Two generations. One future.

Fellows Forum

Dr. Mario Small

Dr. Mario Small

Chicago, IL

Ascend Action Plan: Dr. Mario Small is the Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. His qualitative and quantitative research in Boston, New York, and Chicago has covered a number of issues relevant to the two-generation strategy: the dynamics behind social networks; the differences in the experience of poverty from city to city; the significance of organizational conditions for networks of mothers and children; and the relevance of inter-organizational relationships to the experience of poor people. 

Dr. Small is using this experience to partner with Ascend Fellows Dr. P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Henry Wilde to promote social capital – trusted networks and connections – among parents in Head Start centers.  Together, they are designing and testing the impact of “intentionally-created” parental networks on child and family outcomes, and determining if leveraging these parental networks will support improved outcomes in Head Start programs.  They are developing a pilot project in three early learning centers that are part of Acelero Learning’s forā€profit network of Head Start centers. The approach to the intervention is straightforward: at Acelero, a family advocate provides parents with resources, guidance, and instruction in parenting and child development. Parents are expected to pass these skills on to the child, whose test scores are used as a measurement of improvement. The pilot program is designed to create incentives for parents to share information and support and encourage each other.  In this way, parental networks supplement the role of the family advocate.  Results of the project will be released in 2014-2015.

Dr. Small also supported the development of the Aspen Institute Anthology on Two-Generation Solutions, written by leading experts from across sectors to highlight the opportunities, challenges, and implications for practice, policy, and research.  

Biography: Dr. Mario L. Small joined Harvard University in 2014 after eight years at the University of Chicago, where he was John Mathews Manly Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology and of the College.  At the University of Chicago, as chair of the department of sociology and later dean of the division of the social sciences, he spearheaded initiatives that increased support for students, generated resources for faculty research, seeded programs in urban and in computational social science, empirically assessed the institutional climate for students and for faculty of all backgrounds, and substantially expanded the division's reserves.  After much soul-searching, Small decided to return to his alma mater, lured by the prospects of building a network of researchers using “big data” to answer new questions in urban theory and eager to complete a long-gestating book on how actors mobilize networks of support.  An expert on urban poverty, social support networks, and qualitative and mixed methods, Small has made award-winning contributions to research on urban neighborhoods, social networks, inequality, culture, organizational capacity, methodology, the sociology of knowledge, and other topics.

He is the author of Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio (2004, Univ Chicago Press), a study of a predominantly Puerto Rican housing complex in Boston; Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life (2009, Oxford Univ Press), a study of the networks of New York City mothers; and numerous articles.

Small's work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Theory and Society, Social Science Research, Annual Review of Sociology, and other journals. He recently co-edited an issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences devoted to the relationship between culture and poverty. He is Associate Editor of the American Journal of Sociology, a trustee of N.O.R.C., and director of the experimental initiative the Urban Portal, a gateway to the latest in urban social science.

Professor Small’s research interests include urban poverty, inequality, culture, networks, case study methods, and higher education. He is currently working on several projects dealing with urban conditions, organizations, and networks. Dr. Small is currently on the board of Social Science Quarterly. Next year, he'll be on the boards of the Social Psychology Quarterly and Sociological Forum. Small received his bachelor degree from Carleton College in 1996 and his master and doctoral degrees from Harvard University in 2001.