Reauthoring Savage Inequalities at AERA

Lori D. Patton, Ishwanzya D. Rivers, Raquel L. Farmer-Hinton, and Joi D. Lewis’ edited book, Reauthoring Savage Inequalities, has arrived!

Cover image of Reauthoring Savage Inequalities, edited by Patton, Rivers, Farmer-hinton & Lewis (2023, SUNY Press)

In April of this year, the RED team had the honour of presenting ongoing results from a platform analysis at AERA in Chicago. Among the thousands of presentations, many of which were thought-provoking, my personal highlight was the panel with presenters from this book, which was in press at the time:

Reauthoring Savage Inequalities: Narratives of Community Cultural Wealth in Urban Educational Environments, edited by Lori D. Patton, Ishwanzya D. Rivers, Raquel L. Farmer-Hinton, and Joi D. Lewis

The book takes a new look at the communities which Jonathan Kozol wrote about in his book Savage Inequalities from 1991. The presenters reported that Kozol’s book has become a foundational text in university courses on urban education or educational inequality in the USA. It did aim to offer a critical take on inequality. The book showed the structural disadvantages which communities living in material poverty in the US face. (Full disclosure, I haven’t read Kozol, I’m describing the discussion at AERA.) But the presenters critique the deficit perspective that this book reproduces and which many researchers on educational inequality also reproduce. It offers, they argued, a narrow narrative, bereft of lived experience, which erases people as it misrepresents communities.

Raquel L. Farmer-Hinton pointed to a problem with educational research when we make the same critique again and again. We are standing still, she said. We need to move forward.

In Reauthoring Savage Inequalities, contributors move forward by visiting some of the same communities that Kozol visited, and “renarrativizing” them, showing what he missed. The presentations, which included personal reflections, poems, stories, analyses and more, highlighted what Tara Yosso termed “community cultural wealth” in these same communities. The presenters argued for more nuanced truths, for an assets-based approach, for experience-rich narratives.

As one speaker noted, it is only “renarrativizing” from the perspective Kozol took, a white gaze. The people living in these communities have long known and shared stories like those told in this book. But now, increasingly, (professional) scholars are also taking this perspective.

[Reauthoring Savage Inequalities] offers rich, wide-ranging counternarratives to social, political, and educational discourses that characterize urban schools and communities as places of despair, revealing the resources and strategies of resistance that teachers, students, and families use to succeed and thrive.

Publisher website for Reauthoring Savage Inequalities: Narratives of Community Cultural Wealth in Urban Educational Environments. (SUNY Press, 2023).

Towards the end of the panel, an audience member asked about the danger of presenting asset-based narratives. Are we in danger, she asked, of giving people in positions of power – those people who could reallocate funds and change structures but are currently not – an easy way out. They can say, well, hey look, these folk are fine, they have strong community, they support one another, they don’t need anything else (from the state).

No, said the editors, the trick is to hold both: It is not an either/or game: It is not that you have either structural disadvantage or you have community cultural wealth. No, the job of the researcher is to hold both: Demonstrate the impact of disinvestment, redlining, the militarisation of schools, and the need for structural change. And also show strong community relations, social support structures, complex dynamics and the moments of joy. Show the struggle and the survival, the critique and the thriving.

That is hard work, and that is absolutely necessary work. I was inspired by this panel. I immediately pre-ordered the book, and am delighted that it has now arrived. I definitely hope we at RED will be reading it together after the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays.


Lori D. Patton is Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs and Chair for the Department of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University.

Ishwanzya D. Rivers is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Evaluation, and Organizational Development at the University of Louisville.

Raquel L. Farmer-Hinton is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Joi D. Lewis is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joi Unlimited and the Founder and President of Healing Justice Foundation.