Recent Ph.D. Graduates
Title: Post-Bureaucratic Organizations: Normative and technical Dimensions
Abstract: In this dissertation, I study dynamics of inequality in three post-bureaucratic organizations: a makerspace and two on-demand labor platforms for couriers. Collectively, these cases explore how institutional orders are created, reproduced, and transformed in organizations that reject interpersonal authority relationships. In a completely rationalized bureaucracy, coordination is achieved through rigid adherence to codified roles and procedures, as well as deference to designated superiors within a bureaucratic hierarchy. Post-bureaucratic organizations, by contrast, eschew formalized interpersonal authority relationships - typically emphasizing normative and technical controls. For example, many high-tech organizations group workers into teams that negotiate and enforce norms. Material technology may also be used by organizations as a method to coordinate and manage workers, as in the case of on-demand labor platforms that direct workers via software technology. Like conventional bureaucracies, post-bureaucratic organizations are susceptible to a variety of pathologies. Two tendencies, however, are particularly salient: anomie and reification. Technical control involves reifying aspects of an institutional order that otherwise would be imparted through socialization. One risk in reifying an institutional order is that it will be incapable of responding to changes in the environment. In contrast to the problem of an institutional order that is too stable, anomie is a quality of normlessness and an ambiguous institutional order. Previous research suggests commitment forms of organizing are susceptible to anomic tendencies. In such weakly institutionalized environments where norms are open for negotiation, there can be considerable competition between individuals over how to define norms and practices. These individual status competitions may come at the expense of collective goals, in addition to being an avenue by which race, gender, and class inequalities are produced and reproduced.
Title: The Occlusion of Empire in the Reification of Race: A Postcolonial Critique of the American Sociology of Race
Abstract: In a series of case studies, I problematize the reification of race in the American Sociology of race from a postcolonial perspective. I argue prominent theories within the American sociology of race tend to essentialize race as a cause of racial inequality in the United States. These theories assume the existence of racial categories and then discuss how other entities become racialized into racialized social systems (Bonilla-Silva 1997), or racial projects (Omi & Winant 1994). These theories emphasize national structures, but occlude empire. I argue the occlusion of empire in the American sociology of race, particularly in theorization of racial categorization, is problematic. Empire is the structure that links race to class inequality, and produces race as a social category of exclusion. Therefore, a sociological theory of American racial inequality, which does not analyze imperialism as a structure that produces race, and rather focuses solely on national-structures, or a definition of capitalism severed from imperialism, cannot provide a thoroughly structural explanation for the persistence of racial inequality in the United States.
Title: “Sharing” in Unequal Spaces: Short-term Rentals and the Reproduction of Urban Inequalities
Abstract: In my dissertation, I argue that questioning the relationship between technological change, specifically the new types of markets and practices enabled by the “sharing economy” and inequality has become an urgent need. While the sector promotes itself as the harbinger of egalitarian access to economic opportunity and consumption, independent studies of its operations and impacts point towards significant discriminatory dynamics favoring the already privileged. I focus on one sharing economy platform, Airbnb, which facilitates the practice of “home-sharing,” or more accurately short-term rentals. I investigate the relationship between Airbnb and inequality in three papers that focus on how the deeply unequal urban settings where much of the economic activity on Airbnb takes place operate within the context of economic activity enabled by the platform. In the first paper, I look at how race determines the patterns of participation and outcomes for people who rent out their properties. I show that the economic opportunities generated by the platform are unequally distributed across the urban landscape. There are fewer listings in areas with higher concentrations of non-White residents, the listings that are located in these areas charge lower prices, and have lower earnings. The second paper investigates the relationship between the public reputation system on Airbnb and racial discrimination. I show that characterizing the reputation system as a racially neutral tool, which has the potential to reduce discriminatory outcomes, is highly problematic. Airbnb listings located in neighborhoods with higher percentages of non-White residents have a harder time generating reputation information when they first come on the platform and tend to have systematically lower ratings. The third paper focuses on how short-term rentals generates new dynamics of gentrification in cities, by providing evidence for a new type of “rent gap” between long-term and short-term rentals, and how property owners are exploiting it. I argue that short-term rentals, in the absence of further effective regulation from governments, are likely to drive increasing levels of gentrification as they remain highly profitable and occupy an increasing number of housing units.
Title: The Pedagogy of Precarity: Laboring to Learn in the New Economy
Abstract: The relationship between learning and labor has long been a topic of concern for sociologists of education. In this dissertation, I conduct an ethnography of open learning in the United States following the 2008 economic crisis and argue that a new style of learning is emerging amidst changes in the labor market. I call that new style of learning the pedagogy of precarity and emphasize that it challenges credentialism (Collins, 1979), or how U.S. society confers status, jobs, and life chances according to one’s accumulation of academic qualifications. This study is the first sociological ethnography of open learning conducted from the vantage point of learners (Ito et al, 2009) and offers a perspective of how mostly digitally mediated learning practices are utilized within the growing precarity of the new economy. In this dissertation, I show how a sample of open learners sought a different way to connect their learning to their labor when neither felt valuable after the 2008 crisis and subsequent recession. Engaging literatures in the sociology of education, economic sociology, and cultural sociology, this dissertation expands upon the concept of the precariat (Standing, 2011; Gill and Pratt, 2008) in order to explain how “entrepreneurial vagueness” emerges from lived experiences of precariousness. Entrepreneurial vagueness works to buffer subjective status aspirations amidst dwindling objective life chances in the new economy (Bourdieu, 1984a; Sennett, 1998; 2006). In my study, precarity becomes pedagogized (Bernstein, 1996; 2001) and participants “labor to learn” rather than learn to labor. The pedagogy of precarity relies upon autodidactic communalism (Pearce, 1996), a model for learning that puts the burden of self-education on the individual and the community that she can access by successfully adopting a “habitus of trainability” (Bourdieu, 1984a; Bernstein, 1996; 2001). This burden is hard work, but is also described as enjoyable and life giving. The pedagogy of precarity instilled quasi-dignity as participants learned to embody the habitus of trainability. The habitus of trainability entailed developing a taste for usefulness, a taste for craftsmanship, and a taste for association. However, these tastes are not separate from a taste for risk (Neff, 2012; McMillan Cottom, 2017), and thus the pedagogy of precarity lacks sustainability. The findings are relevant to other studies of institutional challenge through peer-to-peer connection as well as work regarding the future of higher education in the new economy.
Title: Contingent Care: Obstetricians’ Lived Experience and Interpretations of Decision-Making in Childbirth
Abstract: This dissertation seeks to understand obstetricians’ lived experience of decision-making in childbirth and investigate how they interpret and respond to social forces that affect this process. Understanding how obstetricians make decisions in childbirth is important because maternity care in the United States is in crisis. Our system is failing women on multiple accounts: between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality more than doubled in the United States, and is higher than most other high-income countries. In global comparison the U.S. ranks 39th in the world for maternal health (WHO 2014). Furthermore, women continue to suffer from abusive practices by maternity care providers who dismiss their concerns and sometimes outright refuse to honor their self-determination in childbirth (Exposing the Silence Project). Today multiple stakeholders acknowledge a need for maternity care reform; this creates new challenges for health care policy and opportunities for social science research. Obstetrician-gynecologists provide the majority of maternity care to American women, and this dissertation examines their lived experience of decision-making in birth and analyzes how a range of social forces affect this process. To investigate this phenomenon I performed 50 in-depth interviews with obstetricians from Massachusetts, Louisiana and Vermont about how they make patient care decisions in birth. The specific research questions and analysis for each article evolved through an iterative process that combined analytical grounded theory and template analysis. Through the lens of the obstetrician I show how decision-making in birth is contingent upon social forces from multiple levels of the clinical context. I present this in a three-article format that draws on a wide range of interdisciplinary literature including medical sociology, sociology and anthropology of reproduction, health services, public health and health communication. Each article offers individual contributions to debates about medical practice, health care delivery, and maternity care. Taken together they offer a rich understanding of the complexity of medical decision-making in the field of obstetrics that ultimately suggests we need reform efforts that include ideological and organizational changes in order to better serve the needs of childbearing women and medical professionals.
Title: The Role of Collective Identity and Framing Processes in Advocacy Efforts to Implement Farm Animal Protection Policy
Abstract: This study explores efforts by the farm animal protection movement to pass anti-CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) farm animal protection legislation in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from 2012 to 2015, aiming to understand why successful outcomes were limited, through the theoretical lenses of collective identities and collective action frames. CAFOs, the predominant source of food animals in the United States, rear animals in intensely confined conditions, which raises significant animal welfare concerns, and also exact serious damage on workers, the environment, public health, and rural communities. Given the animal cruelty inflicted by CAFOs, animal protection organizations have invested much time and effort into passing legislation to ban intensive confinement practices, yet have encountered significant challenges in doing so in some states. This thesis aims to help explain why and how some of these challenges arise, and how they might be avoided or overcome in future efforts. To this end, I describe the collective identities of Massachusetts and Rhode Island farmers and professional farm animal advocates, and analyze the ways that these collective identities interact with and inform framing strategies. I conclude that some elements of the farm animal advocate identity conflict with farmer collective identity, and, further, that consequent advocacy framing strategies at times significantly hinder attempts to pass farm animal protection legislation.
Title: Common Scents?: Regulating the Use of Fragrances in Workplaces
Abstract: Fragrances in consumer products have become a contested topic in daily life. Workplace fragrance policies problematize fragrances, which, for many people, are normal aspects of consumer products. This mixed-method dissertation focuses on employees in a large non-industrial workplace with a fragrance-free policy. It examines employee reactions to a policy that requests behavioral changes based on claims that everyday consumption of fragranced products may be harmful to employee health. In order to develop an understanding of how and to what extent fragrances and indoor air quality are problematized in the workplace, I engage a number of different constructs from environmental and consumer sociology. The dissertation expands upon constructs of contested illness (Brown, Kroll-Smith, & Gunter, 2000; Phillimore, Moffatt, Hudson, & Downey, 2000; Shriver & Webb, 2009); framings of environments in bodies (Kroll-Smith & Kelley, 2008); lay assessments of health impacts (Burton-Jeangros, 2011; Collins, 2010; Heikkinen, Patja, & Jallinoja, 2010; O'Sullivan & Stakelum, 2004; Scammell, Senier, Darrah-Okike, Brown, & Santos, 2009) and understandings of the role of scents in social life (Largey & Watson, 1972; Low, 2006; Synnott, 1991).
My findings show that a majority of participants understand fragrance impacts through an individual health frame, as an allergy, that locates the problems associated with fragrance within the bodies of specific individuals who exhibit symptoms due to fragrance exposures. While this orientation has had positive impacts on the implementation of the policy and reducing corresponding impacts on those who are Fragrance Sensitive, the degree to which fragrances have been problematized is limited by understandings of fragrance impacts as allergies. The limiting framework of fragrance sensitivity as allergy has practical efficacy because it helps employees to connect with the idea that fragrances cause health issues for some individuals. However, it also stymies assessments and connections to potential broader environmental health impacts of fragrances in part because allergens such as pollen are generally viewed as benign and only problematic to the anomalous individuals who experience reactions. Limitations of the framework are reinforced by established moral and cultural assessments of good and bad fragrances and the appropriate use of fragrances (Low, 2006; Synnott, 1991).
Title: What’s Love Got To Do With It? Marital Quality And Mental Health In Older Age
Abstract: The present dissertation examines the associations among older husbands’ and wives’ marital quality and well-being, using two sources of dyadic data, a range of measures of marital quality and well-being, and advanced analytic strategies appropriate for longitudinal and cross-sectional data. Older couples can differ from their younger and midlife counterparts, as both men and women trim their broader social networks in later life and increasingly focus on their closest and most rewarding relationships, such as marriage (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, and Charles 1999; Mancini and Bonanno 2006). Gendered roles may shift in later life, as well, as older adults cease activities such as child-rearing and full-time employment (Bookwala 2012). Thus, potential differences according to gender are also explicitly tested. Together, the three papers in this dissertation examine whether and how older spouses’ reports of marital quality and well-being are associated with one another, with a particular emphasis on assessing emotional contagion as a potential explanation and mechanism for dyadic partner effects. The results of these articles contribute empirically and theoretically to the literature(s) on marital quality and well-being; spousal interdependence; and emotional contagion. I discuss the implications of these articles for theory and future research concerning marriage and well-being in later life.
Title: The Myth of Self Sufficiency as Success for Low-income Single Mothers
Abstract: With large numbers of low-income single mothers facing a difficult job market while simultaneously experiencing the erosion of social welfare aid, it is vitally important to understand their efforts and the obstacles they face, trying to move out of poverty. This dissertation examines the ways in which a group of low-income single mothers, who were at the center of the enthnographic study presented here, struggled and also succeeded. The research is presented in three articles. Attention is paid to the institutional and personal obstacles that impacted the progress of the women. The research, including annual interviews, took place over a three-year period from 2009–2012, as part of a larger ethnographic study on the low-income single parents who were participants in a community based antipoverty program in South Boston. The articles call into question the ways in which social institutions like schools, workplaces, and social services agencies affect the progress of single mother-headed families, raising challenges to conventional approaches and embedded assumptions about social mobility. The mothers' stories presented in the articles speak directly to the myth of the welfare queen single mother by offering a view of a group of low-income single mothers working very hard to parent, work and attend school.
Title: Rights, Responsibilities, and Resettlement: The Competing Notions of Refugee Belonging in a U.S. Welfare Program
Abstract: Historically, the U.S. has been among the top nation-states of global refugee resettlement, and it continues to be, despite recent domestic political rhetoric against this policy. The U.S. welfare state provides resources to contracted nonprofit immigrant-serving organizations to carry out the U.S. resettlement policy. However, scholars under-examine front-line welfare policy practices with refugees. This area is critical to examine in this historical moment, because scholars argue the rise of neoliberalism has negatively affected the nonprofit human service sector’s capacity to provide social rights to the most vulnerable (Hasenfeld and Garrow 2012). Drawing on participant-observation at a northeastern resettlement organization and 50 semi-structured interviews with front-line bureaucrats and refugees between 2010-2015, I examine how bureaucrats perceive and shape refugees’ initial processes of resettling in the U.S., and how refugees also view this experience. My dissertation found competing restrictive and inclusionary perceptions of and practices with Iraqi, Darfurian, and Bhutanese refugees, which calls into question how, and why, welfare subjects with legal refugee status, are perceived distinctly by their social locations in the shrinking and stigmatized U.S. welfare context. Additionally, my dissertation illuminates how refugees evaluate their resettlement experiences and belonging in the U.S.
Title: Social Mission or Revenue Generation?: Challenges and Opportunities in Social Enterprise from Competing Institutional Logics
Abstract: Social enterprises are nonprofit, for-profit or hybrid organizations that use business methods to create social change (Dees 2007; Light 2005; Martin and Osberg 2007; Neck, Brush, and Allen 2009;). If it succeeds, the social enterprise model could prove to be a viable pathway to greater social justice in an era of decreasing funding for government services and nonprofits (Emerson and Twersky 1996; Harding 2004; Murphy and Coombs 2009; Wilson 2008). However, skeptics worry that the perils of privatization, bottom-line thinking, and deceptive marketing potentially embodied by the “business methods” that social enterprises employ may undermine the potential of this new approach to solving social problems (Bateman and Chang 2012; Farmer 2009; Nega and Schneider 2014). The three articles that make up this dissertation examined the ways social entrepreneurs perceived and managed tensions between social mission and market institutional logics. Their ability (or lack thereof) to reconcile these contradictory imperatives could contribute to whether social enterprises ultimately succeed or fail as vehicles for positive social change.
Title: "The Revolution will not be Televised, It will be Tweeted": Digital Technology, Affective Resistance and Turkey's Gezi Protests
Abstract: The Gezi Park protests, which started in May 2013 in Istanbul, rapidly turned into a movement for democracy across the country. Through in-depth interviews with protestors in Turkey, observation and content analysis, my research 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, alternative frameworks of reality interacted, leading to the emergence of empathy and dialogue among the protestors for long-term movement success. Digital technologies provided the necessary alternative sources for news and other information for the reconstruction of these frameworks. Moreover, they 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 discipline 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.