Mitchell Duneier is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and the author most recently of Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, which won the seventh annual Zócalo Book Prize. He is also the author of Sidewalk, an ethnography of New York City street vendors. After we finished talking to him about his worst habit and where he’d like to time travel, and before he told a full house crowd the story of the evolution of the word “ghetto” during a lecture entitled, “Will We Ever Eliminate Ghettos?” he confessed that we would have gotten much more out of him had we stuck to talking about Bruce Springsteen, the subject of a course he teaches at Princeton called Bruce Springsteen’s America.
Where do you go to be alone?
I go on long walks.
If you could time travel to any ghetto in history to do some research, which would you choose?
Rome, 1555. Because I’d like to see how the Jews experienced the initial moments of ghettoization after having been citizens of Rome for centuries.
What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?
“Racing in the Street” by Bruce Springsteen.
What’s your worst habit?
Losing my keys.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
How do you answer people when they ask you what a sociologist does?
I never answer that question in just a few words.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday morning?
With my family.
What book have you re-read the most?
Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
What’s the last live event or performance you saw?
It was a taping of the Comedy Central show Problematic with Moshe Kasher, just yesterday.
How did you spend your plane ride out to L.A.?
I was reading a book produced by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. It’s called Warsaw, Varshe, the Jewish Warsaw and the Warsaw Jews.