Reading Circle: The University as Social Infrastructure

Image/logo for Emerging Practices Reading Circle

By the end of my research, I’d discovered that the key difference … turned out to be what I call social infrastructure: the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact. — Erik Klinenberg, Palaces for the People

Image Cover: Palaces for the People
Click to go to electronic version in UW Libraries.

During Autumn 2019, the Library will again be hosting the Emerging Practices Reading Circle, a reading group open to UW Tacoma faculty and staff. This quarter we will read and discuss the book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by the sociologist Eric Klinenberg. (Publisher description / e-book version from UW Libraries)

The group is open to faculty and staff, and we strive to have cross-campus representation. We may cap the group to twelve participants, depending on interest.


In this book, Klinenberg looks at the way that social infrastructure, such as libraries, community gardens, sidewalks, and cafes, can strengthen the resilience of communities. These institutions, organizations, and spaces promote “local, face-to-face interactions” that are the “building blocks of public life.” 

The Library is hosting this reading group to create a small “social infrastructure” for the UW Tacoma academic community to discuss emerging forms of pedagogical and research practices. Participants in this reading group will be encouraged to examine social infrastructure within the context of University of Washington Tacoma and consider how it may strengthen relationships and a sense of community on campus. In turn, how can an awareness of social infrastructure influence research agendas, assignment design, and the spaces and organizations that support these activities?


During the reading group, participants will pose questions to the group and lead discussions. At the conclusion, each participant will present an evaluation of an example of social infrastructure on campus. 

The goals of this reading group are to:

  • Engage in an open-ended exploration about the ways that social infrastructure influences our experience of urban spaces and the university.  
  • Reflect on the ways that campus community can effectively use existing spaces and intentionally design them to strengthen social interaction between faculty, staff, students, and the community.
  • Creatively and critically evaluate existing social infrastructures the support research, teaching, learning, and community building on campus.

Organization and Schedule

The Library will be purchasing approximately 10-12 print copies of the book for interested participants. The book will be read over the quarter and discussed at monthly lunch hour meetings. Participants will be expected to commit to:

  • Attending the monthly lunch hour book discussions on these dates:
    • Monday, 10/7/19, 12:30-1:30pm
    • Monday, 11/4/19, 12:30-1:30pm
    • Monday, 12/2/19, 12:30-1:30pm
  • Engaging with text and leading group discussions.

To sign up for this book group, please sign-up through this form or contact the convener of the Autumn 2019 Reading Circle: Justin Wadland, Associate Director & Head, Digital Scholarship

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