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Brent Cebul’s work considers shifts in Americans’ perceptions of the efficacy of the federal government and the free market in shaping economic opportunity in the post-Civil Rights era. He is concerned with the relationship between individuals’ self perceptions, the persistence of localism within American federalism, and changes over time in how Americans have viewed the national government’s proper role in enhancing or limiting economic opportunity, particularly for marginalized or impoverished citizens.
Over the 1970s, the United States’s unique system of federalism and the sense that Washington had overreached provided an impetus for small government political mobilization that opened the door to the decentralization and deregulation of federal aid to states and localities. The result was a dramatic shift in community and economic development programs, from the Great Society’s progressive, often holistic, “socializing” view, to a more explicitly market-driven conception of deregulated development that promised to “trickle down” in the 1980s. This transition marked a post-New Deal nadir in support for national intervention in the local and regional political economies that was paired with unprecedented faith in the “free” market. Brent seeks to better understand the emergence of this antigovernment mood that enabled these changes as well as the subtle yet profound ways these shifts affected the various beneficiaries—both intended and unintended—of federal aid for community and economic development. His focus on changes in the federal system itself embeds local narratives of social, policy, and political change within a broader story of national and international political development.
Brent holds a B.A. from Hamilton College and an M.A. from the University of Virginia. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.