PhDs on the Market

The sociology department is proud of our excellent PhD candidates on the academic market this year. If you have questions, feel free to contact our job candidates, faculty members, or our Graduate Coordinator.

Jack Jin Gary Lee
Contact Email:
Area of Interest: Sociology of Law, Politica Sociology, Historical Sociology of Colonialism and Empire, Global and Transnational Sociology, International Migration and Development
Dissertation Co-Chairs: John D. Skrentny and Kwai H. Ng
Dissertation Title: The Illiberal Commonwealth: On the Problem of Difference and Imperial Control in Jamaica and the Straits Settlements, 1865-1895

JACK JIN GARY LEEHow does a state govern a foreign territory and its inhabitants? To British officials of the nineteenth century, including one J.S. Mill, the problem of imperial control was one of the more important problems of their age, which was marked by imperial expansion and the institutionalization of modern colonial rule. Unlike the representative forms of colonial government that had been established in the American and West Indian colonies, British colonies in the nineteenth century were increasingly subject to imperial control through the institutionalization of Crown Colony government, which established modern colonial states dominated by Governors and their subordinate officials.

As a mode of imperial control applied to colonies with limited European settlement, Crown Colony government was based on four tenets. First, the Crown’s legislative power over the colony was preserved; second was the Crown’s formal establishment of a legislative agency that allowed the Governor and the Colonial Office to initiate, amend and disallow ordinances. Thirdly, the representative element of government would either be non-existent or be limited to a minority of non-officials, whether elected or nominated, on the Legislative Council. And, lastly, the Colonial Office controlled the appointment of the Governor and his subordinates.

Building on the renascent sociology of colonialism and empire (Steinmetz 2014), my dissertation examines the reconstitution and development of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) and Jamaica as Crown Colonies between 1865 and 1895 – a period marked by the differing modes of imperial control within self-governing white settler colonies and racially plural Crown Colonies. By examining the making of their constitutions and laws, I argue that the exercise of imperial control was premised upon a racial sociology of empire that justified officials’ imposition of a scheme of constitutional progression, in which plural societies were considered lacking in their readiness for representative or responsible government. Within this racial sociology, British officials’ approach to the problem of imperial control rested upon presuppositions based upon two questions: i) whether a colony was similar to or different from Britain (Wilson 2011); and ii) whether the inhabitants of a colony possessed the character to be ruled by their own laws.

Yao-Tai Li
Contact Email:
Area of Interest: Race and Ethnicity, Immigration, Culture, Identity, Labor/Work, Social Inequality, Overseas Chinese
Dissertation Chair/Co-Chairs: David FitzGerald and Christena Turner
Dissertation Title:  Making and Unmaking of “Pan-Chineseness”: The Formation and Decline of Overseas Pan-Chinese Identity in Australia

Yao-Tai Li

Why do some people identify themselves as “pan-Chinese” (Hua-Ren) in some contexts, but claim they are “not Chinese” in other contexts? When speaking of the terms “Chinese” or “pan-Chinese”, there seems no consensus and these terms are appear to be used interchangeably, especially in an immigration context. My dissertation explores the concept of Chinese and pan-Chinese (Hua-Ren) for PRC-Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kongese immigrants in Australia. In Australia, the ambiguity of pan-Chinese lead to complicated situations when it involves with political and cultural tensions among people from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Current literature acknowledges pan-Chinese identity is socially constructed and flexible.

Few studies, however, have systematically examined the complex differences between national (PRC-Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong Kongese) and pan-national (pan-Chinese) identities. Neither have studies discussed much about whether, how, and to what degrees different levels of national and pan-national identities nest within each other in different social settings (work, network, community, and social life), as well as how they shape and transform the ethnic identity and ethnic relations of PRC-Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kongese migrants in Australia. In other words, this dissertation is interested in exploring these differences in interpretation of this pan-Chinese identity, and how and when pan-Chinese migrants choose to identify with their country of citizenship or with the pan-Chinese identity.

Based on a year and half of fieldwork investigating ethnic identity and social relation in the workplace and ethnic organizations, I highlight how people interpret “pan-Chinese” differently, and argue that identity is not only a fluid concept that encompasses a diversity of political, cultural, and ethnic interpretations, it also involves how people negotiate and manage differences through boundary making/unmaking.

Jennifer Nations

Contact Email: 
Jennifer Nations CV
Area of Interest: Political sociology, sociology of education, social inequalities
Dissertation Chair: Isaac Martin
Dissertation Title: Who Pays for Higher Education? The Politics of Legislating College Costs in the United States

Jennifer Nations

The subject of my dissertation is what factors motivate adoption of distinct forms of higher education support in the United States. I argue that state lawmakers construct policy responses to state financial shortfalls and changing demographic contexts within organizational and cultural constraints that are unique to public higher education. Pre-existing educational policies structure the ways that policymakers think about the purpose of higher education and what their role should be in supporting student access and directing public universities. Existing research has not captured the complexity of state-level higher education policymaking or the ways university leadership and students influence policy outcomes. Combining qualitative and quantitative methods of historical research, I am able to isolate the primary drivers of three types of higher education policy change: laws governing tuition setting authority, need-based financial aid expenditures, and tax-advantaged tuition investment programs. Each of these policies has implications for who can access higher education and how much they will pay. The policies I study have varying consequences for leaders of higher education as well because they affect the autonomy and revenue sources of postsecondary institutions. Political decision-making at the sub-national level has a profound and enduring effect on the costs students are asked to bear. Two chapters of my dissertation, in article form, are currently under review in academic journals.

David Pinzur
David Pinzur CV
Area of Interest:Economic sociology, culture, science and technology, organizations
Dissertation Chair:Akos Rona-Tas
Dissertation Title:Building Futures Markets: Infrastructure and Outcome on the Chicago Board of Trade and New Orleans Cotton Exchange, 1856-1916.

David PinzurDerivative financial instruments figure prominently in the modern global economy, but their modern origins date back to the use of agricultural futures contracts in the mid-19th century. This dissertation analyzes the construction of markets in futures contracts during this period on two exchanges—the Chicago Board of Trade and New Orleans Cotton Exchange. Building these markets posed a unique problem. Unlike extant markets, which could operate autonomously, futures markets had to be constitutively linked with a second underlying market in order to work (e.g., a market in cotton futures linked with an underlying market in cotton itself). Making this linkage required creating infrastructural connections—with institutional, material, and cognitive components—that would allow the two markets to work in concert. Infrastructures had to support an environment in which traders on the futures market could incorporate spot market information into intentionally rational decisions.

The Chicago Board of Trade and New Orleans Cotton Exchange built their infrastructures differently. This dissertation asks two questions about this divergence: What factors caused the infrastructure on each exchange to take the shape it did? And, what consequences did these infrastructures have for market behavior? I answer these questions through analyzing the construction and impact of three critical infrastructural features: (1) the classification schemes by which spot commodities were assigned grades; (2) the material means of gathering and disseminating data, both statistics on the growth and movement of the spot crop, as well as price quotations from global markets; (3) the economic and cultural theories by which traders understood the nature of speculation in futures and its effect on spot markets. I find that the characteristics of these infrastructural elements were shaped less by any uniform concern with efficiency or fairness and more by the distinct economic, cultural, political, and organizational environments on each exchange. Additionally, I suggest that these distinct infrastructures promoted different types of trading on each market—high-risk speculation in Chicago and low-risk hedging in New Orleans—which contributed to the divergent price volatility on these markets during the period of my research.

Heidi Schneider, PhD

Contact Email:
Area of Interest: Social Inequalities, Education, Race and Ethnicity, Immigration, Criminology, Deviance and Social Control.
Dissertation Chair: Ivan Evans
Dissertation Title: It Takes Two to Struggle: Teachers, Students, and the Co-production of (Dis)respect in an Urban School. 
Heidi Schneider

My dissertation researches how educational inequality is reproduced by the intersection of identity, face-to-face interaction and the politics of contested meaning. Using ethnographic field methods, I explore how a disrespectful classroom culture is initiated by societal forces such as racism, classism, anti-immigrant beliefs, community narrative, and neighborhood context, but more importantly co-produced by teachers and students inside the classroom.

To uncover the dynamic role (dis)respect plays in schooling, I draw from theories of symbolic interactionism to examine teachers’ and students’ divergent interpretations and meanings of (dis)respect. In doing so, I offer a theoretically grounded and evidence-based argument of how meanings and practices associated with (dis)respect matter to student engagement and teacher-student relationships. As this project demonstrates, student-teacher conflict does not arise from students’ oppositional attitude to education or authority, or stem from a warped sense of respect, but occurs as a reaction to feeling disrespected by their teachers. In response, students use a “reprisal process” as a strategy to protect their identities and retain the respect of their peers, which many teachers interpret and label as disrespectful.

Data suggests the vast majority of students do respect and accept the authority of teachers and desire, even crave respect from their teachers, however, teachers’ ideas of (dis)respect are also mediated by their identities and a belief that respect is asymmetrical. In turn, the struggle for respect ensues leaving teachers and students feeling equally wounded, unrecognized, and suffering from the politics of contested meanings of (dis)respect. Together, this influences a disrespectful school culture that contributes directly to failure for some students and indirectly to a sense of alienation for all students. As defined in this study, the meaning students and teachers attach to (dis)respectful interaction is both shared and contested, but ultimately driven by identities that intersect with face-to-face interaction that impacts the everyday lives of the individuals I studied. Thus, the central contention of my doctoral work is that the concept of respect holds theoretical and social significance as it is co-produced within the school setting.

Stacy J. Williams
Contact Email:
Area of Interest: Gender, Social Movements, Culture, Food, Work & Occupations
Dissertation Chair: Mary Blair-Loy
Dissertation Title: Recipes for Resistance: Feminist Political Discourse About Cooking, 1870-1985 
Stacy Williams
Some of the largest social transformations in the United States over the past 200 years involve changes to the gender order. To understand the forces behind these shifts, we must examine how women have fought for equality using actions situated in the home and family, which have remained central to women’s lives. However, scholars who study the dynamics of social change often overlook how the home can be a site of social movement action.

I study how feminists have politicized cooking within four social movements. Contrary to the stereotype that feminists avoid cooking, I find that feminists have utilized the home kitchen as they push for gender equality. I analyze cookbooks and other culinary writings from suffragists, temperance women, and liberal and radical second-wave feminists. In this discourse, feminists make claims about cooking to build moral identities that support their campaigns for a more equal world. These activists also advocated for cooking in ways that empowered women both within and outside the home. These methods of cooking could help feminists prefigure—or model—the social change they desired. In short, I demonstrate how feminists use discourse about cooking to challenge women’s subordination within the family and broader society.