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Ariel Azar

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Living Institutions: Welfare-State Exposures And Health Over The Life Course

Committee: Linda Waite (chair), Jenny Trinitapoli, Jason Beckfiled (Harvard)

People experience changing institutional contexts throughout their lives, either because of the accident of birth into different institutional contexts, aging within changing institutional settings, or migration from one set of rules of the game to another. These contexts affect health, either by changing the stratification structures or by providing better health care services. My dissertation research takes up the challenge of exploring the relationship between policy and health but adding a necessary layer of complexity to it: recognizing that people experience these changing institutional arrangements throughout their life courses, shaping their health, and moderating the way people’s position in the social structure regulate people’s health status later in life. I ask: how does exposure to varying institutional contexts in different stages of the life course shape people’s health and well-being? Chapter 1 seeks to understand how country-of-origin pre-migration exposure to varying levels of democratization and welfare matter for health among Latin American living in the U.S. Chapter 2 shows how varying institutional features across time and space in the post-migration U.S. matter for Latin American immigrants’ health. Finally, I add an institutional life course approach to the loneliness literature by looking at how the effects of family and labor force life-long trajectories on loneliness in old age are moderated by the levels of exposure to defamilization policies throughout the life course.


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Anna Berg

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: DIY and Dissidence: How online countermedia produce new political subjectivities

Committee: Andreas Glaeser (chair), Lis Clemens, Marco Garrido, Susan Gal (Anthropology)

My dissertation investigates the relationship between engagement with online countermedia, circulating anti-mainstream discourses and disinformation, and political mobilization. I use the case of Germany, where recent political protests connected to countermedia have brought to the streets a strange mix of neo-Nazi right-wingers, leftist peace activists, and moderate Green Party voters, to study how people from various backgrounds engage with countermedia and how this affects their orientation to politics. Based on ethnographic observations and longitudinal interviews with countermedia users participating in one, or both, of two mobilizations—those who supported the German right-wing party Die Alternative für Deutschland and those who protested against COVID-19 regulations—I trace how engagement with countermedia produces and perpetuates different patterns of political opinion formation and subjectivity. Focusing specifically on lay media theories and practices, this study complements cognitive accounts of truth-making in politics, as well as discursive and ideological approaches advanced by scholarship on populism. In a second line of research, I explore how political actors shape political fields through the adoption of different heuristics in two contexts: conservative party leaders reacting to the emergence of far-right parties in West German post-war history and local political leaders regulating religious diversity in France.



Matthew Borus

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: Reasonable Accommodation, Rehabilitation, and Incarceration: Theorizing Disabled Citizenship

Committee: Elisabeth Clemens (co-chair), William Sites (co-chair, Social Work), Michele Friedner (Comparative Human Development), Reuben Miller (Social Work)

My dissertation asks how disabled people experience, navigate, and contest the divergent and contradictory meanings and policy implications of disability in the contemporary US.  Drawing on archival, interview-based, and participant observation data, I take the divergent forms of disabled experience as starting point for comparative case analysis, with an eye toward stratification by race, class, and disability type. I examine manifestations of disabled citizenship in four cases: 1) labor market participation with rights protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act; 2) income support through Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income; 3) institutionalization in putatively therapeutic settings such as nursing homes; and 4) carceral programs of so-called “therapeutic jurisprudence.”  I also study the work of activist groups currently seeking to reshape these sites of disabled citizenship, asking how past and current activist imaginaries shape expectations and experience.  By focusing on how policies interpellate subjects within political and economic systems, emphasizing the wide variation in these experiences, and tying current policy to ongoing social movement efforts to reshape it, my dissertation stresses the fundamentally social nature of disability, a social category that is still too often understood as a matter of personal misfortune.



Jake Burchard

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Financialization and Class Politics in the Long Downturn

Committee: Geoffrey Wodtke (chair), John Levi Martin, Gary Herrigel (Political Science), Ken-Hou Lin (UT Austin) 

Finance plays a central role in the organization of the global economy. Not only has the private financial sector, consisting of banks, investment funds and other intermediaries, become increasingly important in the circulation of capital over the past 40 years, but non-financial companies also increasingly deal in open financial markets. While finance has recorded massive profits over this period, overall rates of economic, productivity and wage growth have declined or stagnated since the 1970s as part of a “long downturn” in the capitalist core. In addition, the lives of households and individuals are increasingly mediated by financial markets, especially in the realms of housing, savings for retirement, and healthcare. While prior research has explored the possible causes of “financialization” and its effects on certain outcomes, including inequality, economic growth, debt expansion and economic crises, the effects of financialization on class politics have been understudied. I use survey data from several developed countries to explore the effects of financialization on political attitudes and how such effects differ by class. This work sheds light on the changing possibilities for class conflict and class formation in the developed West in the last several decades.  



Timothy Elder

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Winning at a Losing Game: Divergent Ontologies and Shared Practices in Medicine

Committee: John Levi Martin (Chair), Jenny Trinitapoli, David Meltzer (UChicago, Hospital Medicine), Stefan Timmermans (UCLA)

Growing specialization within professions leads to social differentiation and the development of specialty specific evaluation and knowledge. Using ethnographic and interview methods, my dissertation investigates how different medical specialties manage the care of terminally ill patients. Despite the growing number of different specialties in medicine with different ideas of what constitutes success and a good case, care for the terminally ill depends upon a tight coupling between clinicians from disparate areas. Focusing on the case of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, I find new specialties springing up that work to transform the work styles of other specialties to allow for the production of a working consensus and success in the face of impending death.

CV Website


Hong Jin Jo

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Local Motivations, Global Trajectories: The Rise and Fall of Korean International Students in American Higher Education, 1945-2020

Committee: Lis Clemens (Chair), Stephen Raudenbush, Marco Garrido

Since the middle of the 20th century, study abroad has become increasingly popular among students seeking to broaden their horizons through international experience. However, not all students have benefited equally, as elites from developing countries frequently use study abroad to obtain and reproduce their local socioeconomic status. My dissertation examines the evolution of study abroad to the United States and its impact on elites from developmental states, focusing on South Korean international students (henceforth, KIS) from the 1940s to the present. Particularly, my research investigates what elite KIS anticipated and achieved from their study abroad, as well as how their educational decisions and transnational trajectories were constrained and permitted by the ebb and flow of their home developmental state. Using a mixed method of archival analysis and in-depth interviews, this study reveals the transforming role of developmental state and globalization in shaping elite KIS's global educational trajectories and how they have evolved study abroad from a highroad to becoming local academic elites to a transnational class strategy to maintain their elite position at the top of the domestic status hierarchy. This transnational class formation study contributes to the intersection of sociology of education, social stratification, social change, and critical globalization studies.

CV Website


Donghyun Kang

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: The Structure of Knowledge Diffusion in Sciences and Consequences

Committee: James Evans (chair), Karin Knorr-Cetina, John Levi Martin

My research is centered on understanding the social conditions and processes that lead to the diffusion of knowledge and robust scientific progress by applying computational and statistical methods to large-scale datasets. In my dissertation, I examine the factors influencing the spread of scientific knowledge and the consequences through three distinct studies. The first study investigates the impact of overlapping co-authorships and prior knowledge on the dispersion of estimates reported in clinical trials. The second study explores potential leading signals associated with sudden collapses in scientific attention paid to biomedical research subfields. Then, the final study evaluates the impact of code sharing in machine learning research and the role of machine learning frameworks on the subsequent citation rates. With these studies, my dissertation seeks to combine insights and theories from science studies and the history of sciences with computational methods, such as natural language processing and network embedding modeling.



Simon Yamawaki Shachter

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: The Cities that Immigrants Built: The Creation of Civil Society in West Coast Cities, 1855-1910

Committee: Lis Clemens (chair), Robert Vargas, Nicole Marwell (Social Work)

The general assumption is that immigrants had to assimilate or build outsider movements if they wanted a say in changing a city’s political institutions. However, on the West Coast, mass immigration occurred before most place’s political institutions were formed. This gave ethnic communities opportunities to build community and political power that they could use to be part of the founding of a city’s institutions. That they did so fully apparent in the ubiquity of organizations these immigrants and their children formed. The demography of these ethnic communities was also highly unique, featuring immigrants from three continents following many different religious beliefs. My dissertation asks, what was the role of ethnic organizations in building the political institutions of cities and civil societies on the West Coast from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries? I answer this question with comparative mixed methods techniques. I have digitized and built novel quantitative datasets and spent an additional year collecting archival documents from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. My data reveals that racialization on the West Coast was highly local, contingent, and often ambiguous. The racialization of communities, both prior to their arrival on the West Coast and once there, had critical effects on how, and the extent to which, various ethnic and immigrant communities built organizations to serve their needs. I argue that this collective organization, or lack thereof, has had long-lasting ramifications on these four cities’ politics and civil societies to this day and explain enduring differences in community organizing and social change efforts.



Brandon Sward

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: The colonization of media: Indigeneity, visuality, and social science between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries

Committee: Terry Clark; Darby English (Art History), Matthew Jesse Jackson (Art History, Theater and Performance Studies, Visual Arts), W. J. T. Mitchell (English Language and Literature, Art History), Ross Stolzenberg

My work examines the relationship between colonization and the formation of knowledge from the nineteenth century to the present, especially the role of visual media in these developments. My dissertation, “The colonization of media,” focuses on the cases of Pierre Bourdieu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Franz Boas, who all made photographs among Indigenous peoples early in their careers before going on to deal with other visual mediums. A key concept of this project is what I call the “self-evident image,” or the idea that lens-based mediums can perfectly represent reality and thus communicate meaning without the need for interpretation or analysis. While this assumption is often explained through the technology of the camera, I argue instead that the lens became associated with supposedly simpler Indigenous societies that could be captured at a glance, whereas a more deliberative medium like painting was reserved for contemplation of the European experience. I’m also deeply invested in efforts to decolonize the academy by expanding the boundaries of scholarship to include other ways knowledge has been preserved and transmitted across time and space. My efforts in this area center on my own artistic practice, which explores the legacy of the frontier in US culture.



Ilana M Ventura

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Building an Uncertain Future: Understanding Immigrant Families and Investments Across Borders

Committee: Robert Vargas, René Flores, Angela Garcia (Social Work), Linda Waite

This dissertation uses mixed-methods to study different facets of cross-border life, through a comparative analysis of Latino immigrants to the United States and the US-born. Using in-depth interviews (n=44) and a novel nationally representative survey (n=1,046), I explore how and why the Latino first and second generation invest in their communities of origin despite their apparent assimilation. I begin with a quantitative overview of different transnational characteristics including remitting, transnational employment, dual citizenship, location of family members, homeland visits, transnational financial assets, and homeland property ownership (Ch.1). While many of these characteristics decline over generation, I find that homeland property ownership is greater for the second generation compared with the first. Subsequent chapters explore this finding in more depth, examining homeland property purchase (Ch.2), homeland property purchase aspirations (Ch.3), the complication of homeland property inheritance (Ch.4), homeland retirement (Ch.5) and symbolic-reactive ethnicity (Ch.6). I argue that—especially for middle class and second-generation Latinos in the US—value is derived from both American culture and Latino culture, to construct, what I call, a “multi-dimensional ethnic self” or “multidimensional assimilated self.” This middle-ground identity is often also explicitly transnational and trans-ethnic. Especially for the second generation, individuals may pull from various Latino national cultures not of their own heritage and explicitly looking to places throughout Latin America to construct meaning, community, and a sense of self. 

CV Website


Kailey White

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Socioeconomic Status and Decisions about Postsecondary Education

Committee: Stephen Raudenbush (Co-Chair), Geoffrey Wodtke (Co-Chair), Ariel Kalil (UChicago, Harris School of Public Policy)

My research focuses on education, inequality, the family, and policy. In my dissertation, I investigate inequality in access to postsecondary education between 1970 and 2012, using multiple nationally representative survey datasets. I explore how students and parents form conclusions about a student’s future options. I show that students from low SES backgrounds are less likely to believe they are qualified for four-year college attendance than their more advantaged peers with similar grades and test scores. This leads low SES students to opt out of applying to colleges for which they are qualified. Students and parents from less advantaged backgrounds are also less likely to perceive four-year college attendance as an option financially. However, they overestimate tuition costs. My research advances policy understanding of inequality in college attendance by showing that inaccurate information leads many low SES students to opt out during the college application stage. I am also involved in work using causal inference and machine learning methods to assess how over 200 measures of elementary school context mediate neighborhood effects on academic achievement. Additionally, I have experience advising on multiple mixed-methods projects, bringing in interview and survey data to supplement quantitative findings and better understand program and policy effectiveness.



Haitong Xu

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: Words from the Ground Indirect Interactions in Community Gardens in Philadelphia

Committee: Andrew Abbott (chair), Omar McRoberts, Susan Gal (Anthropology)

My dissertation explores various forms of social interaction that take place in community gardens, and the role they play in shaping the social dynamics and the sense of community among garden members. Traditionally, linguistic sociology has focused on verbal and direct social interactions. However, these theoretical frameworks have largely overlooked the grammar, structure and characteristics of various forms of indirect interactions – a commonsensical term that often encompasses social interactions that do not require verbal speech and/or physical copresence of the participants. Interactions like these have an important role in our modern social lives. The community garden gives us a unique opportunity to study indirect interaction in great detail, because such interaction often unfolds at a much slower pace. My dissertation focuses on the social dynamics in a selection of community gardens in Philadelphia of different sizes, history, membership demographics and organization structures using a mixed method of surveys, interviews, and participant observation. Through these case studies, I try to develop a definition of indirect interaction. I also explore the mechanism and characteristics of slow indirect interaction in these gardens, how the contextual ideology of these interactions is shaped and negotiated, the relationship and interaction between indirect and direct interaction, and the impact of both these interactions on the sense of community among garden members.



Yuchen Yang

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation title: Indefinite Accomplishments: Gender, Childhood, and the Making of Difference

Committee: Kristen Schilt (chair), Kimberly Kay Hoang, Anna Mueller (Indiana University), Susan Gal (Anthropology)

How is a gendered society possible? In what ways can gender be “undone” or “redone”? To tackle these questions, I focus on gender and childhood as two intersecting social structures that can amplify each other in some situations but may contradict/mute one another in other situations. Based on over 70 interviews with feminist parents in the US, my dissertation examines how seemingly “individual” and “natural” attributes like gender and age emerge or dissipate through consumptive, discursive, and semiotic practices in childrearing and interview conversations. Weaving together theoretical insights from feminist sociology, linguistic anthropology, ethnomethodology, and critical childhood studies, this study moves beyond conventional scholarship on gender and parenting in two ways. First, instead of seeing childhood as a “natural” life stage where socialization happens, I theorize “children” as a socially constructed category that can be usefully deployed to achieve certain interactional outcomes (e.g., undoing gender) and legitimate various political agendas (e.g., non-sexist parenting). Second, instead of comparing parenting styles across pre-given demographic groups, I examine the intersection of distinctive axes of differentiation as a routinely reconfigured effect of social action. Through careful and reflexive analyses of how these parents render their non-sexist parenting choices and their kids’ gender-stereotypical preferences intelligible and reasonable to me, my dissertation showcases how the reproduction of childhood as a social structure can serve both as a means and an end for the transformation of gender structure.

CV Website


Angela Zorro Medina

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Three Essays on the Effects of Legal Reforms on Crime and Inequality

Committee: Robert Vargas (chair), Geoffrey Wodtke, Julian Go

My dissertation explores how changes in the written law can impact crime and inequality outcomes in the U.S. and Latin America. Concretely, I examine the effects of anti-gang legislation across the U.S. on crime rates, incarceration rates, and policing activity. For Latin America, I explore the impact of the region's most profound criminal justice reform, a phenomenon known as the Latin American Criminal Procedural Revolution. For both the Latin American and U.S. cases, I exploit the staggered implementation of the different legal reforms to estimate the causal effect of these changes on pre-trial detention, imprisonment rates, policing activity, prosecutorial activity, and inequality outcomes. 

CV Website