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, Political 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.

Jennifer Nations

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


Jennifer Nations

My primary scholarly focus is understanding the policy making process, specifically how the structure of institutions, cultural beliefs, and social inequalities shape policy outcomes. This interest is evident in both my research and teaching.

Currently, I am Democracy Project Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at UC San Diego. In this position I am working on a Spencer Foundation-funded project with project principal investigator Isaac Martin to create a unique dataset which will allow us to measure the relationship between ballot proposition features, school district demographic and social class characteristics, and the likelihood that voters will enact school district tax increases in California.

In my dissertation, titled Who Pays for Higher Education? The Politics of Legislating College Costs in the United States, I focused on the state-level policies that govern the pricing of college costs. Social scientists have examined the effects of financial aid and tuition policies nationwide but few have looked historically and comparatively at the causes of higher education fiscal policies. I shed light on why states vary in their approach to higher education finance and move the field toward a political economy of higher education finance that enriches our general understanding of the past and future of state support of programs that promote attendance among those who cannot pay. Specifically, I compared the enactment of higher education fiscal policies at the state level using document and narrative analysis of archival and interview data sources as well as quantitative analysis of an original dataset. I found that the organization of university systems and legacies of racial segregation were influential in the enactment of tuition deregulation policies while population characteristics and general state financial support to public higher education predicted spending levels on need-based aid. Factors commonly seen as major predictors of policy outcomes, such as the political party of legislative members or the fiscal crisis of the state, do not explain the types of variation I studied. I was recently awarded the Dean’s Fellowship for Humanistic Studies which recognized the merit and quality of my doctoral dissertation. I am preparing parts of my dissertation for inclusion in a book manuscript

Previously, I was part of an ethnographic research study called the Pathways to Postsecondary Success project, associated with UC/ACCORD. In a solo-authored manuscript using longitudinal interview data from low-income college students, I show that the students in our study often stumbled onto critical pieces of information about their futures which guided their decision-making but that ultimately their aspirations were downgraded to match the types of occupations available to them. I discuss the role of formal advisors, personal mentors, and lived experience in participants’ formation of college aspirations.

The courses I teach relate to my research interests in political sociology and inequalities: I have taught Social Problems; Social Inequality and Public Policy; and Social Inequalities: Race, Class, and Gender for the UC San Diego Sociology Department. In June of this year I received the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Distinguished Teaching Award for my work as a teaching assistant and instructor.

Nations, Jennifer. “Resisting the Market University: Political Challenges to the Locus of Authority in Public University Tuition Policy.” Forthcoming in Social Science History"

Nations, Jennifer. “Message Received: The role of advising and work experience in low-income women’s educational aspirations.” Under review

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.

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.

Brynna Jacobson
Contact Email:
Area of Interest: Environmental Sociology, Political Economy, Law and Society
Dissertation Chair:
Charles Thorpe
Dissertation Title: 
Geoengineering's Move from Margins to Mainstream: The Politics of Representation and the Construction of Legitimacy 

Brynna JacobsonEducation

2018     Doctor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

2010     Master of Arts, University of California, San Diego

2005     Master of Arts, University of San Diego

2004     Bachelor of Arts, University of California, Berkeley

Areas of specialization: environmental sociology, political economy, law and society

Research Projects

Environmental Sociology

My research investigates society’s relationship to the environment, the discursive practices around this relationship, and how this both reflects and affects economic and policy considerations. It explores the social insecurities that arise in the face of global environmental crises, the role of life politics within this context, and society's relationship with technology as both a cause and potential solution. Specifically, my dissertation research focuses on scientific and political responses to climate change and an analysis of the growing prominence of geoengineering as a potential solution. Geoengineering, the idea of addressing climate change through large-scale technological projects, is a unique example of a contested emerging technology. It stands out in the degree to which both its scope of possibilities and its premise are characterized by global existential risks. Despite controversy due to inherent and perceived risks, this field has been shifting toward mainstream consideration. Drawing upon theories of risk, modernity, and the politics of unsustainability, this research applies the “politics of representation” to analyze three genres of geoengineering discourse: science policy reports, journalism, and congressional hearings. Discursive strategies and trends recurrent in these genres are found to construct notions of normalcy, legitimacy, and imperative around the notion of geoengineering.

Law and Society

I have also been involved in a collaborative law and society research project examining common law as a global knowledge system through investigation of judicial practices within post-colonial Asian jurisdictions. We created a unique data set based on review of judicial opinions from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore to analyze and evaluate the significance of how these judicial communities invoke international common law through legal and cultural practices.


Brynna Jacobson. 2018. “Constructing Legitimacy in Geoengineering Discourse: The Politics of Representation in Science Policy Literature.” Science as Culture. Forthcoming.

Kwai Hang Ng and Brynna Jacobson. 2017. “How Global is the Common Law? A Comparative Study of Asian Common Law Systems – Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.”  Asian Journal of Comparative Law. 12(2): 209-232.

Charles Thorpe and Brynna Jacobson. 2013. “Life Politics, Nature, and the State: Giddens’ Sociological Theory and The Politics of Climate Change.” The British Journal of Sociology 64(1): 99-122.

Please message me if you would like a copy or download of any of these articles.

Lauren Olsen

Lauren Olsen

Contact Email:


Areas of Specialization: sociology of medicine, knowledge, inequalities, culture, organizations and interdisciplinary work

Dissertation Chair: John H. Evans

Dissertation Title: Constructing Relevance and Reproducing Inequality: The Integration of the Humanities and Social Sciences into Contemporary U.S. Medical Education 

For decades social scientists, federal agencies, and hospitals have documented persistent health and healthcare disparities in the U.S. healthcare system, focusing on the incidence and persistence of disparities that systematically disadvantage underrepresented groups. The enduring challenge in this multidisciplinary effort has been the application of this research – how to translate this body of research about health and healthcare disparities into actionable plans for their reduction. In coordination with humanities and social sciences scholars, leaders in the U.S. medical profession have embraced this challenge head on, integrating humanistic and social scientific knowledge into medical education to help reduce the role that medical professionals play in the production of health and healthcare disparities. In my dissertation, I address how scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds successfully integrate humanistic and social scientific knowledge with biomedical knowledge in the education of medical students, with the hope of improving future patient care. I interviewed 90 medical educators and students: 15 humanities scholars, 15 social science scholars, 30 medical educators, and 30 medical students about their conceptualization of humanistic and social scientific knowledge, its purpose in medical education, and the challenges and opportunities they confront when introducing these sets of knowledge into their medical education curriculum. I contextualize this data with observations, academic journal articles, curricular materials, student survey data, and professional, institutional and legislative histories.

I find four main approaches to integrating the humanities and social sciences into contemporary U.S. medical schools. Enhancing the theoretical and practical understanding of how humanistic and social scientific knowledge is produced, evaluated, and applied, I identify a) the operative discourses that medical educators and students draw upon in understanding the humanities and social sciences and b) the institutional features of schools that pattern these understandings.6 First, drawing upon my in-depth interview, observational, and survey data, I explain how medical educators and students evaluate the humanities and social sciences for the training and practice of medicine. Second, drawing upon historical and institutional data, I explain the variation in understandings and curricula by situating these discourses within the broader historical and social context and organizational structure of the school. I find that approaches vary according to the institutional features of the medical school, like location (e.g., urban), rank, leadership structure, financial resources, intellectual resources (e.g., proximity to undergraduate campus; joint or interdisciplinary hires; research centers), faculty and student representation, and program requirements (e.g., community service; research).

For example, in one of my chapters, I show that in their attempt to address racial disparities in the provision of healthcare, the U.S. medical profession has reproduced racial inequalities of their own. In this chapter, I draw upon interview data with medical educators and students to detail how medical educators offload the instruction on the social underpinnings and consequences of race onto students, particularly students of color. I develop the concept of theconscripted curriculum to capture how students’ social identities are utilized by educators in the professionalization process. In the case described in this chapter, educators create the conscripted curriculum by eliciting students to share their social experiences with race in the small group setting while only providing students with didactic material on biological understandings of race. As consequences of educators having established the conscripted curriculum, students of color report experiencing emotionally exhausting and unpaid labor, and educators depict the social implications of race in healthcare as unimportant.

In conclusion, in my dissertation I examine how medical schools produce different curricular structures. In so doing, I explain how an applied field, like medicine, marshals diverse sets of knowledge to solve social problems and how the medical profession conceptualizes the essential building blocks of doctoring. Moreover, I examine how each approach to curricular integration constitutes a reflection of how the medical profession contributes to or challenges existing structures of inequality.

Kevin Beck



Research Interests: Urban Sociology, International Migration, Race and Ethnicity, Social Stratification, Social Policy

Dissertation Chair: Isaac Martin

Dissertation Title: Variation in Neighborhood Effects Across Housing Contexts: Residential Stability and Resource Acquisition in Assisted and Market-Rate Housing

Kevin Beck

About: I am an urban sociologist and Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department at the University of California, San Diego. I use qualitative and quantitative methods to study the social effects of housing and neighborhoods, and I am particularly interested in how assisted or subsidized housing shapes the life chances of low-income renters. My research is centered on three broad questions: First, how do neighborhoods shape access to resources and opportunities? Second, how does housing create variation in neighborhood effects? Third, how do public policies shape neighborhoods and the lives of the residents who live in them? While my interests in housing and neighborhoods are broad – covering numerous social processes like gentrification, collective efficacy, and residential mobility – much of my work to date focuses on the effects of housing assistance programs, such as subsidized housing for low-income renters and tax breaks for homeowners.

Dissertation Overview: Scholars propose numerous mechanisms through which neighborhoods may affect one’s life chances: they may mediate exposure to crime, pollution, and violence; provide some with high social standing and ascribe social stigma to others; and shape one’s access to resources such as schools, grocery stores, and public transportation. Although neighborhoods are not deterministic of wellbeing or social behavior, they likely have some effect on the life chances of at least some residents. Yet we have few theories that can explain why they do not constrain all residents in the same way or provide them all with the same opportunities. This blind spot limits our understanding of how neighborhoods shape patterns of socioeconomic inequality. And this is not merely an intellectual problem. It is also a problem that has been plaguing our social assistance programs for the past three decades. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has spent millions of dollars implementing programs that aim to move families out of high poverty neighborhoods with the understanding that wellbeing and opportunities are highly correlated with the characteristics of neighborhoods, especially neighborhood poverty rates. Evaluations of these HUD programs suggest that moving residents to less-poor neighborhoods provides some with a degree of social mobility but has almost no effect for many others. Why do neighborhoods produce such disparate effects?

I provide an answer to this question in my dissertation. In short, I argue that past research has overwhelmingly focused on neighborhood quality while paying insufficient attention to variation in housing quality when attempting to understand the opportunities available to low-income residents as well as their mobility patterns. Some of the literature’s strongest theories largely assume that residents in high poverty neighborhoods are dissatisfied with their homes and seek to move to more affluent neighborhoods where resources and opportunities tend to be concentrated. However, in my dissertation I show that housing quality can be decoupled from neighborhood quality, and that housing can be a social context that is unique from the broader neighborhood context in which it is located. Here I am considering housing not only as a physical structure, but also as a set of relationships in which residents are embedded; for example, relationships to neighbors, landlords, and local institutions. To make my case in the dissertation, I draw on data from a variety of sources including the American Housing Survey, the American Community Survey, and the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey. The primary source of data for my dissertation, however, comes from fieldwork, interviews, and a survey I conducted in the City of San Diego. My dissertation was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and UCSD Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program.