Past CES Fellows
Our 2019-2020 CES Fellows
Minju’s dissertation, “One Rise, One Fall: Labor Organizing in New York’s Asian Communities since the 1970s,” investigates how Asian/Americans navigated the politics of work, racial difference, and the radical restructuring of the urban-based global economy. Through an ongoing oral history project that records and amplifies the voices of Asian/American labor organizers and rank-and-file activists, her research comes from listening to the experiences and concerns of many Asian/American New Yorkers. “One Rise, One Fall” travels through multiple industries. Opening with a study of Asian/American building tradesmen and their fight for community control and affirmative action on construction sites in the mid-1970s, her research examines organizing strategies in midst of Asian/American laborers’ varied circumstances of citizenship, race, class, and gender. She also travels to the Chinese restaurant industry where organizers attempted to unionize new immigrants in the service economy in the 1980s, as well as to the garment industry where garment workers’ demanded fair piece rates despite the logics of a global supply chain in the early 2000s. Her research reveals the capacities and tensions of labor activism in grassroots organizations and worker centers, as well as labor unions, since the 1970s. Her work has been supported by the Center for the United States and the Cold War, the Mellon Foundation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. Minju is also a Visiting Scholar at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University.
Jasmine H. Benjamin
She was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and her dissertation interests were shaped watching media portrayals and delayed government response during Hurricane Katrina. Her dissertation uses Angela Onwuachi-Willig's (2016) theory of "trauma of the routine" to examine how events of police misconduct in Chicago impact Black political attitudes towards local government officials in Chicago.
She previously served as the Justice Fellow at the Field Foundation of Illinois where she assisted with the grant-making process, she evaluated grants, conducted site visits, and made recommendations for funding in the Justice portfolio. She was a UChicago Urban Doctoral Fellow and also part of the University of Pennsylvania Predissertation Fellowship for the Summer Institute on Inequality. Jasmine has worked to improve programming and resources available for graduate students of color at her university. For three years she served as a Higher Education Intern for Diversity and Inclusion at UChicagoGRAD and was part of the leadership of the Diversity Advisory Board at UChicagoGRAD. During her time as a higher education intern, she was one of the founders and lead organizers of the Transcending Boundaries Research Symposium held at the University of Chicago in 2016 and 2017. She was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and participated in the Leadership Alliance. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Politics and Justice Studies from Claflin University in 2013 and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2016.
Chryl N. E. Corbin
As an urban environmentalist and political ecologist, Corbin examines the relationships between society and nature within the built environment by investigating the concept of the green city within the context of the United States. Her dissertation focuses on how the relationships between race, class, and access to green space have changed from 1960—prior to the Civil Rights Acts—to 2019, after Oakland, California began establishing its sustainability agenda and during an intensifying gentrification process. Corbin questions how environmental policies and practices in green cities are impacting the lived experiences of low-income residents and communities of color and their access to public green spaces today and what that could mean for future populations living in green cities. As the chair of the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission (PRAC) Corbin serves her community through civic engagement by researching, reporting, and making recommendations to City Council on Park and Recreation policies and as the PRAC liaison to three Recreation Advisory Councils, the local community park stewards. Corbin is also an executive committee member of the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition focused on getting youth who reflect the overall demographics of California into the outdoors by providing transformational experiences.
Sonia Grant studies the relationship between oil and gas extraction and settler jurisdiction in northwestern New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. In this region, a recent fracking boom has brought extraction deeper into the Greater Chaco landscape, held sacred by Diné (Navajo) communities living in the area and by Pueblo Nations throughout New Mexico. The legacies of the Allotment Era have produced a highly-fragmented pattern of jurisdiction over both surface land and subsurface minerals in this checkerboard landscape, where alternating tracts of land are complexly administered by federal, tribal, state, and private entities. Jurisdiction not only has profound implications for where, how, and if extraction takes place: it also affects who gets to have a say in the process. Drawing on two years of ethnographic and archival research in northwestern New Mexico and in Eastern Navajo Agency, Sonia’s research analyzes how different jurisdictions parse out components of the region’s ecology for management purposes. She attends to both the extra-local and large-scale cumulative effects of extraction that are not contained by the jurisdictions that exist to manage them. Sonia’s dissertation traces how relations of sovereignty, territory, and ordinary life are shaped in part through frictions engendered in contests to control energy extraction. Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sonia earned a BA in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University and an MA in Geography from the University of Toronto. She came to her dissertation research through her involvement in the climate justice movement.
Joss studies state punishment of gender and sexual variance, with a focus on transgender experiences with the criminal justice system. His dissertation traces prison regulation of gender-nonconformity in California from 1941-2018, drawing on archival research, oral histories, and 13 months of ethnography in trans prisoner advocacy organizations. By situating contemporary struggles over transgender prison policy within this longer lineage of gendered penal control and prisoner resistance, Joss contextualizes our current moment and invites us to learn from successes, setbacks, and unintended consequences of the past.
In addition to his sociological training, Joss has developed his analysis of state violence against trans people based on his own experiences doing trans prisoner advocacy since 2013. He has been a regular volunteer with organizations in the Bay Area, including the Transgender Gender variant Intersex Justice Project, and most recently served as a core collective member with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. His relationships with organizers and currently incarcerated people motivate him to understand changes in carceral control and how people resist it.
Joss believes that engaged scholarship is a politically powerful tool. To this end, he supports organizations in designing and implementing their own research, leads community workshops based on his data, and has presented his findings to California government officials at the city, county, and state level. He is currently collaborating with a community organizer on the first national research looking at transgender women of color's experiences in the labor market.
Salvador Rangel came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant. After various years working in the construction and manufacturing sectors, he made his way into higher education, first obtaining a GED and then attending community college. He went on to obtain a BA from Eastern Kentucky University and an MA at the University of Kentucky. His previous hands-on experience animates and informs his current research. His dissertation, “La Jungla: Globalization, Transnational Migrant Labor, and the Meatpacking Industry,” combines ethnographic methodology with macro-level analysis of the changing conditions under global capitalism. His research interests include global political economy, globalization, race, immigration and citizenship. Salvador is a fellow of the American Sociological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program. Outside the academy, Salvador strives to engage in public sociology by publishing analytical and opinion pieces in mass media outlets, such as Truthout and Counterpunch, that aim to make his research accessible to a broader public.
2019-2020 Honorable Mentions
To many, the initial unfolding of cannabis legalization in the United States appeared to be a typical case of relentless commodification privileging mostly-white elites. But then came California. Among other progressive cannabis-related policies, state regulations for the industry have enshrined stringent labor and environmental protections. Los Angeles, the U.S.’s largest cannabis market, is pioneering a social equity program guaranteeing cannabis licenses and jobs for those from neighborhoods hard-hit by the “war on drugs.”
These transformations raise critical questions that animate my dissertation: how do social movements shape the socio-spatial organization of markets? How are these processes entwined with socially-constructed, place-based relations of difference?
To answer to these questions and explore the progressive potentialities they can inform, I engaged in more than four years of participant observation with Angeleno labor and racial/economic justice groups in cannabis and conducted 75 semi-structured interviews with workers, owners, and organizers. Bridging feminist political-economic geography and economic sociology, my data suggests movements are more than external forces to markets. They operate within and affect daily practices in markets — remaking transactional forms, industrial knowledge and labor relations. Crucial to the influence of movements is the ways organizations confront power relations, anchored in place and constructions of difference (i.e. race, gender, sexuality), that underpin markets. As part of my commitments as a scholar from affected communities, I have published this data in reports and media/films with movement organizations and worked to help shape social equity policies in ways that foreground the experiences of low-income, communities of color at the front lines of cannabis-work - and a changing carceral landscape.
Our 2018-2019 CES Fellows
Deisy Del Real
Deisy Del Real analyzes how the Latin American nations belonging to Mercosur—a regional trade agreement—developed policies to protect citizens who migrate from one Mercosur nation to another. She shows how these agreements provide greater protection to transnational migrants than the rules in place in the U.S. or the European Community.
Idit Fast studies three public elementary schools in New York City that are implementing a new ‘diversity initiative’ designed to reverse the pattern of continuing school segregation by race and class. Her focus is on what works to overcome the distrust that exists between parents of different races and different social classes.
Chris Herring is currently writing a study of the three key aspects of homelessness in the US metropolis: the streets, the shelter, and the policies pursued by city government. He analyzes the factors that determines who sleeps in the street or in shelters, and he provides a powerful critique of existing government policies.
Madeleine Pape analyzes how governing bodies reassert sex as binary and biological despite alternative notions becoming more credible as a result of transgender, intersex, queer, and feminist activism and scholarship. She focuses on how the governing organizations in track and field establish the criteria for deciding who is eligible to compete as a woman.
Nantina Vgontzas investigates the organization of work in the fulfillment warehouses of large online retail firms. By comparing both work organization and resistance in warehouses in the U.S. and Germany, she is illuminating how new technologies constrain workers. Yet she is also looking for strategies through which these employees could exert pressure for better compensation and working conditions.
2018-2019 Honorable Mentions
‘A Crusade Against the Despoiler of Virtue’: Black Women, Social Purity and the Gendered Politics of the Negro Problem, 1840-1920
My research explores how the sexual ethics of black women shaped women’s rights activism and Progressive moral reform in the United States. Covering the period between 1840 and 1920, it charts the rise of the Social Purity movement, from its grassroots origins to state power, and argues it was sustained by discursively naturalizing the sexual exploitability of black women.
The Social Purity movement – a euphemism for sexual purity – emerged during Reconstruction as white anxieties over a society facing moral decline intensified. Mobilized by middle-class white women, purists campaigned to ban prostitution, raise the age of sexual consent and eradicate the sexual double standard. Yet, despite their extreme vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse, black women were marginalized from the movement. Paradoxically, mainstream women’s rights rested on white women’s defenselessness as it was constructed upon racialized ideas of who qualifies for female political empowerment and sexual protection, and who does not.
My dissertation highlights this crucial tension point in US women’s history. Beginning in slavery it argues that black women fashioned a moral tradition and mode of gendered activism around chastity that achieved mainstream political urgency by the late nineteenth century. Unlike their white counterparts, enslaved and free black women applied ideals of chastity to their strategies of resistance and struggles for sexual self-sovereignty in a society that denied them sexual moral agency, the expectation of patriarchal protection, and access to ideals of womanhood.
My project thus highlights the racialized dichotomy upon which social purity rested. It recovers the role that black women’s struggles for sexual self-sovereignty played in this movement, and fundamentally reveals how disenfranchised female communities have deployed gendered conservative ideals for radical ends.
Regulating Poverty: Race, Business, and the Politics of Payday Lending, 1990-2015
Faced with welfare retrenchment, rising income volatility, and an exponential increase in housing costs, the U.S. working class relies on credit to make ends meet. For millions with no or low credit scores, this credit comes in the form of high-cost cash advances such as payday or auto-title loans. When these products are loosely regulated, borrowers—who are disproportionately poor and Black or Latina/o—experience extended periods of indebtedness that exacerbate existing racial wealth inequalities.
The regulation of markets that low-income households rely on to survive financially is an overlooked political arena with significant consequences for inequality. Policies such as payday lending regulation straddle two different domains—regulatory policy and welfare policy. In policy-making processes, borrowers’ preferences compete against concentrated business interests and racialized stigmas associated with debt and financial hardship.
My dissertation identifies the conditions under which state-level payday lending regulation changes in ways that reduce inequality. To analyze these dynamics, I construct an original dataset of payday lending regulation across all 50 states from 1990 through 2015. I also generate a novel measure of the financial risk faced by borrowers under different regulatory configurations. Using in-depth interviews, public hearing transcripts, roll call voting records, and demographic data, I examine the advocacy strategies, policy discourse, and patterns of political support in cases of attempted and successful policy change across place and time.
This project identifies the racial and social dynamics that shape the politics of payday lending regulation. More broadly, the project speaks to the challenges and possibilities of policy-making when target populations are affected by stigmatized experiences such as debt, addiction, or incarceration.
Vacant Geographies: (Dis)possession, Resistance, and Speculative Futures in Philadelphia’s Abandoned Properties
Abandoned lots and buildings are a ubiquitous feature of post-industrial U.S. cities, markers of the recent housing crisis, and perennial sources of concern for policymakers, researchers, and residents alike. In Philadelphia, where some neighborhoods are currently experiencing a development boom, properties deemed to be ‘vacant’ are increasingly contested as residents challenge prevailing understandings of ‘highest and best use.’
Using archival, legal, and participatory research, my research examines emerging conflicts over the use, value, and ownership of these spaces. In doing so, it puts forward a politically productive framework for considering geographies of vacancy, which recognizes that not only are vacant properties not empty or stable, but they do critical work.
These properties reflect the violent processes that produce them, but also reveal the limits to these processes – limits that offer analytical openings for destabilizing normative notions of law, private property, and urban commons.
Angela M. Simms
Power, Privilege, and Peril: The Politics of the Black Middle Class in a Majority-Black and Majority-Middle Class Suburban County
To understand how Blacks’ politics shape and are shaped by the contemporary political economy, I ask the questions: In a suburban county where Blacks are the population majority, and where they have significant legislative and executive authority, how is the political agenda developed? What are the policy priorities? Who benefits from these priorities? I focus on three domains: (1) budget development, (2) land use policy and economic development, and (3) public schools.
My data are ethnographic, including direct observation of policy and budget deliberation processes and interviews with people involved in Prince George’s County (PGC), Maryland, politics. I also interview non-politically-engaged residents.
PGC is a majority-Black and middle class suburban county of just under one million residents. It borders Washington, D.C., and has the largest concentration of middle-class Blacks in the United States.
Our 2017-2018 CES Fellows
Michael D. Aguirre
Michael Aguirre explores the aftermath of the guest worker Bracero Program that brought Mexican farm workers to the U.S. between 1942 and 1964. Focusing on the Eastern California borderlands of Imperial County, California, and Mexicali, Baja California Norte, he shows how policymakers and business people on both sides of the border strategized to create new agricultural and industrial regimes that continued to disempower working people.
Brian Callaci uses a unique, original, hand-collected data set of five hundred and thirty franchise contracts in one state to understand the relationship between big restaurant chains and their franchisees. This is important since the big restaurant chains have insisted that the franchise owner is the employer for the purposes of labor law, forcing any potential union drive to organize one fast food outlet at a time.
Daanika Gordon analyzes policing in a large Midwestern city to show the relationship between residential segregation and policing practices. Through extensive fieldwork that included ride-alongs with police officers, she shows how police react to and help create segregated spaces, producing racialized outcomes even in the absence of racial intent.
Yasmeen Mekawy examines how emotion works to either mobilize people to participate in high-risk protest, or conversely, keep people in their homes. Through an in-depth examination of the use of social media in the 2011 uprising in Egypt, she shows how emotional responses to events can help explain why groups mobilize when they do or fail to mobilize at other times.
Adam Mertz’s research seeks to understand rural/urban political polarization by examining the rise of Wisconsin teacher unions during the 1970s. He argues that Wisconsin’s previous farmer-labor coalition was disrupted as rural voters felt that Democratic politicians were unresponsive to their concerns over taxation. By examining this history, Adam seeks to illuminate the possibilities for reconstituting a progressive farmer-labor alliance.
2017-2018 Honorable Mentions
As we contend with the dual threats of economic crisis and climate disruption, historians have begun to ask new questions of the past—in particular, how and why the United States became a high-energy society. By considering the related question—how is high-energy capitalism contested and renegotiated—this project offers a new perspective on the decline of working-class power and the transformation of the American energy regime in the mid-twentieth century. Miners suggested that an energy regime in crisis was in need of a stronger contract with the workers who produced the nation’s power. This contract, they believed, would not be forged in the voting booth or at the diplomatic table, but in the workplace.
This dissertation illuminates a new understanding of the energy crisis that so profoundly shaped miners’ workplace activism since the early 1960s, when the growing discrepancy between apparently peaking energy production and skyrocketing energy consumption became a central concern for both industry and government. By conceptualizing energy politics as extending beyond the realm of politics and into the sphere of work, this dissertation reframes both the problem of decline in the power of the American workers on the job, and the meaning of the energy crisis, which extended far beyond the problems of consumption, culture, and international politics. Indeed, the energy crisis cut to the heart of the American social contract. The crisis and transformation of the American energy regime is essential in explaining the emergence of a series of upheavals in mining workplaces across the Appalachian coalfields over health and safety, environmental degradation, and union democracy.
Energy regime transformation undermined traditional social relations between miners, operators, and the state, on which the UMW had built its power. Across the long 1970s, workers, the new energy companies, and the state renegotiated the bounds of workplace action, democratic politics, and environmental exploitation in the face of an uncertain energy future.
Katrina Quisumbing King
In 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that its colonies would be classified as “foreign in a domestic sense,” institutionalizing a legal ambiguity.
Contrary to prevailing work that locates state control in legitimacy, I analyze how ambiguity shaped U.S. relations with the Philippines between 1901 and 1947. I focus on three key moments: (1) the simultaneous classification of Filipinos as citizens, nationals, and aliens under U.S. law; (2) the revocation of military benefits from Filipinos who served on behalf of the U.S. in WWII; and (3) the almost immediate cession of Philippine sovereignty to the U.S. after formal independence. In each of these moments, because of the polysemy of U.S.’s relationship to the Philippines and Filipinos, U.S. elites were able to secure a neocolonial relationship that continued to exploit Filipino labor and resources whilst erasing colonization and responsibilities to colonial subjects from national memory. In each case, the United States made and then revoked promises of juridical citizenship, social welfare benefits and sovereignty.
My study reveals the political consequences of ambiguity, namely that it allows states to skirt political obligations and preserve global supremacy in ever-shifting political climates. By making promises of incorporation, the U.S. could control the terms of inclusion and ultimate exclusion. While the Philippine case is a critical part of U.S. political history, it also demonstrates the broader significance of studying ambiguity as a function of statecraft.
Mary Elizabeth Schmid
Over the last four decades, farming families throughout North America have suffered from volatile crop prices and increasing input costs. The number of family farms drastically decreased in the U.S. during this period. However, the number of latin@-owned farms in the U.S. significantly rose, in western and southern states.
This dissertation explores the context in which one Mexican-U.S. family group contributes to this unprecedented change. Members of this kin group contribute to multiple agri-food systems in North America as producers of basic grains in the Mexican Bajío and fresh-market produce in southern Appalachia. Through multi-sited ethnographic research, this dissertation brings together diverse voices and examples of strategic uses of time and collaborative agro-food enterprise practices used by structurally marginalized women and men in working families.
The findings lay at the intersections of political debates concerning im/migration, agri-food system policy, rural development, food security and perishable crop agriculture. The dissertation argues that with political economic support cooperative enterprises can strengthen rural economies and democratize globalized agro-food systems.
Our Inaugural CES Fellows (2016-2017)
George Aumoithe’s research shows how the AIDS epidemic should be understood in the context of 1970s austerity, which exacerbated inequality and undermined the nation’s disaster preparedness. His study analyzes public policy, health institutions, and grassroots advocacy to assess healthcare’s tenuous place within the nation’s quite limited welfare state.
Megan Brown’s study investigates the strategic and practical mechanisms through which labor unions, worker and community organizations, and policy makers advanced the $15/hour minimum wages across the U.S. She examines the locally-based strategies employed by labor organizations and the ways these strategies varied across locations so that we can understand how this significant change occurred.
Juyoung Lee contributes to research on environmental inequalities by examining large-scale determinants of local environmental outcomes. She uses sophisticated quantitative techniques to explore the consequences for local communities of decisions made at corporate headquarters.
Ayca Zayim focuses on the relationship between central banks in emerging economies and the financial community to reveal how financial power operates. Through a study of central banks in Turkey and South Africa, she illuminates both the degrees of maneuver and the constraints on economic policy in these emerging economies that contend with the danger of sudden outflows of capital.