William Julius Wilson giving a talk in
Johnson Chapel, May 22, 2005.

Hear audio of Wilson's talk

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04

2005 Honorary Degree Recipients

William Julius Wilson
Doctor of Laws

William Julius Wilson is a path-breaking sociologist whose work addresses some of our nation’s most pressing problems—including urban poverty, social inequality and race and class relations—with an equal measure of science and humanity.

In his groundbreaking 1978 book, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions, Wilson outlined a new paradigm for thinking about race, suggesting that a large black underclass had been created not by racism, but by class divisions and changes in the global economy.

Since that first dramatic announcement of his provocative but persuasive brilliance, Wilson has elaborated and expanded that provocative argument in a series of influential articles and books, including The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy; When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor; and The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics.

Firmly grounded in data, but informed by a belief that knowledge can affect profound social change, Wilson’s work doesn’t fit neatly into the disciplinary boundaries that characterize academia. Past president of the American Sociological Association, Wilson has been honored by colleagues in a remarkable range of academic fields: He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education and the American Philosophical Society. In 1998, he received the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States. He is the only non-economist to have received the Seidman Award in Political Economy.

Wilson holds a Ph.D. from Washington State University. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Chicago, and since 1996 has been on the faculty at Harvard, where he is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser Professor. He is one of only 17 professors to hold a University Professorship, Harvard’s highest professional distinction.