Frances Fox Piven

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Frances Fox Piven
Piven2 crop.jpg
Frances Fox

(1932-10-10) October 10, 1932 (age 90)
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.)
Scientific career
FieldsPolitical science, sociology
InstitutionsBoston University, City University of New York
Doctoral advisorEdward C. Banfield
Doctoral studentsJane McAlevey, Immanuel Ness
Piven with her husband Richard Cloward at the Motor Voter signing ceremony (1993)

Frances Fox Piven (born October 10, 1932)[1] is an American professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, where she has taught since 1982.[2]

Piven is known equally for her contributions to social theory and for her social activism. A veteran of the war on poverty and subsequent welfare-rights protests both in New York City and on the national stage, she has been instrumental in formulating the theoretical underpinnings of those movements. Over the course of her career, she has served on the boards of the ACLU and the Democratic Socialists of America, and has also held offices in several professional associations, including the American Political Science Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.[3] Previously, she had been a member of the political science faculty at Boston University.

Life and education[edit]

Piven was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada,[2] of Russian Jewish immigrant parents,[4] Rachel (née Paperny) and Albert Fox, a storekeeper.[5][6] Piven immigrated to the United States when she was one and was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1953.[2] She was raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. She attended P.S. 148 and Newtown High School.[7] She received a B.A. in City Planning in 1953, an M.A. in 1956, and a Ph.D. in 1962, all from the University of Chicago.[2] She attended on a scholarship and she waitressed for living expenses.[7] Piven's dissertation at the University of Chicago was directed by Edward C. Banfield.[8]


Piven was married to her long-time collaborator Richard Cloward until his death in 2001.[2] Together with Cloward, she wrote an article in the May 1966 issue of The Nation titled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" advocating increased enrollment in social welfare programs in order to collapse that system and force reforms, leading to a guaranteed annual income.[9][10] This political strategy has been referred to as the "Cloward–Piven strategy".[11] During 2006/07 Piven served as the President of the American Sociological Association.[12]

While at Boston University, she and her political science department colleagues Murray Levin and Howard Zinn refused to go back to work after the settlement of the 1979 Boston University strike. Clerical and support staff had also gone out on strike at the time of the AAUP, and Piven, Levin, Zinn and others refused to cross their picket line, holding their classes elsewhere in solidarity with the unresolved strike. The "B.U. Five" were threatened with dismissal by B.U. President John Silber.[13]

Silber later backed down, and Piven and the others eventually returned to the classroom.[14] Piven eventually left B.U. for C.U.N.Y.

Activism and legislation[edit]

Throughout her career, Piven has combined academic work with political action.[15] In 1968, she signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[16] In 1983 she co-founded Human SERVE (Service Employees Registration and Voter Education), an organization with the goal of increasing voter registration by linking voter registration offerings with the use of social services or state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Human SERVE's initiative was incorporated by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, colloquially known as the "Motor Voter Bill".[2]

She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and serves[17] as one of the eight honorary chairs of that organization.[18]

Piven also engaged Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell in a debate in the PBS television series Free to Choose.[19]


Some of Piven's major works include[20] Regulating the Poor written with Richard Cloward, first published in 1972 and updated in 1993, which is a scrutiny of government welfare policy and how it is used to exert power over lower class individuals;[21] Poor People's Movements, published in 1977, an analysis of how rebellious social movements can induce important reforms;[22] Why Americans Don't Vote, published in 1988 and a follow up book Why Americans Still Don't Vote published in 2000, each of which look at the role of current American electoral practices which tend to discourage the poor working class from exercising their right to vote;[23]The War at Home published in 2004, a critical examination of the domestic results of the wars initiated by the Bush administration;[24] Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, a look at the interaction of disruptive social movements and electoral politics in generating the political force for democratic reform in American history.[25]

Honors and awards[edit]


  • Labor Parties in Postindustrial Societies (Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-19-520927-3)
  • The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism (New Press, 2004, ISBN 978-1-59558-092-4)
  • Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7425-6316-2)
  • Lessons for Our Struggle (Haymarket Books, 2011)

with Richard Cloward:

with Lee Staples and Richard Cloward:

with Lorraine Minnite and Margaret Groarke:

  • Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters (New Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59558-354-3)

The Frances Fox Piven Papers are held by Smith College.[2]


  1. ^ "A Celebration of Women Writers: Canada". Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Frances Fox Piven Papers – Biographical Note Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Five Colleges Archives & Manuscript Collections
  3. ^ "Biographical Note to the Francis Fox Piven Papers" Five College Archives
  4. ^ Ehrenreich, Barbara (November 2006). "ASA Presidents – Frances Fox Piven". ASA Footnotes. Retrieved January 24, 2011. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Polner, Murray (1982). American Jewish biographies – Murray Polner – Google Books. ISBN 9780871964625. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  6. ^ "An Interview with Francis Fox Piven". Democratic Left. October 1, 1999.
  7. ^ a b Margulies, Abby (25 September 2011). "Frances Fox Piven: The Weight of the Poor". Guernica. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  8. ^ Piven, Frances Fox. The Function of Research in the Formation of City Planning Policy: A Case Study (PhD). University of Chicago. p. ii.
  9. ^ Cloward, Richard; Piven, Frances (May 2, 1966). "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty". The Nation.
  10. ^ Reisch, Michael; Janice Andrews (2001). The Road Not Taken. Brunner Routledge. ISBN 978-1-58391-025-2.
  11. ^ Rogin, Richard (September 27, 1970). "Now It's Welfare Lib". The New York Times. p. SM16. The Cloward-Piven Strategy, as it became known, had a simple radical appeal.
  12. ^ "American Sociological Association – Results of 2005 ASA Election". 2005-07-13. Archived from the original on 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  13. ^ Zinn, Howard. "Remembering Murray Levin". Monthly Review. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  14. ^ Zabel, Gary. "The Boston University Strike of 1979" (PDF). Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  15. ^ McCain, Nina (May 20, 1979). "BU's Piven No Cloistered Academic". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on May 22, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2011.
  16. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  17. ^ "Democratic Socialists of America – Constitution and By-laws" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-08. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  18. ^ "Democratic Socialists of America – Our Structure". Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  19. ^ Free to Choose extract on Youtube
  20. ^ Left Forum. "Board and Staff". Left Forum. Archived from the original on 2019-11-05. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  21. ^ "Regulating the Poor". Archived from the original on 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  22. ^ Kish, Matt. "Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven – Powell's Books". Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  23. ^ Leighley, Jan E. (Winter 2001). "Reviewed Work: Why Americans Still Don't Vote and Why Politicians Want It That Way by Frances Fox Piven, Richard A. Cloward". The Public Opinion Quarterly. 65 (4): 610–612. doi:10.1086/323581.
  24. ^ Kurtz, Geoffrey. "Review: The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism, by Frances Fox Piven". Logos (Winter 2005).
  25. ^ "Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (Polemics)". Archived from the original on 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  26. ^ "Malinowski Award Recipients". Archived from the original on 2016-03-22. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  27. ^ "CUNY Faculty Home Page and Bio". Archived from the original on 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01.

External links[edit]