Department of Anthropology
Brett Williams began her work as an anthropologist working among migrant farm workers in Illinois, exploring how they coped with terrible poverty and helping them organize a lettuce boycott and raise money for a halfway house. Since coming to Washington in 1976, Williams has written about gentrification, displacement, and homelessness; urban renewal and public housing; race and poverty; environmental justice in the Anacostia Watershed; urban nature; illness and inequality; the culture of and credit and debt. She has published six books, including one on the African American hero John Henry, Upscaling Downtown, on the pain and promise of integration in an urban neighborhood and Debt for Sale, which explores the rise of the super-profitable credit industry, including credit cards, student loans, pawnshops, and other predatory lenders. Working with community ethnographers, Williams and her students have done projects for the National Park Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife. In their work they tried to join theory and practice in promoting better public policy and social justice.