary people into politics; and the unprecedented role that budgetary concerns have played in social policymaking. The authors first analyze the institutions and tools of policymaking, including Congress, the political use of public opinion polling, and the politics of the deficit. They then consider policies designed to win over the middle class, including health care policy, employer-provided social benefits, wages and jobs, and crime policy. Last, they address policies targeted at the disadvantaged, including welfare, affirmative action, and urban policy.