Join our faculty and students for our weekly talks in fall and spring semesters, from a broad range of experts discussing recent topics and research. For more information check the Sociology Calendar.

Dr. Michael Lotspeich-Yadao, II "Military & Entrepreneurship" September 13th, 2021

As a livelihood strategy, entrepreneurship can provide an income diversification opportunity for military veterans and economic growth for their

communities. However, data limitations have meant that research on subgroups of military veteran entrepreneurs is limited-especially a growing number of military veterans that also identify as women or racial/ethnic minorities. Traditionally, women-and minority-owned firms have struggled to perform at the level of white, male-owned firms because of systematic disadvantages in their family history, socioeconomic position, and ability to access capital. This analysis is designed to extend an existing body of literature on the life course perspective to understand how the interruption of military service can affect the likelihood of entrepreneurial success for women and racial/ethnic minorities. 


Dr. Michael Lotspeich-Yadao, II


Assistant Director


University of Illinois




Dr. Caleb Scoville "A 'Stupid Little Fish': Science, Law and the Politics of Environmental Decline in California" September 20th, 2021

The Delta Smelt is a tiny endangered species of fish found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the heart of California’s water system. Legal protections of this once obscure species have made it a central figure in California’s so-called “water wars,” mobilizing political actors from the local level to the presidency. In this talk, I will show that contrary to dominant accounts, the conflict surrounding the Delta Smelt isn’t simply about the distribution of water. Drawing on archival sources, field observations, interviews, and the systematic analysis of media data, I will argue that the controversy emerged via sequential clashes among social domains which share jurisdiction over the nonhuman environment yet see “nature” in different ways. I call this process the “intervention cascade.” First, I will show that rather than simply being driven to near-extinction by the operation of California’s hydraulic infrastructure, the Delta Smelt only came to be understood as a unique species and an object of potential environmental concern through the very process of building the state’s extractive water distribution system in the first place. Second, I will show how the Delta Smelt became enrolled as a political symbol in America’s hyper-partisan culture wars in ways that have become increasingly decoupled from its modest impacts on water policy. By following the entanglements of infrastructure, science, law and a polarized public sphere, I show how environmental change mediates social conflicts, sometimes in ironic ways.


Dr. Caleb Scoville 


Assistant Professor


Department of Sociology 


Tufts University 

Dr. Brandon A. Jackson "A Degree in Brotherhood: How Social Support Matters for Black Men in College and Beyond" September 27th, 2021

Young black men in the early part of the 21st century are transitioning into adulthood during uncertain times. In this talk, Dr. Jackson discusses how a college group of black men developed a social support system that they labeled as ‘brotherhood’ to navigate their young adult years. As part of their brotherhood, the men were able to receive social, emotional, and practical support from one another during college. And much like the four-year degrees they left college with, the men were able to benefit after college from the brotherhood they invested in as students.


Dr. Brandon A. Jackson


Associate Professor


Department of Sociology


Purdue University



Austin Kozlowski "Measuring Meaning with Text: New Directions in the Computational Sociology of Culture" October 4th, 2021

Theories of culture have long relied on spatial metaphors to describe how meaning systems are internally organized. Constrained by limitations of

data and visualization, prior spatial models of meaning have commonly taken the form of two-dimensional "maps" that can be easily rendered on paper. However, recent advances in computational linguistics and text analysis show that the vast array of semantic associations that characterize a cultural system can only be effectively represented by expansive models with hundreds of dimensions. In this talk, I outline how we may harness such high-dimensional models to study cultural systems structurally and holistically. Focusing on collective understandings of class and politics, I put forth methods to identify periods when cultural systems undergo structural shifts. 


Austin Kozlowski


PhD Candidate


Department of Sociology


University of Chicago 

Dr. Eliza Benites-Gambirazio "Real Estate Intermediation and Housing Valuation-Theory, Results, and Future Directions" October 11th, 2021

Based on 18 months of ethnography of real estate agents in the residential market of a medium-sized city in the United States, this communication proposes to examine the multiple dimensions of value involved in the intermediation of real estate transactions. Who is authorized to create and determine value, what authorizes these practices? How is market value produced? What is the place of professionalization in this production? We propose a three-step analysis around 1) the determination of value, considering the importance of real estate agents in the assessment of the financial value of customers in line with the representation of urban space to effectively "match" customers and places; 2) the person who is on the receiving end of this valuation process (by analyzing the similarity between real estate agents and clients -e.g., cultural matching and homophily) as intermediaries must mimic clients' characteristics to "win" transactions and 3) the process of valuing the market -homes embedded into spaces -as work framed by professional norms and market rewards, both symbolic and economic. As such, this work constitutes a contribution to the sociology of work and the economy, as well as the sociology of culture to examine the crucial role housing markets play in American urban life. 


Dr. Eliza Benites-Gambirazio 


Department of Sociology


Université Paris Gustave Eiffel 

Dr. Laura Nelson "And the Rest is History: Measuring the Scope and Recall of Wikipedia’s Coverage of Three Women’s Movement Subgroups" October 25th, 2021

Narrating history is perpetually contested, shaping and reshaping how nations and people understand both their pasts and the current moment. Measuring and evaluating the scope of histories is methodologically challenging. In this paper we provide a general approach and a specific method to measure historical recall. Operationalizing historical information as one or more word phrases, we use the phrase-mining RAKE algorithm on a collection of primary historical documents to extract first-person historical evidence, and then measure recall via phrases present on contemporary Wikipedia, taken to represent a publicly-accessible summary of existing knowledge on virtually any historical topic. We demonstrate this method using women’s movements in the United States as a case study of a debated historical field. We found that issues important to working-class elements of the movement were less likely to be covered on Wikipedia compared to other subsections of the movement. Combining this method with a qualitative analysis of select articles, we identified a typology of mechanisms leading to historical omissions: paucity, restrictive paradigms, and categorical narrowness. Our approach, we conclude, can be used to both evaluate the recall of a body of history and to actively intervene in enlarging the scope of our histories and historical knowledge.


Dr. Laura Nelson 


Assistant Professor 


Department of Sociology 


University of British Columbia 

Ryan Calder "Halalization:How do cryptocurrencies, container terminals, and frying pans come to be labeled halal?" November 1st, 2021

In Islam, the extension of religious regulation and certification to new product types and economic sectors—“halalization”—has become widespread. There are now Islamic mortgages, halal container terminals, halal frying pans, halal blockchain, and shariah-compliant cryptocurrencies. Yet classical secularization theory says religious authority cannot regulate modern economic activity. So what explains halalization? I point to an elective affinity between fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and twenty-first-century markets. Contemporary fiqh offers widely respected religious jurists who issue fatwas certifying products. Entrepreneurs empanel the jurists on certification boards, allowing fiqh to function as a regime of voluntary regulation layered atop secular state law instead of conflicting with it. Indeed, secular liberal markets provide ideal conditions for halalization and religious meaning-making through consumption. Case studies of Islamic finance and halal logistics show how entrepreneurs assuage consumers’ religious anxieties—and generate new ones—in the context of globalization and liberalization insecular markets.


Ryan Calder 


Assistant Professor 


Department of Sociology 


John Hopkins University 



Dr. B. Brian Foster "I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life" November 8th, 2021

Between 2014 and 2020, Dr. Brian Foster talked with hundreds of Black Mississippians, about race, inequality, community, memory, politics, and more. In this talk, Foster shares with us some of what they shared with him, and invites us to consider what it all might mean for how we understand Black life now and how we study race and place into the future. Much of Foster's work in Mississippi is chronicled in his book "I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life", in which he considers the value of non-affirming sensibilities like pessimism, frustration, and exhaustion for how we think about Black identity and lived experience. 


Dr. B. Brian Foster


Assistant Professor 


Department of Sociology 


University of Virginia 





Victor Ray "Racialized Burdens: Applying Racialized Organization" February 4, 2022

This paper develops the concept of racialized burdens as a means of examining the role of race in administrative practice. Racialized burdens are the experience of learning, compliance and psychological costs, which serve as inequality reproducing mechanisms. To develop this concept, we examine the role of administrative burdens in the US state from the theoretical perspective of racialized organizations. Using examples from attempts to access citizenship rights – via immigration, voting and the social safety net – we illustrate some key points. First, racialized burdens combine access to resources and ideas about racial groups in ways that typically disadvantage racially marginalized groups. Second, while still promising fair and equal treatment, racially disproportionate burdens can be laundered through facially neutral rules and via claims that burdens are necessary for unrelated reasons. Third, racialized burdens emerge when more explicit forms of racial bias in policies or administrative practices become illegal, politically untenable or culturally unacceptable. Racialized burdens neatly carry out the “how” in the production of racial inequality while concealing, or providing an alibi for, the “why.”


Victor Ray
F. Wendell Miller Associate Professor
Department of Sociology and Criminogy
University of Iowa

Dr. Kevin Leicht "Inequality and the Status Window: Inequality, Conflict, and the Salience of Status Differences in Conflicts over Resources" February 11th, 2022

The study of the relationship between social status and inequality has a long and distinguished history. Inequality scholars outside of this tradition have paid more attention to social status in response to a set of seemingly persistent paradoxes that defy easy explanation. In this paper I add modestly to this tradition by developing the concept of status windows and status windows overlap to partially account for differences in the relationship between social status and inequality processes in low and high-inequality regimes. These concepts, in concert with social psychological changes that accompany rising inequality, help to account for the enhanced importance of social status in high-inequality regimes and the lack of commitment to collective solutions to inequality in those regimes. In the conclusion, I recommend that research on social status focus on understandings of status windows and status windows overlap in high and low-inequality contexts as a means for understanding why social inequality continues unabated in some places but not others.


Dr. Kevin Leicht 




Department of Sociology 


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Michael Gibson-Light "Horizontal Surveillance and the Gendering of Carceral Punishment" February 18th, 2022

Research traditionally suggests that men incarcerated in the U.S. regard horizontal surveillance—i.e., monitoring the behaviors of other prisoners—as antithetical to notions of masculinity behind bars. Yet, following an 18-month ethnography in a U.S. prison for men, I detail how working prisoners in fact sought out peer surveillants who had the power to grant referrals to desirable jobs. Within prison worksites, individuals further policed peers’ production and service quality. Labor-based horizontal surveillance was in fact integral to performances of masculinity related to employment status and work ethic. This reveals ways that supervision maps on to gendered beliefs about work, offending, and contemporary American corrections, contributing to carceral agendas and broader systems of control.


Dr. Michael Gibson-Light


Assistant Professor


Department of Sociology and Criminology 


University of Denver

Dr. Kate Pride Brown "Paying the Price for a Nuclear Renaissance: How Financialized Logics Undermine Effective Energy Regulation in the Southeastern United States" February 25th, 2022

Following the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which included sizeable incentives for the nuclear industry, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) received a flurry of applications for nuclear construction and expansion. Thus began a “nuclear renaissance” in the United States after a nearly 30 year moritorium in the construction of new nuclear power plants. Within a decade, however, the proclaimed renaissance was over, with all but one project withdrawn, cancelled, or scrapped before completion. In Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, customers paid billions of dollars to utilities for nuclear power plants that either never delivered power or that had become uneconomic endeavors. As all of these projects were overseen by state regulators, it begs the question: why did regulation fail to protect consumers from exorbitant and unnecessary costs? Drawing upon the sociological literature on financialization, and based upon case studies comprising interviews and documentary evidence from nuclear power projects in three states, I show the important role of financialized logics in producing the observed outcome. By promoting moral hazards and undermining effective regulation, financialization produced regulatory capture in the abortive attempt at achieving a successful “nuclear renaissance.”


Dr. Kate Pride Brown




Department of History and Sociology 


Georgia Tech

Dr. Crystal Fleming "Rainbow White Supremacy: On Multiracial Inclusion in the Neoliberal Age" March 4th, 2022

In this lecture, Fleming introduces the concept of rainbow white supremacy to signify a shifting array of affective, ideological, and cultural practices that invite us to experience subjugated participation in racial capitalism as inclusive, pleasurable and, most importantly, the normal state of affairs. In so doing, she explores how the commodification of identity politics across the political spectrum and the institutionalization of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in the 1980s undermined gains of the Civil Rights Movement and effectively defused radical and leftist demands for the eradication of white supremacy and the end of capitalism. Drawing upon Black studies, critical race scholarship and Black feminist thought, this talk also advances a counterintuitive claim—that the persistence of white dominance in the neoliberal age involves (mis)representing white supremacy as inclusive and pleasurable for people racialized as non-white.


Dr. Crystal Fleming 




Department of Sociology 


Stony Brook University 

Dr. Cynthia Bruce "Activist Disability Scholarship: Knowledge Mobilization for Socially Just Change in University Education" April 8th, 2022

This presentation will explore the role of activist disability scholarship with a focus on how it can support more socially just futures in higher education. Dr. Bruce will draw on her research and experience in post-secondary accessibility to explore the presence of ableism and the marginalization and exclusion it creates for a diversity of disabled students. Self-advocacy as precariousness will be a focal point of her analysis of contemporary accessibility policy frameworks that dis/able, and possibilities for decreasing reliance on it as a strategy for inclusion will be examined.


Dr. Cynthia Bruce


Assistant Professor


Department of Creative Arts Therapies 


Concordia University 

Dr. Michael Warren Murphy "Slavery, Blackness, and the Environmental Significance of Race" April 22nd, 2022

This talk will focus on one aspect of Professor Murphy's current book project, tentatively titled, The Plantation Problem: An Inquiry into the Environmental Significance of Race. Overall, this book contends with the limits of prevailing thoughts on race and the environment within Sociology that tend to ignore the ongoing social and ecological import of imperialism and colonialism. In this talk, Professor Murphy argues that to make sense of the senseless ways in which Black life is ever vulnerable to manifold environmental risks and hazards in the present, we must reckon with the past of racial slavery and the plantation as a socio-environmental configuration, and he will draw from

his research on Rhode Island to elucidate this point.




Dr. Michael Warren Murphy


Assistant Professor 


Department of Sociology, Department of Africana Studies


University of Pittsburgh 





Dr. Diane Vaughan "Dead Reckoning: Air Traffic Control, System Effects, and Risk" April 29th, 2022

What makes this system so safe, or is it? – and what do air traffic controllers do that technology can’t replace? This book explores how the air traffic control system has persisted over time, maintaining safe operation despite two shocks to the system - Ronald Reagan’s 1981 firing of over 14,000 striking controllers and the September 11th terrorist attacks - and in addition, surviving frequent periods of decline that increase risk. I focus on system effects: how historical conditions and events in the system’s external environment – political, economic, technological, cultural – affect the air traffic organization, changing it, and how in turn those changes not only impact the social, technological, and material arrangements of the workplace, but controllers’ interpretive work, cultural understandings, and everyday work practices. Far from a top down model, the analysis shows how controllers respond to these events.


The book is an historical ethnography covering the life course of the system from system emergence through 2017. It is based on archival research, surveys, interviews, and field work in four air traffic control facilities in the New England Region. Two examples demonstrate the agency of the workforce in maintaining the viability of the system. Incrementally, problem- solving people and organizations (management, union) inside the air traffic control system developed strategies of resilience, reliability, and redundancy that provided perennial dynamic flexibility to the system. Both examples demonstrate how the past manifests in the present. The first example demonstrates how, on September 11, controllers were able to clear the sky of over 4,000 airplanes in two hours and 15 minutes, an unprecedented, unrehearsed action performed without incident. The second shows the 2004-2017 intersection of two historical trajectories – modernization and a staffing crisis – that increased system risk. In response, controllers improvised tools of repair to adjust the liabilities of technological and organizational innovations to local conditions, contributing to safety and system persistence.


Dr. Diane Vaughan 




Department of Sociology


Columbia University 





Dr. Marina Zaloznaya "Corruption as Freedom: The Different Ways that Petty Economic Crime Undermines Autocracy" September 7th,2022

In the Global North, corruption is considered incompatible with civic health – scholars argue that it decreases social trust, atomizes communities, and discourages active citizenship. By contrast, my research in authoritarian regimes reveals that, for ordinary citizens, engagement in public sector corruption is linked to more active participation in the political life. In this talk, I will explore the mechanisms whereby extorted and voluntary bribery exchanges are connected to civic activism, drawing on national representative surveys from Russia (2015 and 2018) and China (2018). Besides the negative impact of undesirable, extorted bribery on citizens’ satisfaction with the regime, which leads to political mobilization, I show that even bribery exchanges that citizens consider desirable are linked to heightened civic engagement. Using egocentric network data, I argue that when political freedoms are severely limited, social networks that foster corruption activity also sustain an alternative, informal space for civic connectivity and free political expression. My analyses show that ordinary citizens who participate in public sector corruption (1) are embedded in outward-oriented and mobilizable personal networks, supportive of civic connectivity; and (2) are significantly more likely than law-abiding citizens to mobilize others when pushing back against the state. Counterintuitively, then, in non-democracies, corruption in the public sector may be symbiotic with rather than antithetical to civic culture. 



Dr. Marina Zaloznaya


Associate Professor


Department of Sociology


University of Iowa

Dr. Amalia Leguizamón Sociology Talk October 5th, 2022

Dr. Amalia Leguizamón

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology

Tulane University


Dr. Elizabeth Hoffmann Sociology Talk October 26th, 2022

Dr. Elizabeth Hoffmann

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology

Purdue University