Eric Klinenberg ’89 Talks on Social Solidarity

The History Department treated the 8th grade and the Upper School to their second “ZooMX.” New York University Professor of Social Science, published author, New York Times columnist and Parker graduate Eric Klinenberg ’89 recently hosted the virtual gathering with more than 70 students and faculty.
Klinenberg opened this experience speaking about his love for Parker. Having attended the school from Junior Kindergarten through 12th grade, his feelings run deep. “I can’t think of more exciting and intellectually intense rooms than the ones I sat in at Parker,” he said. While he was honest in acknowledging that no place is perfect, he referred to his Parker experience as “… powerful and profound…” and the school itself as “…a special place to learn and grow.”
The visiting professor then talked about his first book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, in which he took a sociological look at the 1995 Chicago heat wave—an avoidable crisis that resulted in thousands of Chicagoans hospitalized and hundreds dead and featured local political leaders fighting with the scientific community about the “actual” causes of these deaths. As he shared details of how this relatively modern crisis disproportionately affected minorities and those living in traditionally blighted areas of the city, Klinenberg repeatedly asked if any of this sounded familiar, alluding to the current COVID-19 crisis gripping our city, country and planet.
Klinenberg then took a closer look at the concept of social distancing, noting that, in times of crisis, we may need physical distance, but the concept of social solidarity was important and possibly even essential to keeping people alive and engaged in society. He said it is fairly easy to survive a heatwave if the proper social supports are in place, but in this current time, we are all hunkered down in relative solitude. Modern society is organized into a web of interdependent relationships between people and institutions, and Klinenberg pointed out that times of crisis have a way of making these relationships more visible—for better and for worse.
While admitting things are difficult right now, he also saw hope and promise for using this time to take a closer look at our lives and ask ourselves: Who are we? What do we value? What kinds of things do we struggle with? What work needs be done at home? In your neighborhood? In your city?
When this COVID-19 crisis ends, Klinenberg predicts a period of social and political change the likes of which we have never seen as a country. He hopes we emerge with new ways to encourage and support each other.
Following his remarks, Klinenberg fielded a range of thoughtful questions from the audience. In closing, he said, “There has never been a time in my life when it felt like so much has been up for grabs,” and he reminded his student audience, “What kind of future we have depends a lot on folks like you.”
Klinenberg was the second participant, following Jonathan Alter ’75, in a new program in our virtual word, the ZooMX. Teachers will invite history students to join three more ZooMXes before the end of the year: Northwestern Professor Daniel Immerwahr on his book, How to Build an Empire; University of Kansas Professor David Farber ’74 on Vietnam and the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on her latest book, These Truths.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.