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Ariel Azar, MA

PhD 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

PhD 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

PhD 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.



Jeong Hyun Oh

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Economic and Demographic Formations of Inequality in the Era of Education for All (EFA) in sub-Saharan Africa

Committee: Jenny Trinitapoli (chair), Andrew Abbott, Geoffrey Wodtke 

My research interests center on new and persistent dimensions of inequality and their relationships to key demographic events in sub-Saharan Africa. I am especially interested in the psychological dimension of inequality and how these perceptions inform phenomena like health, optimism, and social mobility. In my dissertation, I investigate labor market stratification in light of the Education for All (EFA) movement. I seek to understand how individuals reformulate class boundaries under the twin conditions of rapid educational expansion and economic instability to inform their decisions to redistribute resources within the communities where the reciprocity norms are strong. My analysis focuses on the role of emotions in regulating economic transactions as well as demographic behaviors to produce and reproduce social inequality.  

CV Website


Allison Reed

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Surviving Social Movements: Race, Health, and Repertoires of Care in US Social Justice Activism

Committee: Kristen Schilt (co-chair), C. Riley Snorton (co-chair), Cathy Cohen (UChicago, Political Science), Joyce Bell, Robert Vargas

I am a qualitative sociologist of health, disability, Black (queer) feminism, and social movements. My dissertation’s title lends itself to two interpretations: “Surviving Social Movements” begins with a gerund, suggesting a study about how social movement participants go about surviving the slings and arrows of activism. However, a broader view reads “surviving” adjectivally, such as the surviving victims in a crisis or the surviving members of a family. What does it mean to be a surviving movement rather than a dying movement? This dissertation takes as its fundamental premise that these two types of survival—how movement participants survive and the survival of their movements—are irrevocably intertwined. No matter how digitized or ideological political life becomes, movements cannot survive without living, breathing participants to set up social media accounts and to people street protests. Drawing on in-depth interviews and content analysis, I argue that without understanding the physical and psychological stressors social change workers endure, social movement studies lack a full picture of what fuels social movements: human labor. I develop the Repertoires of Care framework to theorize how movement care work reproduces and re-subjectifies movement laborers as they pursue just flourishing.




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.



J. Eos Trinidad

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Webs of Improvement: Data, Organizations, and the Spread of School Innovation

Committee: Stephen W. Raudenbush (co-chair), Guanglei Hong (co-chair), Elisabeth S. Clemens, Micere Keels

When many urban school reforms fail and falter, why do some succeed and spread? Often, studies explain this through top-down state capacity or grassroots mobilization. However, this research explores how “outside” organizations—that is, the network of research, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations—were crucial in spreading school innovation. Using the case of ninth-grade early warning indicators (EWIs), this research uncovers how webs of meaning, organizations, and practices contributed to the initiation and institutionalization of this practice. Situated in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York—cities that started EWIs at scale—this research brings together documents, interviews, and social network data to show how organized and organic strategies led to the adoption of these predictive data systems that tried to prevent high school dropouts. Theoretically, the research contributes by showing how organizational change is influenced by flexible rather than set logics, entrepreneurial interactions rather than individual entrepreneurs, and everyday organizational routines rather than abstract cultural changes. 



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.


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Selena Zhong

Ph.D. Candidate

Dissertation Title: Body Work: Second Opinion Consultations and the Process of Evaluating Expertise

Committee: Jenny Trinitapoli, Kathleen Cagney, Jayant Pinto (UChicago, Department of Surgery), Piper Sledge (Bryn Mawr)

My dissertation looks at when and how patients decide to seek a second medical opinion. Using this case, I explore how trust between patients and doctors break down and how patients begin to question medical expertise. Using in-depth interviews, I trace the process by which patients seek a second opinion and how they adjudicate between different and sometimes conflicting expert medical advice and opinions; my project will illuminate the dynamics of lay-expert interactions as well as the role of trust, credibility, and power in shaping these interactions within the clinical setting.