Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Making Up the Difference: Ecuadorian Women Engaged in Direct Selling

    Author:
    Erynn Casanova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Mitchell Duneier
    Abstract:

    As economic globalization progresses, employment is becoming more flexible and informalized in many parts of the world. In some developing countries, direct sales (selling branded products from person to person) is an increasingly attractive type of work, especially for women. Direct sales organizations benefit from cultural norms and structural forces that steer women away from full-time jobs in the formal economy, and also from the material conditions that lead to women's need to earn an income. This study examines the work experiences and social worlds of women affiliated with Ecuador's most successful direct sales company, Yanbal, with a focus on the ways in which women make decisions about their work and construct their identities as working women and members of families. The meanings and consequences of the women's work are placed in the context of gender relations, regimes of physical appearance, employment options, and consumption. Employing a combination of qualitative methods (ethnography, content analysis, surveys), the study argues that people's reactions to direct sales as an income-generating activity both shape and are shaped by their gendered economic strategies, behaviors that represent a reconciling of cultural norms of gender and work with material conditions and pressing financial needs. The work addresses questions such as: whether direct selling is empowering for women; how Yanbal can achieve success in Ecuador's challenging economic climate; and how cultural and social norms regulating women's physical appearance are related to ideas about gender, social class, and work. The findings of this study underline the importance of examining a rapidly-expanding type of work, a formal-informal hybrid that appeals mainly to women and helps to promote the expansion of consumer capitalism around the world.

  • Polling, Media Discourse, and the Construction of Ignorance: Public Opinion Formation and the Bush Tax Cuts

    Author:
    Martha Crum
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Janet Gornick
    Abstract:

    The advent of polling brought anticipation of renewed government accountability as well as concerns that powerful interests would use the power of mass media to subvert public opinion's emancipatory potential. When early models of public opinion manipulation did not stand up to empirical scrutiny, its study took a decidedly technocratic turn. Critiques of public opinion today tend to be either so fundamental that they suggest its study is moot or so technical that it is difficult to see the larger substantive implications for public opinion formation. We know that public opinion on many issues is "irrational" in the sense that a more informed public would be, quite literally, a public of a different mind. At the same time, we know that mass media exerts a substantial influence over how the public thinks about issues. In this case study of public opinion and the Bush tax cuts, I take a comprehensive and integrated look at public opinion formation in order to identify the multiple processes by which its emancipatory potential is suppressed. These processes include the news media's public opinion producing practices, its public opinion consuming practices, and its issue reporting practices. Rarely are these three dimensions of the public sphere analyzed together on a particular issue. I argue that the public was not as supportive of the tax cuts as conventional wisdom supposed; that ignorance dampened oppositional opinion; that values were more central to opinion formation than self interest yet the unwillingness of the media to challenge the Bush administration's economic framing of the tax cuts resulted in a severely curtailed media discourse which did not invite the type of contextualization or information that might have allowed people to connect tax policy to their values, as they had at earlier points in history. In conclusion, I show how this analytic approach can illuminate public opinion on other major policy issues.

  • VARIATIONS IN SOCIOECONOMIC TRAJECTORIES, 1980 TO 2010: THE BLACK AMERICA STORY

    Author:
    Jonathan DeBusk
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Juan Battle
    Abstract:

    In the decades since the Civil Rights Movement, scholars have studied the changing economic and social status of Black Americans to see whether the promise of racial equality is being fulfilled. Focusing on the period from 1980 to 2010, this dissertation examines three themes that emerge from this literature. It compares the trajectories over time of different groups of Black Americans according to age, gender, and U.S.- versus foreign-born status. It follows the fortunes of these different groups over time, measured by income, poverty status, educational attainment, home ownership, employment, and labor force participation. It uses data from the Minnesota Population Center's Integrated Public Use Microdata Series of the United States Census Bureau's 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census, and 2008-10 (3-year cross-sectional data) American Community Survey (ACS). This study uses synthetic age cohort analysis to test and apply theories of cultural and social capital and social stratification within the Black population over time. This dissertation concludes with individual- and group-level policy suggestions.

  • Hucksters and Trucksters: Criminalization and Gentrification in New York City's Street Vending Industry

    Author:
    Kathleen Dunn
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Sharon Zukin
    Abstract:

    The expansion of the informal economy since the 1970s developed in tandem with a growing militarization of urban public space, creating extreme precarity for street vendors, a leading occupational group within the informal sector. Based on over three years of participant observation and seventy interviews with street vendors and their advocates, this dissertation examines the present-day street vending industry in New York City, which has long been comprised of first-generation immigrants, but has in recent years seen a marked growth in highly educated, native-born gourmet food truck owners. The research illustrates how two processes, inherent to what I term the post-industrial complex, are increasing stratification within New York's street economy. First, there is a dramatic criminalization of immigrant street vendors who regularly encounter arrests and ticketing. This blocks their upward mobility, most acutely for women, and locates vendors in a liminal class position, possessing elements of proprietorship that are subjugated by the governance of public space. Second, a new wave of commercial gentrification has occurred within street vending, where more affluent native-born vendors are able to effectively capitalize on vending to rapidly establish brick-and-mortar businesses, and in so doing inflate the price of vending permits in the underground economy. These divergent conditions reveal how the governance of post-industrial urban space reinforces the criminalization of poor and working class people of color, while facilitating the advancement of more affluent and predominantly white professionals. The streets of the post-industrial complex are policed as a border for immigrant vendors, and are pioneered as a frontier by native-born food truck owners. Yet criminalization has produced street vendor solidarities, evidenced in a growing street labor movement amongst immigrant vendors in New York. Like most vendor organizations across the Global South, two immigrant street vendor worker centers in New York press the municipal government to uphold vendors' right to the city. In contrast, the city's native-born food truck owners have established a business association not to achieve social justice but to increase profitability. Post-industrial urban governance thus deepens inequalities within the informal economy while spurring new movements to claim the enduring resource of urban public space.

  • Black Males, Money and More: Conduits and Barriers to Academic Success

    Author:
    Wayne Edwards
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Juan Battle
    Abstract:

    Much ink has been spent and theories proffered unpacking the societal, school and community factors that impact educational outcomes of Black male students in the United States. Employing the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), this dissertation seeks to add to this important discourse on academic achievement by contrasting the conduits and barriers to educational success for a nationally representative sample of Black males of low socioeconomic status versus Black males of not-low socioeconomic status across a series of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal variables. The theoretical framework for this undertaking will include, but not be limited to, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu and Coleman), alienation thesis (Yancy), oppositional theory (Ogbu), and Black sexual politics (Collins). This dissertation will conclude with micro (individual level) and macro (policy level) suggestions.

  • THE CRISIS AND BERNIE MADOFF: CAPITALISM, MEDIA, AND CULTURE IN THE US AND UK

    Author:
    Colleen Eren
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Lynn Chancer
    Abstract:

    Adviser: Lynn S. Chancer During the maelstrom of uncertainty and panic produced by crisis of 2007-2008, the "Bernie" Madoff Ponzi scandal erupted into headlines in the US and UK press. The punitive responses and corresponding discourse surrounding the case were remarkable, as social scientists have generally focused on the `criminological' poor and `street' crime, not wealthy financial fraudsters or white collar crime, under a presumption of public apathy. What themes emerged from this discourse, and what was their significance during a time of financial crisis? Were there differences in US coverage versus that in the UK, and what did this say about culture and capitalism? This dissertation, contributing to the literature on crime and media, follows the work of Lynn Chancer on high profile crimes using a mixed methods, comparative approach. Content analysis of 8 newspapers was performed using the qualitative research program Atlas.ti, and interviews with major journalists, editors, SEC officials, and Bernie Madoff were conducted. I explore how the Madoff case provided an intelligible, human narrative through which issues seen as causing the crisis and threatening capitalism could be explored, contested and solutions proposed. I also argue that the entire cultural performance of seeking harsh justice for Madoff provided a symbolic resolution to the dissonance that emerged as a result of the financial crisis, but did not address deeper structural concerns with free market capitalism that would prevent the occurrence of future financial frauds of this scale.

  • TOGETHER BUT APART: FILIPINO TRANSNATIONAL FAMILIES AND CARING FROM AFAR

    Author:
    Valerie Francisco
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Carolina Bank-Munoz
    Abstract:

    For this dissertation, I conducted multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork for three years in New York City with Filipino domestic workers and their families in Manila, Philippines. This study makes three interventions to the scholarship on transnationalism, family and care by suggesting the model of "multidirectionality of care" to understand the reorganization of providers, definitions, and forms of care within families separated by migration. First, I prioritize both biological and fictive family members left behind as providers of care in a transnational family. Second, rapidly developing computer technology changes definition of presence and of care migrant mothers and families left behind participate in. Third, form of care expands as members of transnational families come to include other migrants in the diaspora in what I call "communities of care". Broadly, this project is concerned with impacts of globalization and migration on the intimate and material operations of families. Specifically, I propose that transnational families are using all the resources they have available to them to innovate and participate in care work to maintain family life despite separation. My dissertation contributes directly to studies in technology, immigration and transnationalism, family and motherhood, and globalization. Further it tackles issues in gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and social inequality.

  • Vanishing Point: "Diversity" and Race at Predominantly White Independent Schools

    Author:
    Bonnie French
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Barbara Katz Rothman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the management of racial integration at predominantly White, unaffiliated Independent schools in the northeastern United States. Once gatekeepers for the WASP elite, prep schools have made pointed efforts, especially in the last fifty years, to recruit students who would not otherwise have access to Independent schooling. When it comes to race, schools have shifted focus from a civil-rights-era language of "Opportunity" to a current language of "Diversity". By conducting in-depth interviews with "Diversity" policy developers and implementers within the Independent school community, I explore current efforts toward racial integration and the relationship between integration and "Diversity". Data collected from interviews is supplemented with numerical analysis of enrollment data of students of color at Independent schools as well as content analysis of on-line and printed materials from schools and supporting institutions such as the National Association of Independent Schools. The findings show that the proportional representation of Black students in Independent schools has been virtually stagnant for the past decade, despite growth in the proportional representation of Asian and Multiracial students. Schools have chosen to focus on broader themes of "Inclusivity" forgoing directed attention on race. As evidenced by financial, recruitment, and programming choices, the "Diversity" movement in Independent schools has not furthered movement toward integrating Black students into predominantly White schools. In fact, the "Diversity" movement, by not seeking to challenge the current state of inequality in a meaningful way, only serves to strengthen the segregated status quo.

  • Own Nothing, Have Everything: Peer-to-peer Networks and the New Cultural Economy

    Author:
    Greg Goldberg
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Ticineto Clough
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the relation between digital piracy and the economic viability of reproducing and distributing cultural content online. While scholars often characterize piracy as resistant or oppositional to capitalism, I propose that peer-to-peer networks played an integral role in the success of markets for content online. Drawing from historical and technical documentation in information theory and network science, and from Marxist cultural criticism of film and television, legal analysis, and social and political-economic theory, I argue that peer-to-peer networks, in circumventing the technical inefficiencies and juridical obstacles that held back other forms of piracy, catalyzed a novel form of economic value native to the Internet. Responding to what Marxist cultural critics have written about film and television, I explicate how the Internet produces value not only though the attention of its users (as television does), but through the transmission of data--value realized by Internet Service Providers. This is made possible, I argue, by the socialization of a non-human mode of the time: the time of uploading and downloading data. Lastly, I examine how lossy digital audio compression technologies, such as the MP3, participate in the socialization of this "transmission time."

  • "Loose Lips Sink Ships": A History of Rumor Control in the United States

    Author:
    Jeffrey Graham
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Stuart Ewen
    Abstract:

    Throughout its history, rumor control has been comprised of efforts to monitor, suppress and/or spread messages which travel through word of mouth communication. Fundamentally, rumor control is a form of propaganda, often used in concert with other techniques aimed at influencing attitudes and behavior. Organized rumor control emerged during World War II, when the FDR administration viewed rumors as a threat to social stability and war morale. As a result, in 1942 the Office of War Information recruited barbers, librarians, school teachers and other civilians to submit rumors they overheard to the government for analysis. These efforts coincided with poster campaigns warning people not to talk about the war. After the war, the CIA funded extensive rumor research to learn about the flow of word of mouth communication, including experiments in which thousands of leaflets were dropped on unsuspecting American towns. During the civil unrest in the 1960's, dozens of "rumor control centers" were established ostensibly to help control violence, but mainly functioned to provide information to police and reassure white citizens. During the same period, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI spread false rumors to destabilize Black political groups. Corporate advertisers turned to marketing techniques that drew upon rumor control principles in the 1990's as a result in the perceived decline in mass advertising. Indeed, contemporary public relations can be seen as a form of rumor control, given its focus on suppressing negative word of mouth and promoting the spread of positive messages from person to person. Using primary historical data and interviews, the dissertation reveals that the themes of power, surveillance and social control are evident throughout rumor control history, and sheds light on why and how our attitudes are monitored and shaped by corporations and the government.