In the context of COVID, growing inequality, and political polarization, I am writing a book that diagnoses some of the current challenges facing Americans and offers a way forward. This is achieved by drawing on survey data and interviews with boomers, Gen Zs, and leading “agents of change,” who are producing new narratives in entertainment, comedy, advocacy, religion, art, journalism, impact investing, and other fields of activity.
Neoliberal scripts of self, based on criteria emphatically centered on material success, competitiveness, individualism, and self-reliance, are increasingly associated with poor mental health across classes. Agents of change offer alternatives: they are promoting narratives of hope that emphasize inclusion,diversity, sustainability and authenticity – as part of an increasingly salient “politic of recognition” that broadens cultural citizenship and thus affects exclusion and inequality.
I aim to understand how their influence takes shape through “recognition chains” that mobilize philanthropy, new social movements, social media, and more. Drawing on collaborative papers, I also analyze how Gen Zs make sense of growing inequality and COVID, and find/produce hope during this period of high uncertainty by drawing on available cultural repertoires.