Representing Poverty and Inequality: The legacy of Charles Booth

Hosted by the International Inequalities Institute and LSE Literary Festival

Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building


Joseph Bullman

Joseph Bullman

Professor Mary Morgan

Professor Mary Morgan

Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise


Professor Nicola Lacey

Professor Nicola Lacey

In the wake of the Centenary of the death of Charles Booth, whose poverty maps and surveys started a quiet revolution in the methodology of the social sciences, a group of writers will reflect on what we can learn from Booth’s work today in terms of the techniques available to write about, analyse and make present to the reader the realities of poverty and inequality.  Booth’s maps can still teach us much, but many late Victorian classifications strike us today as highly moralistic, even disrespectful.  Do classifications inevitably distort social reality, or are they an indispensable means to understanding and representing it? Can fictional writing or media such as documentaries achieve more, or different things, from social scientific or historical studies?

Joseph Bullman is an award winning documentary filmmaker.  He created BBC’s The Secret History of Our Streets, which took Charles Booth’s monumental survey of London as its departure point to tell histories of single streets, from Booth’s time to the present day. These microcosmic street-histories acted as portals into the larger forces which shaped a nation. The series was nominated for 14 awards and won a Royal Society of Television Award and two Griersons. His other work includes The Seven Sins of England, in which modern-day yobs perform the real-words of their binge-drinking ancestors; and The Secret History of Our Family, which forward-traced families from the Victorian slums down to the present day. He’s now working on a third Secret History series, this time focusing on the North of England

Mary Morgan is the Albert O. Hirschman Professor of History and Philosophy of Economics at the LSE.   Her research has addressed the practical side of how economists do economics: how do models, measurements, observation, experiments, etc. actually work, and how have these changed over the last century?  Her most recent books include The World in the Model and How Well Do Facts Travel? Professor Morgan has received many research grants, honours and awards, and is Vice-President of the British Academy and an Overseas Fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is currently working on projects on poverty measurement, on how economics gets used to change things in the world, and on the ways that narrative forms of explanation are used in the sciences.

Sarah Wise (@MissSarahWise) has a Master's Degree in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College, University of London. She teaches 19th-century social history and literature to both undergraduates and adult learners. She is Visiting Professor at the University of California’s London Study Center and a guest lecturer at City University. Her debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. Her follow-up, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for evocation of a location and was a Radio 4 Book of the Year. Her most recent book, Inconvenient People, was shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Prize.

Nicola Lacey is School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy at LSE.

The International Inequalities Institute at LSE (@LSEInequalities) brings together experts from many LSE departments and centres to lead critical and cutting edge research to understand why inequalities are escalating in numerous arenas across the world, and to develop critical tools to address these challenges.

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This event forms part of the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival 2017, taking place from Monday 20 - Saturday 25 February 2017, with the theme 'Revolutions'.


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