Category Archives: University of Texas at Austin Sociology

New book by department alum Caitlyn Collins

By Jamie O’Quinn

Caitlyn Collins, a UT Austin sociology PhD  and now Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is making waves with her brand-new book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. This cross-cultural analysis is based on her dissertation research and explores the interconnectedness of motherhood, work, and the state across four countries: Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United States.

Caitlyn’s recent New York Times op-ed, “The Real Mommy War is Against the State”, details more about the book:

“In the course of my interviews, I discovered that American working mothers generally blame themselves for how hard their lives are. They take personal responsibility for problems that European mothers recognize as having external causes. The lesson here isn’t for overwhelmed American parents to look longingly across the Atlantic; it’s to emulate the Swedes, Germans and Italians by harboring the reasonable expectation that the state will help ….

‘Balance’ is a term that came up relentlessly in my conversations with women in the United States. But framing work-family conflict as a problem of imbalance is merely an individualized way to justify a nation of mothers engulfed in stress. It fails to recognize how institutions contribute to this anxiety.

The stress that American parents feel is an urgent political issue, so the solution must be political as well. We have a social responsibility to solve work-family conflict. Let’s start with paid paternal leave and high-quality, affordable child care as national priorities.”

Caitlyn’s call for us to use the sociological imagination and shift our focus from the individual to the institutional when it comes to parenting, gender, and labor is crucial in this current political moment. The stakes for paid parental leave are higher for communities of color since they already face systematic marginalization in the workforce, and state-funded social programs and services seem to occupy a more precarious space than ever in the weeks following the reopening of the U.S. government.

Caitlyn will be visiting the department on April 25th to discuss the book and will hold a workshop for graduate students in the Urban Ethnography Lab from 10-11:30am on how to conduct international ethnographic research. Please email me at joquinn@utexas.edu if you would like to RSVP for the workshop!


Jamie O’Quinn is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and the manager of the Urban Ethnography Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research investigates state and institutional efforts to regulate young people’s sexualities. You can follow her on Twitter at @JamieOQuinn1.

Meet our new NSF awardees!

To add to an already incredibly year of funding acceptances for the department, four UT Austin sociology graduate students have received dissertation awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Below is some information about their research, as well as their advice for future applicants.

Katherine Rogers

Katherine Rogers

Dissertation: “Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Gender, Race, and Class in the U.S. Legal Cannabis Industry”
Advisor: Christine Williams
Year in the program: 4

This project investigates how the emerging multibillion-dollar U.S. legal cannabis industry is stratified by race and gender. Employing the techniques of ethnographic assemblage (Collins 2017), this multi-method study uses content analysis, in-depth interviews, and field research in dispensaries to explore stratification in the emerging industry. This research will have theoretical implications for studies of gender, race, drug economies, and labor inequality, and contribute to policy debates around these issues. 

What is some advice you would give students who are applying to NSF in the future?

My two pieces of advice are to get started early, so you have ample opportunity to revise the proposal, and to begin by reading successful proposals from past years. The NSF wants a particular style and framing and it helps to see examples.

Samantha Simon

Samantha Simon

Dissertation:The Police Force: Gender, Race, and Use of Force Training in Police Academies
Advisor: Christine Williams
Year in the program: 5

If you ask police officers why they chose a career in law enforcement, most will tell you that they wanted to help people and serve their community. These honorable motivations stand in stark contrast to the patterns of racially-biased and excessive force that have given rise to protest movements across the country. In this project, we examine police training to discern how high-minded ideals are transformed into the excessive use of force. At the academy, cadets are exposed to the institutional ideologies, practices, and embodiments of U.S. law enforcement, including when, how, and on whom they can or should use force, and thus, the academy is a key site of study to better understand why racially-biased and excessive force persists. In this study, I address three questions: (1) How do police departments decide who to hire? (2) How are police officers trained to use force? (3) What do the recruitment strategies and training practices reveal about how police departments conceptualize gender, race, and violence? I turn the focus away from explanations of police violence that point to officers’ individual racial biases, the purported necessity of using force in high-crime areas, or inadequate de-escalation training, to instead examine how the ways in which police departments choose applicants and train cadets may play a role in the use of excessive force. By focusing on training, this study will help scholars, policy makers, and police departments better understand how previous reform efforts – for example, increasing the racial and gender diversity of the police force, implementing de-escalation training, or requiring body cameras – may be ineffective, and will provide important insights into developing new approaches to training recruits.
What is some advice you would give students who are applying to NSF in the future?
I would definitely advise that anyone applying to NSF read as many past proposals as possible. Reviewing colleagues’ proposals gives great insight into how to structure the document, what kind of language to use, and how to frame the project.

Ilya Slavinski

Dissertation: “The Racialized and Gendered Governance of the Poor in Low Level Misdemeanor Courts”
Advisor: Becky Pettit
Year in the program: 4

There are about ten million misdemeanor cases every year in the United States, almost five times the amount of felony cases. Focusing on misdemeanor courts gives insight as to how the criminal justice system regulates and manages millions of people. This view goes against the dominant narrative that punishment has abandoned its productive functions and simply locks people away and warehouses them. Misdemeanor courtroom interactions suggest that courts regulate those that walk through its doors. Meanwhile, stringent court requirements and norms paradoxically make the fulfillment of court-mandated requirements more difficult sometimes even impossible. How do we reconcile such contradictory demands? Drawing on ethnographic methods, including participant observation of 15 misdemeanor courtrooms around Texas and interviews with misdemeanor court defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, this project explores the ways in which misdemeanor courts actors and practices manage and regulate marginalized populations and how these populations react and resist to this regulation.

What is some advice you would give students who are applying to NSF in the future?

Read examples of winning submissions, don’t start from scratch! Use the resources in the department and the PRC [Population Research Center] that help with the process. Have colleagues and faculty read and give feedback before you submit.

Haley Stritzel

Haley Stritzel

Dissertation: “Interagency Collaboration, Child Welfare Involvement, and its Consequences for Children and Families”
Advisors: Rob Crosnoe and Shannon Cavanagh
Year in the program: 4

The majority of child maltreatment reports received by child protective service agencies in the United States come from professionals such as teachers, healthcare providers, and social workers. Informal and formal data sharing between the child welfare system and other institutions thus facilitates the investigation of and intervention in cases of child maltreatment. One consequence of this collaboration, however, is that families may avoid institutions that provide necessary resources out of fear of coming into contact with the child welfare system. My research analyzes under what circumstances institutional engagement is associated with a greater likelihood of child protective services involvement, as well as how child protective services involvement is related to future institutional engagement. Exploring how interactions with the child welfare system constrain families’ willingness to access needed services sheds light on one understudied mechanism in the reproduction of social stratification. In addition, this project will generate practical suggestions for encouraging greater service uptake and collaboration between social service workers and clients.
What is some advice you would give students who are applying to NSF in the future?
The application itself looks really intimidating with all of the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with this part! Faculty and other staff who regularly deal with grants can help make this part much easier. Your most important job is to concentrate on describing the actual research.

___________________________________________________________________________

Applications for for the Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Awards for sociology are due in October and are awarded based on four criteria:

(1) the theoretical grounding of the research

(2) the ability for the research to be empirically observed or validated

(3) the appropriateness of the research design to the questions asked

(4) the ability for the research to advance understanding of social processes, structures, and methods

Here’s to hoping for an equally successful round next year!

 

Maro Youssef in OpenDemocracy on State-Civil Society in Tunisia

UT Austin sociology doctoral student Maro Youssef has written an op-ed for OpenDemocracy on state-civil society in Tunisia.

She writes:

The Tunisian state appears both open and cautious to accommodating civil society.

Over the past few months, Tunisia has witnessed several victories for civil society, with the government making moves to promote gender equality in particular. Yet contradictory actions by the president’s office and parliament, which established a National Registry for Institutions on July 27, capture the Tunisian state’s appearance of being both open to and cautious about accommodating civil society during the democratic transition. […]

For Tunisia to reach its full democratic potential, the state must continue to strengthen its relationship with civil society and build trust with its leaders. The state must continue to listen to civil society grievances and consider their policy recommendations through formal mechanisms such as the Truth and Dignity Commission tasked with addressing past grievances and transitional justice. The state should also continue to engage civil society members and work with them on legislation as it did on the violence law.

Read more from Maro at OpenDemocracy.


Maro Youssef is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.

UT Austin Sociology at ASA 2018!

The annual meeting of the American Sociological Association is here, with a strong showing from scholars from the UT Austin sociology department. For quick reference, we compiled a list of presentations, talks, discussions, and more featuring our own UT Austin sociologists:

Saturday, August 11th:

8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 406

Emily Paine: “Embodied Disruption: Sorting Out Gender and Nonconformity in the Doctor’s Office”

8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 405

Robert Ressler: “Can Community Nonprofits Help Children from Diverse Families Learn on a National Scale?”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 9

Sharmila Rudrappa: “Reading Stuart Hall in (New) Times of Ultra-Right Nationalism”

10:30 to 11:30am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G

Yiwen Wang: “Family SES and Depression among College Students in China: Mediating Effects of Self-efficacy and Interpersonal Relationships”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 6

Amanda Bosky, Chandra Muller, Eric Grodsky, and John Robert Warren: “Preparing Students for an Advancing Economy: Academic Preparation and Exposure to Bad Occupations at Midlife”

2:30 to 3:30pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon C

Jamie O’Quinn: “Responsibilizing Girls’ Sexualities: U.S. Child Marriage, Sexual Violence, and the Neoliberal State”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G 

Bola Sohn, “How Asian Americans Shape their Pathway Frame at the Intersection of Race, Class, and Social Capital”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 2

Ori Swed, John Sibley Butler, and Connor Sheehan: “The Digital Divide and Veterans’ Health: Differences in Self-reported Health by Internet Usage”

4:30 to 6:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113C

“Shaping and Informing Public Conversations by Sharing Your Scholarship”

UT Panelist: Sharmila Rudrappa

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Sunday, August 12th:

8:30 to 9:30am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G

Aida Villanueva and Maria Carolina Mota Pereira Aragao: “Girls’ Domestic and Care Work in Brazil: Educational Consequences and Connections to Mothers’ Work”

8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104B

Nino Bariola: “The Peruvian Foodie Crowd and the Fields of Ethical Consumption”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 406

Eldad J. Levy: “Heroes, Villains, and Legacies of Modernization: Transforming Mexican Nationalism”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113C

Michael Garcia: “Marital Strain and Psychological Distress in Same-Sex and Different-Sex Couples”

12:30 to 1:30pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon G

Ari Adut: “Publicity and Common Knowledge”

12:30 to 2:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 405

Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely: “American Life in Debt”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104A

Koit Hung: “Private Troubles, Public Secrets: The Self-representation in Help-seeking Posts on Facebook”

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Monday, August 13th:

8:30 to 10:10am, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 404

Elizabeth Cozzolino: “Litigating Relationships: Gendered Conflicts in Child Support Court”

8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 111B

Corinne Reczek, Alexandra Kissling, Lauren Elizabeth Gebhardt-Kram, and Debra Umberson: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Spouses as the ‘Strong Arm’ of Health Care”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 111A

Shannon Malone Gonzalez, Katie Rogers, Jamie O’Quinn, Erika Slaymaker, and Jax J. Gonzalez: “Graduate Student Workshop on Collective Organizing”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 105AB

Mark Hayward: “Socioeconomic Inequalities in Health and Mortality”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 411

Maricarmen Hernandez: “Displaced into Toxicity: An Account of Unequal Toxic Exposures in the Latin American City”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113C

Daniel Fridman: “Valuation and Meanings of Money in Psychoanalytical Treatment in Argentina”

10:30 to 11:30am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113A

Marta Ascherio: “Sanctuary Policies and Crime: A County-level Investigation”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 413

Ori Swed, Thomas Crosbie, Jae Kwon, and Bryan Feldscher: “The Corporate War Dead: New Perspectives on the Demographics of American and British Contractors”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 5

Shannon Malone Gonzalez: “Black Girls and the Talk: Policing, Parenting, and the (re)Production of Hegemonic Illegibility”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 414

Christine Williams: “The Deserving Professional: Instability and Inequality in the Oil and Gas Industry”

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Tuesday, August 14th:

8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 107AB

Celeste Curington, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, and Ken-Hou Lin: “Reinforcing the Boundaires of Whiteness and Blackness: The Racial Preferences of Multiracial Online Daters”

8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 105AB

Sarah Brayne: “Technologies of Crime Prediction: Comparing the Reception of Big Data Analytics in Policing and Courts”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 105AB

Rachel Donnelly: “How Precarious Employment in Midlife Shapes Health”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, Franklin Hall 6

“Is the Sociology of Mental Health at a Crossroads? Some Historical Reflections and Where We Go from Here”

UT Panelists: Debra Umberson, Tetyana Putrovska

10:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104B

Jennifer Karas Montez, Mark Hayward, and Anna Zajacova: “Educational Disparities in Adult Health: U.S. States as Institutional Actors on the Association”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 414

Pamela Paxton, Nicholas Reith, Melanie Hughes, and Wade Cole: “Entering World Society: A Research Note on Measurement and Statistical Modeling”

10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon H

Jess Goldstein-Kral: “Transgender Theory, Queer Measurements, Cisgender Subjects: Discordant Perceptions of Gender and Marital Quality”

Katie Rogers: “Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Colorblind Discourses of Diversity, Professionalism, and Morality in U.S. Legal Cannabis”

12:30 to 2:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 409

Karen Lee: “Multi-Group Attitudes towards Contemporary Black Political Action”

Abigail Weitzman, Leticia Marteleto, and Raquel Coutinho: “Socioeconomic Status and Risk Perceptions: Evidence from the Zika Epidemic in Brazil”

12:30 to 2:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 104B

Andrew Krebs: “Boundary Spanners’ Burden: Exploring the Perspectives of Psychiatric Treatment Providers Working in Texas Jails”

2:30 to 4:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113B

Lilla Pivnick: ” Using Twitter to Investigate Gendered Job-related Stress among U.S. Teachers”

Austin’s “homeless problem” may never be solved – and perhaps it shouldn’t be?

By Marta Ascherio

There are many resources in Austin allotted to ending homelessness, including a nearly two million dollar grant for the Innovation Team “to experiment with new ways to house the homeless” (http://projects.austintexas.io), and $18.2 million for a complex with 50 furnished housing units and mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment funded by The Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The city of Austin uses a “housing first” model to combat homelessness, which prioritizes shelter and medical needs above all else. In a recent report, the city of Austin Innovation Team suggests that this approach is limited and contributes to deteriorating mental and physical health. They suggest a model that is centered around social, emotional, and mental health needs along with the rest (shelter, food, income, etc.) as part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to dealing with the “problem of homelessness”. After spending a semester doing ethnographic fieldwork with homeless service institutions and people in Austin experiencing homelessness, we suggest that rather than trying to end homelessness, perhaps the focus could be on initiatives that make homelessness less bad, less scary, and less dangerous for those experiencing it. The following points were shared at a presentation on Tuesday May 1st , 2018:

Students prepare for the presentation to Austin homeless service providers

1) Social Networks, by Jess Goldstein-Kral. The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), is a location where there are services and day-sleep for all people experiencing homelessness and serves as a men’s shelter at night. There is ongoing conversation about the space right outside the ARCH where many people gather. Business owners are concerned about it as an eyesore, service providers are concerned that it scares away people who need services, the city is concerned that is a hub for selling K2, prostitution, or other illegal activities.

What seems to be missing from this discourse is that this gathering place is an integral aspect of people’s social networks. It operates as an alternative or supplementary source of services and support for people experiencing homelessness. People share phones, food, clothing, sell leftovers, and receive donations that are dropped off here. Others do business, both legal and illegal, which serves both for income as well as relationship building. Couples can sleep next to each other outside the ARCH, which is prohibited in homeless shelters and nearly impossible for heterosexual couples do to the gender segregation of shelters.

2) Sex and Privacy, by Jamie O’Quinn. The people sitting outside the ARCH might be considered a nuisance or an eyesore, but they also do not really have anywhere else to go. Experiencing homelessness means that you are constantly visible. For example, if you’re sleeping outside, in a bunk room at a shelter, or on a mat at ARCH or Salvation Army on the 1st floor, you are visible to either the public, staff and volunteers, or other people experiencing homelessness.

Not having access to privacy also means that people have limited access to sex that is private and pleasurable. While the Condom Distribution Network distributes condoms to people experiencing homelessness, at the ARCH and at other locations, there exists no free, public space where it is legal for people to have sex.

For instance, Daniel, a 46 year-old Hispanic man, told me that he had sex in port-a-johns so that he can have sex in a private place. Taylor, a 30 year-old Black man, told me that he either saves up money to have sex in a motel or has sex outside with a “lookout” so that he can have privacy.

3) Invisibility, by Alex Diamond. Being constantly visible not only structures outer activities but can also result in an internalization of invisibility. One man experiencing homelessness, Tyler, speaks about his time staying by Lady Bird Lake: “You get used to a public audience, get used to having to do things in view of public. You block that out. People become a blur. It’s as if you don’t exist, it’s as if you’re invisible. Generally they don’t acknowledge your existence. You begin to feel invisible. Because of that, you’re a little more relaxed about having to do certain things like comb your hair. That becomes background. That becomes a blur. They become as invisible to you as you become to them.”

To circle back to the opening point – there are a lot of initiatives on homelessness in Austin, they put housing first, community first, or user needs first, what we hope to do here is to put the experience of people who are homeless front and center, not necessarily as users or clients but as people who seek out privacy, dignity, and safety. Tyler, among the many poignant and insightful things he said also brings the issue to its core: “they can tell you a million places they don’t want you to be, but they can’t tell you where to go”. This quote sheds light on the crux of the issue: there is nowhere for people experiencing homelessness to just be.

Professor Harel Shapira responds to a question about positionality at the Q&A

To conclude, there seems to be a mismatch between what services are provided, and what people experiencing homelessness need and value. Perhaps services could be designed with more user input, there could be explicit efforts to include people experiencing homelessness in decision making processes, and programs to serve the homeless could be more effective if there was an explicit role for people who either previously or currently experience homelessness.

Ethnographic methods research team: Marta Ascherio, Alex Diamond, Jess Goldstein-Kral, Alicia Montecinos, Jamie O’Quinn, Felipe Vargas, Abraham Younes

Professor: Harel Shapira


Marta Ascherio is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a graduate fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include immigration, crime, and social control.

UT Austin Staff Highlight: Michael Schmidt

By Karen H. Lee

Another academic year is coming to an end.

But the end of the semester also marks the end of Michael Schmidt’s first year as the Graduate Program Administrator of the Sociology department. I interviewed Michael for this short blog piece to learn more about him, and to thank him for a great first year.

Michael’s roots at the UT go deep. He began at UT as an undergraduate History major, excelling as a History Honors student, and went on to the graduate program to earn his PhD in History in 2014. His dissertation was titled, “The Multi-Sensory Object: Jazz, the Modern Media, and the History of the Senses in Germany.” Soon after earning his PhD, he worked as an Academic Advisor in the History Department, where he was awarded a 2016 Texas Exes James W. Vick Award for Academic Advising. He was then promoted to Graduate Coordinator of the Department of French and Italian. This year, we were fortunate enough to welcome him as the Graduate Program Administrator of the Sociology department.

Michael infuses the department with positive energy. Whether he is advising graduate students, passing out chocolate near the printers, or participating in a departmental event, his kindness and generosity are ever-present. What he loves about being part of a university is the constant exposure to other ways of thinking and new fields of knowledge. In our conversation, he recounts a time when he sat in on a Fem(me) Sem meeting, and saw that the types of questions that historians and sociologists ask are similar but also quite different. Group members asked many questions around “the nitty-gritty” of social dynamics whereas his first questions revolved around transformation over time. Michael says, “Being around sociologists is like a new education.”

Michael’s research interests are largely centered on the history of popular music and the changing ways in which the public perceives these media. He asks fascinating questions such as: how is cultural meaning produced and transformed over time? What is the relationship between material transformations in sound reproduction technology and the shifting cultural meanings of popular music? How do these shifts reflect changes in the audience and social position of the music across history? In speaking with Michael, I was reminded of the value of contemplating the social world from multiple disciplinary standpoints. Just as being around sociologists has been educational for Michael, it was also educational for me to think from a historian’s perspective.

In his words, a graduate program is “like a laboratory for developing one’s mind and capacity to analyze the world… maybe it’s the historian in me, but I like to see the transformation of students.” Ever generous and warm, he tells me that he considers it a privilege to see the work that students are doing because it is like “peeking into the future of the discipline.” However, he also knows that things can get difficult, which is why he works to support and advocate for students throughout the process.

We all have our stories about the time that Michael masterfully problem-solved an issue or gave helpful advice and support through the hurdles of the program. He tells me, “There is always so much going on. I’m not here to put obstacles, I’m here to lift the obstacles.” However, as we spoke more about the university, research, disciplines, and beyond, it became even clearer why Michael is such a wonderful addition. Amidst the bureaucratic noise and neoliberal clamor of the institution, Michael is a melody of curiosity and love for learning. For that, and much more, we are a better department because he is with us.


Karen H. Lee is a second-year graduate student in the Sociology department.  She is broadly interested in intergroup relations and processes particularly as they relate to race, ethnicity, and nationalism. Her current research draws upon experimental methods and large-scale survey data analysis to examine public perceptions of ethnoracial protest. She’s also a co-coordinator of the Race and Ethnicity working group in the Sociology department. 

UT Austin Sociology End of the Year Party!

The UT Austin sociology department celebrated an end to another fantastic year on Tuesday!

Congratulations first to our amazing graduates:

Beth Cozzolino, Letisha Brown, Yu Chen, Paige Gabriel, Carmen Gutierrez, Dan Jaster, Katie Jensen, Corey McZeal, Luis Romero, Vivian Shaw, Katie Sobering, Bryan Stephens, and Minle Xu.

Congratulations are also in order for our newly minted Sociology Graduate Student Council (SGSC) members:

Graduate Student Chair—Kathy Hill
Student Minority Liaison—Dominique Scott
Pre-Candidacy Student Representative—Michael Garcia
Candidacy Student Representative—Emily Paine
International Student Representative—Eldad Levy
Representative to the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA)—Riad Azar

Thank you to those who served as the first members of the SGSC in its inaugural year: Shannon Malone Gonzalez (Chair), Carmen Gutierrez and Shannon Malone Gonzalez (Student Minority Liaisons), Michael Garcia (Pre-Candidacy Student Representative), Corey McZeal (Candidacy Student Representative), Nino Bariola (International Student Representative), and Beth Prosnitz (Representative to the GSA).

Also honored this year were Shannon Malone Gonzalez and Carmen Gutierrez for their service to the department and Valerie Goldstein who completed her 25th year with the department!

Maro Youssef Explores Civil Society, Democracy, and Women’s Participation in Tunisia

By Maro Youssef

Maro Youssef, Strauss Center Brumley Fellow and Doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, is currently researching civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia as part of the Brumley program. Over Spring Break, Maro visited the country to perform interviews with leaders of Tunisia’s women’s movement. She fills us in on her work and more for us here:

Maro: “My Brumley research project is on civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia. My trip to Tunisia this spring helped me better understand the environment and landscape in which women’s civil society associations operate. The findings from my interviews with key leaders in the women’s movement highlighted their participation in the democratic transition; they join coalitions composed of different women’s groups and government ministries, draft legislation related to women’s issues, and serve on committees and commissions related to transitional justice. This trip also helped me clarify the issues women are currently working on including: giving women equal inheritance rights as men, eliminating violence against women, increasing women’s political participation, and combatting violent extremism.”

What led to your interest in this research?

“There is a right-wing conservative trend that is taking place on a global level where national figures use rhetoric on religion, nativism, xenophobia, or nationalism to marginalize other groups and monopolize resources. In Tunisia, Tunisians are attempting to reconcile sharp divisions among religious conservatives and nationalists that became visible in both politics and society after the 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution. Civil society and women’s groups help ensure that the democratic transition from authoritarian rule is pluralistic, participatory, and representative of all Tunisians. Other nations struggling with their own ideological and ethnic differences could learn how to resolve some of their issues by studying the Tunisian case.”

What challenges have you run into?

“Some of the challenges I have faced include learning how to switch between academic and policy-style writing. Another issue is identifying what busy policymakers need to know and how to draw their attention to important “soft” issues such as women’s political participation that affect American interests and stability.”

Maro’s faculty mentor in the Brumley program is Professor Paul Pope, Senior Senior Fellow with the Intelligence Studies Project. In general, mentors provide research and career guidance to their Brumley Fellows in a hands-off manner so that the Fellow is the ultimate director of their own research.

Has Prof. Pope opened up new ways of thinking for you, or perhaps changed the direction of your research? If not, how has he helped you generally in your project and professional development?

“Professor Pope has been very supportive of my work. He has given me the space to create my own project and highlight the importance of women’s issues and their link to democracy and stability. In terms of my professional development, he has introduced me to several influential figures in my field. He also helps me refine and tighten my policy-writing skills.”

What do you predict doing with your research at the end of the academic year?

“My research will be integrated in my doctoral research as part of my dissertation.”

What do you have in store after receiving your PhD?

“I am interested in working in foreign policy at the government level or at a Think Tank institution. My background as an Arab-American woman who lived in the Middle East and North Africa and researched the region over many years inspired me to want to have a voice and have an influence on US foreign policy.”

We thank you Maro for your time!

See here for more information on the Strauss Center’s Brumley Fellowships.


Maro Youssef  is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.

UT Austin Urban Ethnography Lab Featured in ASA Culture Section Newsletter

Originally published in Section Culture: Newsletter of the ASA Culture Section. Winter 2018. Vol. 30 Issue 1

By Nino Bariola, Katherine Sobering, and Javier Auyero

Ethan works at a luxury hotel in downtown Austin, Texas that caters to the 1%—elites and celebrities that visit for the South by Southwest music festival, the Formula One races, and other mega events. His job isn’t by any means unimportant for the reproduction of the social order of Austin’s “new urban economy.” Yet handling the instability, meager wages, stress and emotional labor demanded by his job takes a toll: “We [service workers] are the genuine junkies…” Ethan explains. “Waiting tables and working in hospitality is very, very stressful and demanding, you know? And so all that fuels the fire.” The comparative benefits of luxury hospitality work do little to address his social suffering. As Katherine Sobering, a Graduate Fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab, reveals, Ethan also struggles with addiction, which he explains as “a product of the [service] industry.”

Sobering is part of the group of graduate students who wrote Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City with professor Javier Auyero. The book portrays the life stories of people like Ethan who struggle with precarity as Austin consolidates into a “creative city,” a trendy hub for technology and finance. While sociologists have produced excellent accounts of “objective” inequalities in changing urban contexts, “We are on less certain terrain when it comes to understanding the many ways in which individuals, alone or in groups, make sense of and cope with these inequalities,” argues Auyero. “These experiences matter because they oftentimes do the cultural work necessary to perpetuate the social order, but at other times they serve as the basis for challenging it.”

Invisible in Austin is the first project of the Urban Ethnography Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Discussions and debates that started in one of Auyero’s graduate seminars transformed into a collective project, and eventually, a collaborative book. In one of the journal articles about the project, Caitlyn Collins (now an assistant professor at Washington University, St. Louis), UT graduate student Katherine Jensen, and Auyero explain, “the book sought to intervene in the local public sphere by shedding sociological light on the sources and forms of affliction and on the manifold ways in which inequalities are lived and experienced on a daily basis.” Exemplary of the potential of public sociology, the book today is widely utilized as a learning material in high schools and college classrooms to teach about the often hidden and sometimes forgotten social problems associated with the so-called “creative class” and growth of  “new urban economies.”

Housed in UT’s Sociology Department, the Urban Ethnography Lab has been a stronghold of ethnographic and qualitative research since its inception in 2012, organizing and sponsoring conferences and talks with leading scholars and providing graduate student fellows with guidance, resources, and space for individual and collective scholarly creation. Of note are regular workshops like the biweekly brown bags where students and faculty present their work. As Invisible in Austin shows, many fellows and faculty affiliates are invested in the study of cultural dynamics and particularly how social inequalities in terms of class, race, and gender are (re)produced, legitimized, or challenged via cultural work.

The Lab brings together a growing number of faculty who use ethnographic methods. Christine Williams recent work explores gender inequality and diversity culture in the oil and gas industry, and her previous and widely-cited book, Inside Toyland, inspects low-wage retail work to expose how the social inequalities of gender, race, and class inequalities are embedded within consumer culture. Sharmila Rudrappa’s book, Discounted Life, is a fascinating account of the cultural politics of exchange in transnational surrogacy. Gloria González-López’s book unveils the intricate cultures of gender inequality as well as the social organization of secrets and silence that enable incest and sexual violence in contemporary Mexican families. Harel Shapira—who leads one of the seminars on ethnographic methods—currently studies gun culture in the U.S. Sarah Brayne’s work examines the use of “big data” within the criminal justice system, and particularly how the adoption of predictive analytics is changing views and practices of surveillance in law enforcement organizations. Daniel Fridman’s research looks at the intersections of culture and the economy in his book, Freedom from Work, which explores the social world of financial self-help in Argentina and the U.S.

Graduate student fellows carry out qualitative and ethnographic research across the globe, from Brazil and Peru to India, Nepal, Sweden, and the U.S. They are developing innovative research questions, including: “What are human rights organizations doing to get social media taken more seriously in courts?” (Anna V. Banchik); “How do ‘bad jobs’ become legitimized as ‘cool’ and ‘crafty’ occupations in the Peruvian culinary field? (Nino Bariola); “How do people working in the gig economy conceive of work and choice?” (Kathy Hill); “How do micro-level interactions within a family unit influence whether these individuals choose to utilize formal care services for their elderly family members?” (Corey J. McZeal); “How do Chinese rural residents who stay in migrant-origin communities continue to support urban migration even if economic returns from migrant workers become increasingly small and unpredictable?” (Ruijie Peng); “How are stereotypes about cannabis dealers reconfigured during legalization?” (Katherine K. Rogers); “How has Japan’s political crisis after the nuclear disaster in 2011 set the stage for emerging anti-racism politics? (Vivian Shaw); “How do Tunisian women’s groups protect their existing (secular) rights during an Islamist-led transition to democracy?” (Maro Youssef).

The culture of intellectual collaboration and support continues today. Most recently, Auyero and a new group of graduate fellows are studying the political culture of the working class in Texas. Teams of graduate students conducted fieldwork in five Texas towns experiencing drastic economic, socio-political, and environmental transformations to examine how communities cope with and make political sense of inequalities. The group is now extending the model of Invisible in Austin to use the qualitative data they collected to write a book that will richly describe and theorize political culture in everyday life.

In the Urban Ethnography Lab, the craft of sociology is undertaken collectively and horizontally through the sharing ideas, field notes, proposals, and papers. It is a place where students and faculty come together to provide, as Loïc Wacquant accurately captures, the “mutual support and crisscrossing control at multiple stages [to] help each [other] to fashion a better research object than would have been possible on one’s own…” As messy as ethnographic research may appear from the outside, at UT Austin, cohorts of sociologists now have a space to learn what it takes to produce rigorous ethnographic research in both theory and practice.

Follow the Thread and Leave Room for Serendipity: Reflections on the PHS Graduate Workshop with Myra Marx Ferree

by Marta Ascherio

Roter faden is the German term for “red thread,” and is used to mean common thread. “Unlike most of German academia, it borrows from sewing,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Sociology Myra Marx Ferree, during UT Austin Sociology’s annual Power, History, and Society workshop. “Women’s practical knowledge.” Whether we intend it or not, there is always a red thread in what we study. It’s about what we do with the red thread that matters.

The red thread that runs through Dr. Ferree’s work is now emerging as a network, called the Society of Gender Professionals. This society will set professional standards, share job opportunities, and work to institutionalize the legitimacy of gender experts. She is particularly interested in how expertise gets used, and how certain types of expertise are credited or discredited. For instance, one of her students researches family law reform in Chile, and finds that gender experts are discredited, with economists being perceived as a more legitimate form of authority.

Dr. Ferree also discussed the debates that took place in the 1980s about whether Women’s Studies should be its own discipline or a sub-specialty in another discipline. “Both ways actually succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone on either side of that debate,” Dr. Ferree told us, which is refreshing to hear in a moment when it seems like the only constant is the reproduction of inequality, and even progressive social movements often re-package existing power relationships.

In the first few minutes of Dr. Ferree’s arrival, as we set up food, she engaged every single graduate student, as attentively as if we were her advisees, commenting on the relevance of our research topics, suggesting literature, and offering introductions.  She leaned back in her chair, so much at ease. Here is some of the advice she had for graduate students:

Keep track of your ideas. C. Wright Mills kept all his ideas on notecards, said Dr. Ferree, and Charles Tilly kept a filing cabinet full of all the topics he would write about if he lived to be 150. She advised us to do the same. “You can’t pursue every idea, so you have to cut them off, but don’t throw them away!”

Leave room for serendipity. “I don’t pick projects. Projects pick me,” said Dr. Ferree. “When we do our dissertations, we often think that we choose them, but when we dig a little bit deeper, we see that it has to do with where we are located in time and space.”

Avoid identifying with one particular method. More than using quantitative or qualitative methods, Dr. Ferree observed, scholars seem to have “quantitative or qualitative identities.” She believes this quantitative/qualitative binary is a barrier to being relevant. Prioritize staying relevant, she said, and learning new methods. Methods are not something you learn once and set aside. You will be learning methods for the rest of your life.

Remember that methods and theories can be subject to trends. Dr. Ferree explained that sociological methods and theoretical approaches can fall in and out of fashion. For instance, while she was writing her dissertation, multi-dimensional scaling was all the rage, but the way she learned it became obsolete shortly after she spent a year grappling with it. If you are interested in getting a job, consider learning or using trendy methods, but do not forget that they may be subject to change. You have to see what works for you.


Marta Ascherio is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a graduate fellow of the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include immigration, crime, and social control.