Sociologist. Peace Corps volunteer in Africa; University of Washington, Seattle, faculty; City University of New York graduate school, professor of sociology, 1973—, Center for Urban Research, unit chief, 1974—, chair.
Merit Honor Award, U.S. Department of Interior, for work on planning urban national recreation areas; shared First Prize in Applied Research, Progressive Architecture (magazine).
(With Terry M. Williams) Growing up Poor, Lexington Books (Lexington, MA), 1985.
(With Joseph Julian and Carolyn D. Smith) Social Problems, fifth edition, Prentice-Hall, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1986, tenth edition, 2001.
(With Carolyn D. Smith) Sociology in a Changing World, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (New York, NY), 1988, sixth edition, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning (Belmont, CA), 2002.
(With Carolyn D. Smith) In the Field: Readings on the Field Research Experience, Praeger (Westport, CT), 1989.
(Editor with Carolyn D. Smith) The Healing Experience: Readings on the Social Context of Health Care, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1994.
(With Terry M. Williams) The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope in the Projects, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Carolyn D. Smith) Sociology: The Central Questions, Harcourt Brace College Publishers (Fort Worth, TX), 1998.
At Sea in the City: New York from the Water's Edge, illustrated by Oliver Williams, foreword by Pete Hamill, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2002.
William Kornblum is a sociologist whose research has been concentrated in the areas of urban and rural open spaces. Among his projects was a series of studies in Manhattan that were used in planning the redevelopment of lower Times Square. Other New York projects include research of Central Park in connection with the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds Urban Parks Initiative.
In addition to textbooks, Kornblum has written a number of works based on his sociological research, including Blue Collar Community, the result of a nearly three-year study conducted in the steel mill neighborhoods of South Chicago during the 1970s. Kornblum moved his family to the community in order to thoroughly understand what life was like for the many ethnic and racial groups who served that industry, and for six months, he worked as a steel mill foreman in order to achieve the intimacy with the workers necessary to the accuracy of his study.
Mirra Komarovsky wrote in Contemporary Sociology that Kornblum's main theme is "the emergence of solidarities that transcend ethnic groups. As leaders (in steel mills, unions, and political clubs) compete for prestige and power they form alliances across ethnic and racial cleavages. It is through such community-forming processes that successive waves of immigrant ethnic groups take their place in general community institutions, all the while maintaining some segmented social structures based upon ethnicity and race."
A. H. Raskin noted in the New York Times that "through close association with his neighbors …Kornblum saw the glacial slowness with which the success of interracial coalitions in shifting power in local union elections inside the steel plants produced any movement in the general politics of South Chicago toward closer cooperation between the entrenched ethnic groups—Poles, Serbs, Croatians, and Italians—and the newer elements seeking a toehold. Often the progress in ward politics was all backward. Racial assertiveness among Mexican-Americans and blacks tended to foster a resurgence of self-conscious ethnic identity into the third and fourth generations."
Kornblum wrote Growing up Poor with Terry M. Williams, with whom he managed a youth-employment demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1979. The focus of the book is the plight of youth living in three New York neighborhoods, one each in Cleveland, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky, and the neighborhoods around Meridian, Mississippi.
The project was unique, in that because there were not enough trained ethnographers to conduct the research, a large pool of young people from the areas were hired as assistants. They wrote detailed accounts of their own lives and the dynamics of their neighborhoods and conducted interviews with their parents and their peers under the supervision of field directors. Essentially, the youth filled the key roles of both subject and researcher. The study yielded data on subjects important to policymakers, including patterns of drug use, crime, and early pregnancy, as well as providing insight into the reasons why some youths are able to escape the poverty of their surroundings while others are not.
Mercer L. Sullivan wrote in American Journal of Sociology that "although the book sometimes seems spread thin over so many communities and social issues, the ethnographic data presented are fascinating and provide a welcome contrast to the many quantitative studies that fail to portray the ways in which the multiple problems of poor youths, along with their resources for survival, are embedded in specific community contexts." In a Social Forces review, Cynthia Duncan called Growing up Poor "an admirable, thoughtful blend of social research and action."
Kornblum and Williams collaborated again on The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope in the Projects, completed while Kornblum was teaching at City University of New York and Williams was at the New School for Social Research. The authors focused on teens in Harlem housing projects, and drew information from journal-writing by the teens and regular meetings in Williams's Harlem apartment. The volume includes excerpts from the journals of six of the participants and observations on race, education, work, sex, and family. A Publishers Weekly writer noted that the authors "point out how the housing projects function as a source of strength and community."
Kornblum and Carolyn D. Smith are coeditors of In the Field: Readings on the Field Research Experience, a collection of essays that incudes both new writing and previously published works. Most of the studies discussed were conducted in the Unites States, and the essays show how researchers gained access to communities, formed relationships, and maintained objectivity while collecting data.
At Sea in the City: New York from the Water's Edge is Kornblum's account of the history of maritime culture and the New York coastline that he follows in Tradition, his twenty-four-foot sailboat. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Kornblum "has lots of good stories and background material, conveyed in a voice just scholarly enough to let you know he has done his research. But the tone is also personal; [Kornblum] …makes clear he has lived much of his understanding of the area" from his home on Long Beach, Long Island.
John D. Thomas noted in the New York Times Book Review that one of Kornblum's goals "is to show that efforts by environmentalists and ecologists have helped improve the city's water quality." Emily Block wrote in Ruminator Review that Kornblum "combines his knowledge of the town's neighborhoods and history with an amateur's love of sailing in these musings on New York, its waterways, and his own history as a sailor."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Sociology, May, 1987, Mercer L. Sullivan, review of Growing up Poor, pp. 1570-1571.
Choice, April, 1975, review of Blue Collar Community, p. 298.
Comparative Studies in Society and History, July, 1999, Charles Lindholm, review of In the Field: Readings on the Field Research Experience, pp. 601-602.
Contemporary Sociology, March, 1976, Mirra Komarovsky, review of Blue Collar Community, pp. 203-204.
International Journal of Comparative Sociology, September-December, 1992, Brad Bullock, review of In the Field, pp. 242-243.
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, July, 1991, William Shaffir, review of In the Field, p. 241.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of At Sea in the City: New York from the Water's Edge, p. 384.
Library Journal, April 15, 2002, Harry Frumerman, review of At Sea in the City, p. 112.
New York Times, February 15, 1975, A. H. Raskin, review of Blue Collar Community, p. 27.
New York Times Book Review, July 7, 2002, John D. Thomas, review of At Sea in the City, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1994, review of The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope in the Projects, p. 76; April 8, 2002, review of At Sea in the City, p. 213.
Ruminator Review, summer, 2002, Emily Bloch, review of At Sea in the City, p. 24.
Social Casework, May, 1987, Albert S. Alissi, review of Growing up Poor, pp. 317-318.
Social Forces, September, 1987, Cynthia Duncan, review of Growing up Poor, pp. 274-275; September, 1990, Gary Alan Fine, review of In the Field, pp. 336-338.
Social Work, January-February, 1987, Lawrence S. Root, review of Growing up Poor, p. 91.*