Spring 2016 Faculty Interview: Dr. John Krinsky

Dr. John Krinsky is an Associate Professor of political science at The City College of New York and recently joined the Graduate Center as a consortial faculty member. He is the author of Free Labor: Workfare and the Contested Language of Neoliberalism University of Chicago Press, 2007 and is co-editor of Marxism and Social Movements, Brill, 2014.

Adam Bell: How did you come to be an editor for Metropolitics and what role do you see the journal playing in the politics of the city?
John Krinsky: I became a co-editor of Metropolitics after the sociologist, Rich Ocejo (at John Jay), with whom I was in a writing group, introduced the group to Stephane Tonnelat. Stephane sought to develop a US site for the French online journal, Metropolitics. Since the writing group was all working on urban issues, we decided we would be the initial editorial board.
As for the role I see Metropolitics playing, I’d like it to be a platform by which academics working on urban issues can write and be read by wider audience. The article format is short, which imposes a terrific discipline on academics to write plainly and directly. I would like it to be something like a Gotham Gazette or City Limits by (mostly) academic writers for a larger audience, and one beyond NYC.
AB: You’ve done quite a bit of research related to workfare and neoliberalism as they play out in New York City. Can you share how you have seen workfare and movements against it evolve since the 2008 financial crisis?
JK: From the standpoint of workfare and the movement against it, there are three things, in particular to say: First, Mayor Bloomberg began to expand workfare in places from which it had largely disappeared–in parks, for example–shortly after the crisis. Workfare, again, is where welfare recipients are forced to work as a condition of receiving benefits. They are not, officially, paid for the work they do, and they don’t have exactly the same rights as regular workers do.  These experimental expansions stopped, however, less because of protest and more because workfare is both cumbersome to administer relative to existing transitional jobs programs, and deeply unpopular among public employees. Second, during this whole time, the movement against workfare has been focusing on the state level in order to take the provision for unpaid work experience programs out of the state welfare reform law of 1997. Led by Community Voices Heard, the efforts to get rid of workfare on the state level are ongoing. Third, the combination of Occupy Wall Street and long-standing community organizing campaigns set the tone for the De Blasio candidacy and mayoral victory. De Blasio’s welfare commissioner, Steve Banks, is committed to phasing out the program altogether by the end of this year. This is hugely significant, and can show that, on a state level, workfare is unnecessary. But without a change in state law, it could be reversed by a workfare-friendly mayor.
AB: What projects are you currently working on?
JK: I have just finished a book with a fantastic co-author, Maud Simonet, a French sociologist, on parks workers and the transformation of public work in New York City: Who Cleans The Park: Public Work and Urban Governance in New York City (Chicago, forthcoming).  The book takes a ground-up view, based on 140 interviews of parks workers and others involved in parks maintenance to understand the transformation of public workplaces and then to trace that all the way up through the reorganization of the local state.
I’m also working on advising my first PhD dissertation at the GC, which is a wonderful thing. I was lucky that Julie Hollar asked me to advise her very, very smart dissertation comparing marriage equality debates in the US and Argentina, and, as apparently the case with advising excellent students, I have found that I’ve learned a lot in the process, too.