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2020 revealed the soul of America—our democracy, identity, and values. We must grapple with what we learned to find a way forward.

Author of Palaces for the People and 2020 | Award-Winning Sociologist | Director of NYU's Institute for Public Knowledge

Eric Klinenberg | Author of Palaces for the People and Going Solo
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We Need to Talk About 2020 If We Want to Heal (2:52)

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How One Woman’s Mutual Aid Network Transformed Her Community in 2020 (4:05)

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How Masks Became a Symbol for Political Polarization (5:47)

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A Successful Democracy Is Worth Our Collective Investment (4:06)

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How Do We Make the Real World More Appealing Than Our Phones? (3:33)

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What If We Put All Our Best Ideas for Community Into One Building? (4:04)

Lavin Exclusive Speaker

2020 gave us a window into the soul of America, says renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg. It taught us invaluable lessons about our identity, community, and values (the ones that served us, and the ones that didn’t). And if we grapple with what the pandemic showed us, we’ll be able to face the next crisis, foster strong leadership, and find a better path forward for our democracy. In his latest book, 2020, Eric tells the stories of seven ordinary people in New York City—from a renegade bar owner to the organizer of a mutual aid network—to explore how we can cultivate resilience and solidarity together. Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond says that “2020 compellingly reveals what the pandemic laid bare about our culture, our institutions, and ourselves.”

“Wow. A comprehensive, entertaining, and compelling argument for how rebuilding social infrastructure can help heal divisions in our society and move us forward.”—Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show

Eric Klinenberg is a bestselling author, renowned sociologist, and Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.

His latest book, 2020, is a “gripping, deeply moving account of a signal year in modern history, told through the stories of seven ordinary people trying to survive at the epicenter of the crisis” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies). A brilliant and compassionate investigation of the pandemic and everything it revealed about us, 2020 is a vital addition to Eric’s work on democracy, solidarity, wellbeing, infrastructure, and more. In a starred review, Booklist calls it “superb… essential reading.”

In his previous book, Palaces for the People, he argues that social infrastructure, “the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact,” are the key to building a democracy that works for everyone. Our ability to live and work together depends on rebuilding our libraries, parks, churches and schools—all the places that strangers and familiars alike mingle and cross paths. Palaces for the People “reminds us that democracy is fortified and enlivened by people coexisting together in public, and that good design and support of a wide variety of public spaces can produce those mysterious things we call community, membership, a sense of belonging, a place, maybe a polity,” says author Rebecca Solnit. NPR named Palaces for the People as one of its Best Books of 2018.

An innovative and optimistic speaker, Eric sheds light on demographic, social, and environmental transformations. A professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, his body of work includes Heat Wave, where he looked at the future of cities in the age of climate change, and Going Solo, where he charted the societal impact of people who live alone. All together, he offers audiences a spectrum of human life; how we live, and how we live together.

“[In Palaces for the People ], Klinenberg persuasively illustrates the vital role [space plays] in repairing civic life ‘in an era characterized by urgent social needs and gridlock stemming from political polarization.’”— Publisher’s Weekly

Eric is a lively presence on stage, with a knack for finding humor and spontaneous insight. He has appeared on TV programs and podcasts (like This American Life) and has written for The Guardian, Rolling StoneThe New York Times Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Speech Topics

Politics & Society
2020The Year Everything Changed, and Why It Matters

Why look back at 2020? Because “crises allow us to see ourselves more clearly,” says sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg. That year, and the overlapping crises we faced, has shaped us in ways we don’t even fully recognize yet—and we need to grapple with our past in order to forge a better path forward.

In this hopeful, thought-provoking talk, Eric draws on his book 2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed. He tells stories of ordinary people who came together in community during 2020, from an elementary school principal to a subway custodian. Through these stories, he encourages us to develop our own networks of solidarity, building stronger communities and a healthy democracy. He offers lessons on leadership: what do we do in a crisis, and how can we prepare for the next one? Ultimately, he shows us how we can use this insight to move forward together.

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Civic Engagement
Palaces for the PeopleHow Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

In this keynote based on Palaces for the People, Eric guides audiences through his deeply researched conception of social infrastructure, and how we can build it together. The future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces, he explains. Our libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, places of worship, and parks are where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. These places where people gather and linger, making friends across group lines, strengthen the entire community. When strong, neighborhoods flourish; when neglected, as it has been in recent years, families and individuals must fend for themselves.

This talk offers a timely and empathetic blueprint for change, showing how how social infrastructure is helping solve some of our most pressing challenges: isolation, crime, education, addiction, political polarization, and even climate change.

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Corporate Culture
Your Office Is a CommunitySocial Infrastructure in the Workplace

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. We’ve all heard that before. But where does a great culture start? It starts when your office feels like a community of friends. As office workers, we spend most of our waking hours in an environment that boasts as many computers as people—and yet we rarely think about how this affects our productivity, our happiness, or our ability to work together.

In this customized talk, sociologist Eric Klinenberg brings social infrastructure to a corporate scale, showing your audience the ways that physical space can be optimized to your needs. Creative workspace? Clear and open dialogue? What about a day care center? Eric will tell you about how Google built soccer fields, bike paths, and gardens around their headquarters—and while you may not be Google, there is something to be learned from any successful space. This talk will leave you with the knowledge and motivation to introduce connection-building changes to your workplace, no matter the size.

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Climate Crisis
AdaptationSuperstorms, Climate Change, and the Future of Cities

Why wasn’t the Eastern Seaboard better prepared for Hurricane Sandy? Why did seven hundred and thirty-nine people die in Chicago’s 1995 heat wave? Instances of natural disasters are on the rise, and few places are ready. In this talk, Eric Klinenberg draws on his New Yorker article “Adaptation” and his book on the great Chicago heat wave to explore the concept of “climate-proofing” our cities. He provides a dramatic, tragic story of what can happen when cities and nations fail to learn from previous disasters, and an argument for how they can use recent history and cutting-edge science to become more resilient and better prepared. Should we be scared of climate change? Yes, of course, Eric says. But let’s use that fear to drive change and build stronger, more agile cities that benefit from intelligent and climate-proof design.

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Social Justice
Going SoloHow the Biggest Demographic Change Since the Baby Boom is Changing the Way We Live

The biggest demographic change since the baby boom is in full swing, and no one seems to be talking about it. Except for Eric Klinenberg. The rise of single living in the U.S.—where 50% of all adults now live in single households—and the rest of the Western world is drastically changing our economy, our cities, and the way we communicate.

In this eye-opening talk, Eric shows us the sweeping societal changes that accompany the trend of single living. How is the increased demand for single living spaces changing our urban landscapes? Why are singles more connected to their social network than married and common law couples? And, most importantly, what are the causes of this drastic shift in lifestyle? Eric unravels our half-century journey towards a more single society, shedding light on why this trend is likely here to stay, and what it means for us.

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