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John Betancur Ph.D.,
Associate Professor

Dr, Betancur started his academic career in Latin America teaching and writing in the fields of philosophy first and urban sociology next. His writings on Nietzsche and Hegel were highly valued as was his research and publications on the informal economy and social reproduction among the urban poor. In 1981, he completed a major research project on the conditions, forms of reproduction and struggles of the poor in five low-income communities in Medellin, Colombia (conducted with Albalucía Serna and Patricia Londoño, two professors from a major local university). After immigrating to the  USA and earning a PhD in Public Policy Analysis, he was part of the team that brought the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Urban Economic Development to the forefront of engaged scholarship assisting nonprofits and governments in pioneer initiatives at the local level.

He continued this work as a faculty member of the Urban Planning and Policy Department at UIC, pioneering with other colleagues the study and development of black-Latino coalitions and publishing on urban restructuring, gentrification and the conditions of blacks and Latinos in US cities. Writing from an engaged and critical perspective, his research prioritizes the conditions of under-represented and vulnerable groups in cities in the USA and Latin America seeking (1) to build effective bridges across races, disciplines and countries, and (2) unveiling relationships that are critical for understanding and addressing the condition of minorities and the poor. His research addresses three major and closely related issues: (1) gentrification and impacts of urban restructuring on the poor and minorities, both in the USA and in Latin America, (2) race and class relations in urban environments, and (3) struggles of minority communities for development.

His gentrification research has been tied to his engagement with forces seeking to mitigate the impact of redevelopment of low-income areas on vulnerable groups; he has published about the process of gentrification, class and race politics of gentrification, and the impact of gentrification on minorities via social fabrics has completed various case studies of neighborhoods of gentrification in Chicago. This work has been quoted extensively, has been part of the discussion of policy and action on gentrification, and has placed the author in the middle of this academic debate and the search for policies and interventions that ameliorate the impact of gentrification on vulnerable populations.

Dr. Betancur’s research on race and class unveils the ways in which they reinforce each other and the contradictions and tensions they represent among minorities. Besides pioneering the field of black-Latino relations in various national encounters and a co-edited book (2000 with Dr. Douglas C. Gills) and following up with various other publications, he has engaged actively in black-Latino initiatives and dialogues seeking a better understanding of the relations of these groups as a basis for cooperation around their common condition and disadvantages.  He is currently working with Dr. Cedric Herring on a second co-edited book on neoracism and its most recent impacts on blacks and Latinos. He has pursued this discussion most recently as an invited external member of SUS.DIV, a network of excellence of the European Commission composed of 35 European academic institutions dedicated to the study of diversity and the search for policies and strategies of convivencia. On these bases, he has added to his research the discussion of diversity that often pools distinct social groupings into a comprehensive framework while proposing diversity as an alternative to prior calls for homogenizing assimilation. 

Over the years, Dr. Betancur has combined his scholarship with continued involvement in various community initiatives.  He participated in the founding and development of two nonprofit service and advocacy Latino organizations and has engaged in many grassroots initiatives at local development.  These experiences have been accompanied by studies documenting, evaluating or examining grassroots struggles.  This involvement has led him to the study of topics as diverse as grassroots initiatives of the progressive Harold Washington administration in Chicago, the 2006-2007 immigration mobilizations against reform that would have criminalized millions of immigrants and their families, and an evaluation for the World Bank of a slum improvement initiative in Latin American cities. As part of this, he has also authored or co-authored many technical assistance reports  and studies for community-based organizations and governments. He is currently conducting research for a book on neighborhood change with Dr. Janet Smith of UIC.

In the last decade, following research on urban restructuring in Latin America in 2001 and again in 2009, Dr. Betancur revisited his earlier work on social reproduction and the informal economy and extended his research to the analysis of Neoliberalism, gentrification, and other urban transformations on the region. He has started publishing this work and collaborating on other fronts with researchers and graduate students in and from the region. His work has captured the attention of Latin American urban researchers as it places ‘informality’ at the core of urban restructuring while pointing to differences in the paths of gentrification there and in the USA. As a result, Dr. Betancur has networked extensively with universities and researchers in the region participating in major international conferences in Colombia and Mexico, lecturing in forums such as the Central Bank of Venezuela, and being invited to deliver various international seminars.
Overall, his work has brought academia, policy and community together around multiple collaborations while advancing this scholarship on different continents and in a variety of environments. His research and publications are influenced by and influence his actual planning and community work.  Along the way, Dr. Betancur has sought to build bridges and contribute to the improvement of the conditions of the groups and processes he studies and focuses his teaches on.

Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana, Medellin, Columbia (1971); Sociology Degree, Universidad San Buenaventura, Medellin, Colombia (1974); MUPP, University of Illinois at Chicago (1977); PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago (1986).




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Room 223 (MC 348)

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