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Introducing Katherine Levine Einstein

Megan Winderbaum sat down with our newest faculty member, Katherine Levine Einstein, to get a feeling for how she got interested in politics, what kind of work she is currently doing, and what she, Tina Fey, Joe Biden, and David Mitchell would talk about at dinner.

Megan Winderbaum: When did you discover your interest in politics?

Katherine Levine Einstein: Probably starting in high school. I grew up in the nation’s most segregated city (Milwaukee, WI). As I became more politically aware, I became interested in whether residential patterns—like the ones in my hometown—were inevitable or whether government policies could shape household mobility and opportunity.

MW: What was your favorite course that you took as an undergrad and why ?

KLE: David Blight’s Civil War history class. The part of his course on Reconstruction, in particular, underscored that we have been having the same political debates about racial equality and civil rights over and over again throughout the course of American history, and that we will undoubtedly continue to have variations of the same argument for years to come.

MW: Tell me a little about your dissertation.

KLE: My dissertation asks why some metropolitan areas are able to work together on important local policy challenges, while others remain hopelessly divided. I find that racially segregated metropolitan areas—like my hometown—exhibit sharp, geographically based political divisions. These ideological cleavages, in turn, hinder the ability of these racially segregated communities to cooperate when forging important local policies, like mass transit and affordable housing. These results present a disturbing implication for scholars and policy-makers who hope that metropolitan cooperation can help redress spatial inequality; they suggest that the regions most in need of coalition-building will be the least able to implement these potentially valuable partnerships.

MW: What are you working on right now?

KLE: I’m turning my dissertation into a book! In particular, I’m expanding the dissertation project by exploring whether metropolitan areas are better able to work together depending upon the policy arena under discussion; in addition to mass transportation and affordable housing—which are already explored in the dissertation—I also plan on considering regional workforce development and regional food bank policies.

I’m also working on a couple of collaborative projects related to urban politics, racial contexts, and coalition-building. One project explores how black economic empowerment shapes descriptive and substantive representation at the local level. Another considers whether local partisanship affects public goods provision; for example, do more Democratic-leaning cities hire more public employees? Do these left-leaning communities have more progressive property tax codes? Finally, I’m currently working on a manuscript for a co-authored book project exploring the role of factual misinformation in hindering democratic coalition-building at the national level.

MW: What is your favorite part about being in the classroom (teaching)?

KLE: I love when I am able to help students connect classroom themes to the outside world. Most of my students are going to have careers outside of academia, so I hope that I can find ways to make sometimes abstract political science concepts relevant to their lives as democratic citizens. I’m thrilled when students link ideas that I’m teaching to their local communities, summer internships, and the broader political landscape.

MW: If you could have lunch with any three people (living or dead), who would you choose and why?

KLE:

  1. Tina Fey. I find a lot of what she says about modern feminism really interesting. I also suspect that, if she’s anything like her character on 30 Rock, she and I may be food soul mates.
  2. Joe Biden. He says crazy things off-the-cuff! I could probably learn some pretty interesting things about our current Oval Office (as well as Senates past and present).
  3. David Mitchell. He’s my favorite modern fiction writer; I would love to hear how he comes up with his ideas and envelops himself fully in the worlds that he creates.

MW: If you had to choose only three books to take with you on a deserted island, what would they be?

KLE: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Road by Cormac McCarthy—these are my two favorite novels. I’d probably also bring along A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, just because it feels appropriate for being stuck on a deserted island. While Bryson’s account of his time on the Appalachian Trail does not have a lot of helpful survival tips, he does have a long digression on bear attacks that could be relevant if the deserted island is grizzly-infested.

MW: What sort of things do you do in your spare time?

KLE: I love to figure skate! I used to compete when I was a teenager, but I still have fun going to the rink a couple of days a week and trying some jumps (you can sometimes catch me attempting—and falling on—some old moves at Walter Brown Arena).

Other than skating, I like to hike, kayak, and curl up with a good novel.

MW: Are you related to Albert?

KLE: Not closely: my husband is his fourth cousin twice removed, so I’m his very distant in-law.

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