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Jae Wan Ahn

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Post-Coalition Reality: Fragmentation of Politics and Economy in Hartford

Committee: Andrew Abbott (chair), Elisabeth Clemens, Josh Pacewicz (Brown University)

Why have corporate actors withdrawn from local urban politics? How do local political actors interact with state political actors to resolve acute problems and advance their city’s interests? These questions frame my dissertation research on Hartford, CT. By using archival materials and conducting in-depth interviews, I show how the changing national economy has affected all three groups of actors. It facilitated the disengagement of corporate actors, elevated the negotiating power of local political actors, and limited state political actors’ choices. This adds to various theories on urban governance by demonstrating what many mid-sized American cities had to contend with in the era of globalization and permanent budget crisis. 

CV              Website


Esma Alothman

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Education Strategies in Modern Turkey: A Study of Parents Navigating the Transition to High School

Committee: Andrew Abbott (co-chair), Andreas Glaeser (co-chair), John Levi Martin, Ayca Alemdaroglu (Standord)

I am a sociologist of education whose research interests lie at the intersection of education policy, social stratification and parenting. In my dissertation project, I use ethnographic methods to investigate the effects of education policy and social class location on parents’ educational  involvements in Turkey. Specifically, I examine the impact of secondary education policies on how Turkish parents from various backgrounds help their children prepare for the high school entrance exams and make school choice decisions. I argue that contemporary high school transition procedures and the policy objectives that undergird them impose new institutional limits to social mobility prospects of working class students and fundamentally shape how Turkish parents utilize school choice decisions for positional advantages of their children in the education field.   


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Pranathi Diwakar

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Unequal Music: Caste, Cultural, and Urban Politics 

Committee: Marco Garrido (chair); Constantine Nakassis (UChicago, Anthropology); Liza Weinstein (Northeastern); Claudio Benzecry (Northwestern, Communication); Omar McRoberts

I investigate the relationship between caste in contemporary, urban India and musical practices by exploring how caste exclusions and resistances are mobilized. This project examines the question of caste in two musical scenes in the southern Indian city of Chennai: Carnatic music, which has a constituency of Brahmin or “upper” caste individuals; and Gaana music, which is linked to Dalit or previously “untouchable” caste urban residents. I employed ethnographic methods including participant observation and in-depth interviews conducted over a period of eleven months between December 2018 and March 2020. I show how musical participation in the Carnatic music world enables participants to draw boundaries that amplify the caste exclusivity of their spatial and social locations in the city. At the same time, musical participation in Gaana, a primarily funeral music tradition with growing sociopolitical relevance in the urban anti-caste movement allows Dalit urban residents to challenge these seemingly intractable social and spatial boundaries. This research advances scholarly understandings of the lived experience of caste and social inequality in present-day urban India, and contributes to urban and cultural sociological fields by linking spatial boundary-making with the coded, cultural forms of distinction-making that are informed by the modern politics of caste.   


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Shilin Jia

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Three Essays on Elite and Popular Politics

Committee: John Levi Martin (chair), James Evans, John Brehm (UChicago, Political Science)

I am a computational sociologist interested in organizations and culture. In my dissertation, I study the career mobility of high-level political elites in China from 1978 to 2012. I argue that the Communist Party employed long vacancy chains as an organizational strategy to control, incorporate, and sponsor its elite members. I am also involved in a large-scale computational content analysis of the Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily. We offer a field-level explanation of how new ideas were incorporated into the Party's official rhetoric. Most recently, I started a new project studying public attention in the United States as reflected in Google's search records. In this ongoing study, I focus on the rise of anti-establishment sentiment and its impact on the U.S. presidential elections. 

CV              Website


Austin Kozlowski

William Rainey Harper/Provost Fellow


Dissertation Title: Three Essays on the Structure and Organization of American Political Belief Systems

Committee: James A. Evans (co-chair), John Levi Martin (co-chair), Jenny Trinitapoli, Stephen Vaisey (Duke University)

I use computational and statistical methods to study the relationship between culture and politics. My research focuses on the questions of how belief systems are structured and why certain ideas seem to "go together." By developing new methods and adapting novel data sources, I attempt to shed new light on these age-old questions from the sociology of knowledge and culture. In previous work, I have developed ways to use word embedding models to discover cultural categories and associations in text. I have also examined political conservatives' loss of trust in scientists, the role ideology plays in shaping economists' expert opinions, and the evolving patterns of political alignments in the American public. In my dissertation, I apply word embedding models as well as qualitative approaches and methods drawn from bioinformatics to understand how historic cultural divisions have become mapped onto current political divides in the United States.

CV              Website

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Alessandra Lembo

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Not Just Any Body: Corporeally Mediated Experience, Meaning, and Perception

Committee: John Levi Martin (chair), Omar Lizardo (UCLA), Kristen Schilt 

I am a sociologist of culture and cognition, interested primarily in the effects of experience on perception, and the body’s role in processes of meaning making and response. Using a combination of in-depth interviews, ethnography, and a novel interview method designed to facilitate the description of music experience, my dissertation explores the roles that body and biography play in sense making via three distinct projects. In the first, I examine the impact of various forms of embodied experience and aesthetic biography on the shaping and acquisition of a new music taste. In the second, I measure qualities of music experience and explore gender differences in the description and, I argue, experience of, a particular subtype of sonic experience. In the third, I focus on funeral directors and examine how presently unfolding, large-scale changes in the occupation, which impact who can become a funeral director and the nature of career socialization, are leading to new understandings of funeral work. These changes, I argue, are allowing new meanings to emerge, particularly for the more traditionally “dirty” body-related aspects of the job.  



Wan-Zi Lu

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Polonsky Academy


Dissertation Title: Body Politics: Morals, Markets and the Mobilization of Organ Donation for Transplantation

Committee: Elisabeth S. Clemens (chair), John Levi Martin, Jenny Trinitapoli, and Kimberly Kay Hoang

My mixed-methods research examines how moralization develops in an institutional structure and affects population well-being worldwide through the case of organ donation for transplantation. 



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.  


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Moira O'Shea

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: The Dialogic Nation: Nationalism and belonging in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Committee: Andrew Abbott (chair), Lis Clemens, Marco Garrido, Emil Nasritdinov (American University of Central Asia), and Geneviève Zubrzycki (University of Michigan) 

In my dissertation project, I use ethnographic and archival methods to analyze processes of cultural nation-making in post-Soviet Bishkek—the capital of Kyrgyzstan—to answer the question: How are attachments to, and understandings of, the nation created by institutions and individuals?  I take up this question in three empirical sites that provide windows into different communities of nation-making practices: monuments and the symbolic landscape of Bishkek, the playing of an ancient nomadic game called kok-boru, and the export of monuments of Kyrgyz national heroes to Russia.  These projects provide evidence for heterogeneous ways in which the idea of the nation is always being made and remade, and how different spheres of nation-making activities engage diverse audiences, both at home and abroad, supporting a sociological theory of cultural nation-making that emphasizes the nation as a dialogic construct.



Benjamin Rohr

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Portraits of a Political World: Political Careers and Parties in the State of New York, 1777-1822

Committee: John Levi Martin (chair), Elisabeth S. Clemens, John F. Padgett, Peter Bearman (Columbia University)

I am a political and historical sociologist who uses quantitative and computational methods to study elite political action. My dissertation examines the relationship between state formation and the emergence of the first political parties in New York State between 1777 and 1820. I am particularly interested in the processes that tied political elites into the emerging party system, focusing on the role of social networks and political careers. Other work analyzes the career paths that led into elite administrative positions in the American state between 1850 and 2000, the structure of political careers in China from 1978 to 2012, and the structure of political discourse in Renaissance Florence.  

CV              Website


Yaniv Ron-El

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Consumers, Mobilized: The American Consumer Movement in the 1960s-70s as a Social Movement

Committee: Andrew Abbott (chair), Elisabeth Clemens, Jonathan Levy (History, Social Thought, Law School)

I am a historical sociologist, interested in consumption as a major political phenomenon of the twentieth century. My research interests therefore span political sociology, economic sociology, as well as the sociology of law. In my dissertation, drawing primarily on archival materials, I investigate the American movement for consumer protection from the late-1960s until the 1980s. I explore how organized consumers defied the predictions of collective action theorists, as the universal category of “the consumer” became a source of political mobilization and civic organization. By studying the American consumer movement – largely overlooked by sociologists – in its heyday, I seek to contribute both to social movements scholarship and to the growing literature on consumer politics. In other work, I trace the emergence of “Truth in Advertising” as a moral-professional principle within the nascent modern advertising industry in early twentieth century U.S.; and I analyze the legal treatment of financial crime in a major market manipulation case in Israel during the 1980s.



Stephanie Ternullo

Ph.D. Candidate


Dissertation Title: Community Partisanship: How Local Processes Produce National Politics

Committee: Lis Clemens (chair), John Levi Martin, Robert Vargas, Eric Oliver (UChicago, Political Science)

My research investigates how American political behavior and identity are shaped by social context. My dissertation, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, takes up one element of this relationship, asking how place shapes Americans’ partisanship. I use longitudinal, in-depth interviews conducted at four timepoints during the 2020 presidential election, across three similar counties in the Midwest, to offer a different view on an enduring question in American politics: rather than ask, ‘why is Middle America voting for a Republican Party that does not represent its interests,’ I ask, ‘why might three similar, Midwestern communities vote differently?’ This project contributes to research in political sociology and American political behavior by offering an account of how partisanship emerges and is perpetuated within communities, which departs from structuralist theories in sociology and psychological approaches in political science. In a second line of investigation into the relationship between social context and political behavior, I use quasi-experimental methods to assess the effects of social policy and local political structures on political engagement, voting behavior, and constituents’ demands for public services. 

CV              Website

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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.