Read on to get a taste of the future of sociological theorizing, listed as always in alphabetical order.
Title: Meteorological Government: A Genealogy of Climate Knowledge in the US, 1780-2017
Committee: John R. Hall (chair), Stephanie Mudge, Patrick Carroll, Diana K. Davis
My dissertation develops and employs concepts in historical sociology and science & technology studies to raise the following broad questions: First, what explains the dynamics of climate knowledge over time? Second, how has climate knowledge worked as a form of power within modern society? The dissertation provides an analytic approach to these questions by developing a theory of meteorological government. I define meteorological government as a process by which climate knowledge developed in and through ways of categorizing, calculating and predicting meteorological and social orders simultaneously. In short, I argue variegated problems of “climate” have been co-produced with problematics of government. To make this argument, I present analyses of developments in climate research and their articulation with social power over the 1780-2017 period, primarily in the U.S. context and drawing from primary-source documents, secondary literature, and interviews. This approach charts how social theory may provide intellectual interventions into the ongoing coproduction of climate-change knowledge and extant forms and distributions of power, which seek to make climate and its futures legible and governable in the here-and-now.
Neal Carnes (Georgia State University)
Title: “Still Here, Still Queer" and We Ain't Going Nowhere: A Qualitative Study of Community during a Second-wave of Activity
Committee: Eric R. Wright (chair), Katie Acosta, Maura Ryan
Are we witnessing the emergence of queer community? To answer this question, I interviewed self-identified queer people living in Atlanta, Georgia. During one-on-one and relational interviews, 31 participants reflected on how they understand and live queer, as well as socialize with other queers. An intention of this study is to advance theory; as such, this analysis inspected tenets asserted by “first wave” theoreticians and activists of the 1980s and 1990s. To test theory, I attend to queer as fluid, non-normative and diverse. The participants viewed their queerness in sexuality, gender, and political terms congruent with a first-wave framework. On the whole, participants supported the emergence of queer community, yet offered a cautionary tale as to whether collective queer will be able to achieve its political goals. “Still here, still queer” extends theory in the direction of shared identity and code for conduct, essential dynamics of community.
Yuching Cheng (University at Albany, SUNY)
Title: Marriageable Us, Undesirable Them: Reproducing Social Inequalities through Marital Boundaries
Committee: Joanna Dreby (chair), Elizabeth Popp Berman, Nancy Denton
Past researchers have suggested that intermarriage can be either a means or an end to group homogeneity in terms of transcending group differences. However, this “subtraction logic” of group formation does not fully explain why immigrant intermarriages do not develop in one direction only, but move toward polarization along racial, ethnic, gender and generational lines. I argue that the main reason for this tendency is due to the importation of polarizing perceptions of group differences from immigrant homelands during a nationalization process. Based on data from 60 in-depth interviews with Chinese-speaking immigrants with at least twenty-year lengths of stay in the United States, I found that racial/ethnic logic regarding perceived out-group differences triggered polarization regarding immigrant marriageability—a historical process involving collective identities tied to both nations of origin and settlement. I also found that class and institutional logic (respectively expressed via in-group differences and family position perceptions) mitigated the significance of race/ethnicity by reproducing essentialist ways of thinking. One unintended consequence is the perpetuation of racial and gender inequalities. These findings underscore the role of intermarriage as both a means and an end to group formation by showing that immigrant marriageability entails a block-building process in which immigrants add ethnicities of settlement to make them compatible with ethnicities of origin.
Kim de Laat (University of Toronto)
Dissertation title: The Shape of Music to Come: Organizational, Ideational, and Creative Change in the North American Music Industry, 1990-2009
Committee members: Shyon Baumann (chair), Vanina Leschziner, Damon Phillips, Judith Taylor
Since the mid-1990s, the music industry has undergone dramatic and wide-ranging change that has altered the organizational field, shaping both how actors perceive their work and the creative work itself. My dissertation uses discourse and content analyses of Billboard magazine, and interviews with songwriters and music industry personnel. I also employ data from Billboard’s music charts to advance novel ways of measuring musical content. These data allow me to shed light on: (1) how occupational uncertainty affects artistic autonomy and collaboration, and how these in turn influence creativity; (2) how the patterned use of discourse informs the sensegiving and sensemaking of technological change based on one’s occupational role; and (3) how postbureaucratic workers manage conflict and rewards in contexts of ongoing uncertainty. Theoretically, my dissertation integrates an analysis of the meaning of cultural artifacts into cultural production scholarship, and advances our understanding of endogenous cultural processes that occur within creative and institutional fields undergoing technological change.
Atiya Husain (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Title: Beyond and Back to the Black-White Binary: Muslims and Race-Making in the United States
Committee: Karolyn D. Tyson (chair), Charles Kurzman, Andrew Perrin, Linda Burton, Matthew W. Hughey
Race has long been studied in terms of black and white in the US, but our understanding of blackness and whiteness is limited due to the absence of religion from our analysis. My work shows religion continues to matter in the construction of race. Blackness and whiteness are typically understood as racial concepts, and I argue they are also religious concepts. Scholarship on the history of the concept of “race” argues that blackness and whiteness are informed by premodern notions of religious difference, rather than solely secular Western modernity. Premodern binaries like Christian/heathen coalesced into the contemporary black/white binary, but most empirical research on race and religion today treats them as largely separable concepts. My study interrogates the contemporary relationship between race and religion using the case of Muslims in the US. With a focus on black and white American Muslims, I conducted participant observation in US Muslim communities and 68 interviews. I argue that Muslims’ racial positioning helps shape the boundaries of blackness and whiteness. Although some social phenomena are called race and some are called religion, they are actually entangled in one another. Ultimately, I argue that we will not understand race until we understand religion.
Phyllis H. Jeffrey (University of California, Davis)
Title: Articulation Struggles, Party Rules, and Polanyian Pressures: The Road to Turkey’s AKP
Committee: Stephanie L. Mudge (chair), Fred Block, David McCourt, Ayşe Zarakol
The recent aftermath of Turkey’s failed coup and April referendum has once more raised the question of the unprecedented acquisition of political power by the Party of Justice and Development (AKP). However, drawing attention to AKP’s near lack of electoral challenge in its inaugural election of 2002, my dissertation shifts the puzzle to inquire into circumstances that produced a representational void at precisely the moment (2001) when economic crisis and ensuing austerity engendered populist response. Introducing the concept of “articulation struggles,” I analyze a series of failed attempts to launch a popular party of the center-left between 1987 and 2002, finding that such attempts were probabilistically limited as the Turkish political field was “tilted” toward the right across this period. Tilt derived from (1) institutional conditions—“party rules”—set by the outgoing junta that disproportionately impeded left parties; and (2) accession requirements from the European Union that, from the mid-1990s on, hobbled non-majoritarian institutions from acting as checks on parties, while demanding controversial reforms that foiled coalition on the Turkish center-left. Drawing on Polanyi, I demonstrate how the failure to come to light of a party channeling democratic pressures for economic management paved the way for AKP’s populism of the right.
Hadi Khoshneviss (University of South Florida)
Title: Navigating through Census Categories: The MENA Campaign, Geopolitics of Race, and Contours of Whiteness
Committee: Elizabeth Aranda (chair), Stephen Turner, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ramon Grosfoguel
Despite their century long fight for achieving “whiteness,” people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are currently fighting to leave their white racial category in the hope of gaining non-white minority status in the US 2020 Census. If approved by the state, it will be the first time since the establishment of the Census that a group, instead of attempting to join the white category, had chosen to leave it. By studying the current MENA campaign for racial re-categorization, my dissertation explores the role that racial categories, as imperial/colonial concepts, play in people’s daily struggles and their historical aspirations. Through a de-colonial perspective and by drawing on critical whiteness studies, my dissertation also intends to revisit theories of assimilation which assume an “inexorable” and “progressive” transition towards the white middle-class center and its values. I propose that these assimilationist models overlook the moves in the opposite direction and cannot adequately account for structural and historical barriers that minorities face.
Sunmin Kim (University of California, Berkeley)
Title: A Laboratory for American National Identity: The Re-invention of Whiteness in the Dillingham Commission (1907-1911)
Committee: Ann Swidler (co-chair), Cybelle Fox (co-chair), Irene Bloemraad, Mara Loveman, Taeku Lee.
This dissertation asks how American social scientists and federal bureaucrats generated knowledge about immigrants in the early twentieth century, and how such knowledge led to the re-invention of whiteness. To answer these questions, I analyze archival materials related to the Dillingham Commission (1907-1911), an investigative commission that conducted the most comprehensive study of immigrants ever undertaken by the federal government. Southern and eastern European immigrants, whose numbers had risen dramatically at the end of the nineteenth century, were different from those who had come before: they were white and certainly not black, but not exactly the same kind of white as the Anglo-Saxon Protestants who occupied most elite positions in the country. By investigating the racial status of “new immigrants,” the Dillingham Commission reformulated whiteness to encompass different kinds of difference: whereas non-white immigrants were deemed categorically different from whites and merited no consideration for citizenship, the differences among Europeans were incremental, and thus could be overcome, although only through a properly controlled process of assimilation. Bringing insights from sociology of culture and knowledge to the studies of race, ethnicity, and immigration, this dissertation highlights how experts and social science knowledge contributed to immigration discourse and policy in the United States.
Dana Kornberg (University of Michigan)
Title: Reclaiming Waste, Remaking Communities: Persistence and Change in Delhi’s Informal Garbage Economy
Committee: George Steinmetz (chair), Greta Krippner, Fred Wherry, Arun Agrawal
Reclaiming Waste, Remaking Communities examines the widespread persistence of informal economies, in which transactions occur without explicit legal recourse, through the case of garbage collection services in Delhi, India. Over twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork, I discovered that Delhi’s informal garbage collectors—who are motivated by scrap recycling—had endured despite the recent introduction of municipal garbage collection trucks, producing a mutually recognized state boundary. The dissertation begins by analyzing the production of this boundary, effectively untangling a complicated knot of urban governance institutions in practice. It proceeds by detailing the particular exchange relations—for example between newer and older groups of informal collectors, informal collectors and middle-class residents, and scrap buyers—that comprise the informal garbage collection and scrap recycling markets. In particular, I focus on newly arrived Bengali Muslim rural-to-urban migrants who began working for established low-caste Balmikis as informal garbage collectors, finding that they are willing to accept stigma in anticipation of monetary gain. In responding to the question of persistence, then, the dissertation surveys the urban re-making of established hierarchies, drawing from anthropological work to conceptualize exchange processes as transactions, where exchange media are laden with particular practical and ethical affordances.
Junpeng Li (Columbia University)
Title: The Making of Liberal Intellectuals in Post-Tiananmen China
Committee: Gil Eyal (chair), Shamus Rahman Khan, Xiaobo Lü, Debra Minkoff, Andrew J. Nathan
Drawing on 67 semi-structured interviews with Chinese intellectual elites across the ideological spectrum, as well as detailed historical and textual analyses, this dissertation examines the social forces that have shaped the political attitudes of liberal intellectuals in contemporary China. It argues against the prevailing attempts to define Chinese liberalism as a social category with a coherent ideology comparable to its Western counterpart; rather, as a "community of discourse" that contains a number of competing and contradictory discourses, it is embedded in China’s social reality as an authoritarian regime governed by a communist party, and contingent on China’s history straddling the Maoist and post-Mao eras. Rather than a monolithic or tight-knit group, Chinese liberals are comprised of an array of social actors, including scholars, journalists, lawyers, activists, and house church leaders. They are liberal not because of what they are for, but because of what they are against; more specifically, Chinese liberals are united by an anti-authoritarian mentality, which is a historical product of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Ian Mullins (University of California, San Diego)
Title: Conservativism in a Time of “Fake News” and Irrelevant Truths
Committee: Isaac Martin (chair), Amy Binder, Richard Biernacki, Christena Turner, Robert Horwitz
The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election has raised urgent questions about the role knowledge plays in conservative politics. Scholars are turning their attention to the proliferation of “fake news” on the internet and what might be a new era of “post-truth” politics in the United States. Political sociologists suggest that conservatives in the United States may belong to numerous “epistemic cultures,” though none have done the long-term observational work necessary to investigate this claim. For my dissertation, I draw on four years of ethnographic research with conservative political organizations located in San Diego and Orange County, California, to analyze how participants involved in conservative political organizations develop and habituate epistemic practices. I find that participants in conservative organizations engage in knowledge production as a secondary activity anchored in primary practical concerns that vary by type of organization. I demonstrate how people within organizations develop coherent sets of epistemic practices by acting in relation to common sets of practical problems, the formal and relational aspects of an organization (including the organization’s relation to a broader party apparatus), and within the cultural context that they produce themselves. My work illuminates how conservatives come to distrust conventional sources of information, invalidate expert knowledge, or dismiss expert knowledge as irrelevant despite viewing it as true.
Michael Roll (University of Wisconsin–Madison)
Title: Rebel Bureaucracies: Corruption, Networks, and Effective Government Agencies in Nigeria
Committee: Ivan Ermakoff (chair), Myra Marx Ferree, Gay Seidman, Bob Freeland, Aili Mari Tripp
How do effective bureaucracies emerge in corrupt states? My dissertation explores endogenous change in three government agencies in Nigeria (drug administration, taxation, election management) that today stand out for their integrity and service provision in one of the world’s most corrupt states. I focus on the changing relations of these agencies with politicians, civil society, and international development organizations since 1999 and provide a detailed analysis of their internal dynamics. Based on a comparative design, 135 interviews, participant observation, an original survey, and archival data, I identify four major factors. First, successful reformers were outsiders to Nigeria’s bureaucracy with a surprisingly high proportion of women among them. Their moral beliefs and social networks were crucial for reform. Second, organizational change did not require restaffing or material incentives but occurred through a process of incremental collective staff alignment. Third, to protect themselves against government capture, these agencies systematically mobilized and cooperated with civil society. Finally, the use of digital technology and social media was crucial for building the trust of citizens in these agencies. The findings are of broad theoretical relevance for explaining counterintuitive organizational and social change under unfavorable conditions in the Global South and beyond.
A.K.M. Skarpelis (New York University)
Title: Racialized: Nazi Germany, Fascist Japan and the Rise and Fall of Racist Welfare States
Committee: Jeff Manza (chair), David Garland, Craig Calhoun, Ann Morning, Sheldon Garon
We know little about how race shapes the welfare state outside of the North-American context. My dissertation provides an historical comparative analysis of the making and unmaking of the early and mid-20th century German and Japanese welfare states and gauges the impact of transnational developments on these ostensibly national institutions. I explore the entire life cycle of racialized welfare state formation: Part one (1880s – 1940s) inverts the conventional analyses of racial classification of ‘inferior’ populations by instead focusing on involuntary incorporation into the country’s dominant citizenship category, as colonial and imperial endeavors remapped national boundaries and citizenship fragmented along racialized lines. Part two (1930s – 1945) explores how changing conceptions of race and citizenship configure policy-making processes and how social policies in the formerly bounded nation-states and the annexed territories changed under total war. Part three (1945 – 1950s) examines the cumbersome process of deracialization after defeat. My project is based in Japanese and German-language archival documents drawn together from collections on three continents. As any analysis of boundary work relies on careful attention to concepts and their deployment, I suggest ways in which sociologists might choose to deal with trans-linguistic particularities such as ‘untranslatables’, concepts so firmly located in networks of meaning that linguistic translation is infeasible.
Paige L. Sweet (University of Illinois, Chicago)
Title: Traumatizing Politics: Domestic Violence, Feminist Anti-Violence Work, and Legibility after Violence
Committee: Claire Decoteau (chair), Beth E. Richie, Lorena Garcia, Sydney Halpern, Annemarie Jutel
This research explores the politics of domestic violence in tandem with the lived realities of abuse, linking an historical analysis of the feminist anti-violence movement with a contemporary analysis of how domestic violence victims interact with institutions and make meaning about their experiences. Using archival research on the history of feminist anti-violence activism, in-depth interviews with domestic violence professionals, and life story interviews with survivors of domestic violence, this dissertation argues that the medicalization of expert practices in anti-violence work shapes women’s techniques for becoming “good survivors.” As they interact with an increasing array of therapeutic services premised on trauma, victims learn to narrate their experiences in psychological terms and perform psychological wellness in order to become legible to institutions of aid. Paradoxically, these psychological narratives and performances obfuscate the structural circumstances of women’s victimization and their infrastructural labor of survival. I show how institutional expectations of survivorhood enact regulations around sexuality and nationality to which women must adhere, though women also manage these boundaries to meet their needs. Thus, the policies and practices targeted at domestic violence create a disjuncture between the structural circumstances of women’s lives and the therapeutic performances they must execute to be legible to institutions.
Luis Vila-Henninger (University of Arizona)
Title: Direct Democracy in America: How Voters Reason About Economic Policy
Committee: Jeff Sallaz (co-chair), Jane Zavisca (co-chair), Albert Bergesen, Lane Kenworthy
How do voters navigate the intersection between democracy and capitalism? Citizens have the opportunity to directly decide upon policies that shape their state’s economy through ballot measures; however, the role of voters in this key intersection and policy making-mechanism has been largely overlooked. Models of reasoning in the voting literature have primarily developed from rational choice theory and identify conditions under which self-interest and partisanship influence voter choice and policy attitudes. To extend this literature to voter reasoning on economic ballot measures, my dissertation examined how variation in voter choice and reasoning corresponded with variation in social indicators of self-interest and partisan-ship, both of which are foundational for capitalism and democracy, respectively. In order to carry out this analysis I conducted semi-structured interviews with 120 respondents about how they voted on economic ballot measures that appeared on the Arizona state ballot from 2008-2012 related to narcotic decriminalization and medicaliza-tion, education funding, immigration and labor markets, and consumer protection. My findings reveal how and when voter reasoning invokes self-interest, partisan values, and economic beliefs according to variation in economic stratification and partisan affiliation. My dissertation extends previous research by providing a qualitative analysis of voter reasoning on economic ballot measures.
Selen Yanmaz (Boston College)
Title: "The Revolution will not be Televised, It will be Tweeted": Digital Technology, Affective Resistance and Turkey's Gezi Protests
Committee: Stephen Pfohl (chair), Juliet Schor, Brian Gareau
The Gezi Park protests, which started in May 2013 in Istanbul, rapidly turned to a movement for democracy across the country. Through in-depth interviews with protestors in Turkey and abroad, participant observation and content analysis, my dissertation examines the role digital technologies played in the protests. These technologies, especially social networking tools, were used by protestors to construct personalized frameworks and forms of action. I show that this process depended on the individuals’ interpretations of their current political and cultural context, their alternative frameworks of reality. By expressing these frameworks individuals, first and foremost, challenged the politico-cultural adjustment of the society by various powerful actors. Moreover, as individuals got together in protest, various alternative frameworks of reality interacted, leading to the emergence of empathy and dialogue among the protestors and thus contributing to long-term movement success. Digital technologies became the primary space for the production and circulation of jokes in various forms, as protestors used humor and creativity as central strategies to voice their dissent. Affective and humorous creations challenged the disciplining oppression of the political authority, hacked its presentations of reality and contributed to the formation of a carnivalesque society, where empathy and dialogue were maintained through collective effervescence.