Robert Fairbanks is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Service Administration. His fields of interest include urban ethnography, urban studies, welfare state theory, and critical social policy analysis. At SSA, Professor Fairbanks teaches courses on urban poverty, the political economy of urban development, and the history and philosophy of the welfare state.
Professor Fairbanks' research focuses on the ways in which informal poverty survival mechanisms and institutional reforms articulate with the restructuring of the contemporary welfare state and the political economy of cities. His most recent book, How it Works: Recovering Citizens in Post-Welfare Philadelphia (University of Chicago Press, 2009), is an ethnographic project that examines how unlicensed, unregulated drug and alcohol recovery houses operate as street-level anti-poverty strategies and mechanisms of governmentality in postindustrial Philadelphia. He has also published a co-edited project titled, "Critical ethnography in the neoliberal city," as a special issue of the journal Ethnography. Professor Fairbanks is currently conducting an ethnographic study in a medium level security correctional facility billed as the nation's largest substance abuse prison.
Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, Professor Fairbanks served as an instructor in the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice. He also taught an undergraduate seminar on urban poverty in the Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Fairbanks received a B.A. in English from Boston College, an M.S.W. from the University of Vermont, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Pennsylvania.
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