Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Mother Country: Reproductive Tourism in the Age of Globalization

    Author:
    Lauren Martin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Barbara Rothman
    Abstract:

    Mother Country is a multi-sited, qualitative study of the United States fertility industry. I analyze the industry in two dimensions: as a particularly American institution and nascent profession, and as a destination for "reproductive tourism." The United States fertility industry, buttressed by lax federal regulation, free market principles, and high technology resources, is organized to benefit certain classes of American citizens and foreign nationals in their quest to have children. As such, the United States has become a prime destination for people seeking assisted fertility services such as commercial surrogacy, egg donation, and sex selection, which are unavailable, inaccessible, or illegal in many countries. I employed a grounded theory and mixed-methods approach to my topic: I used participant observation and in-depth semi-structured interviews in three major metropolitan regions (New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), to generate thick, empirical data about the fertility industry in these respective cities. I also employed ethnographic content analysis of medical and scientific journals, newspaper reports, and industry marketing materials, and comparative policy analysis on the state, federal, and international level to identify trends and patterns about the global state of the field. I find that the United States produces ideal conditions for a fertility industry with a global reach. It boasts a robust network of fertility doctors, family law attorneys, and egg donation and surrogacy brokers, in addition to advanced technologies, high success rates, and lax federal regulation that enables clients to obtain services in locales with policies amenable to their needs and desires. Moreover, the profession itself has situated itself in such a way that enables it to secure its position as an autonomous body with gatekeeping functions, as professional organizations establish norms of self-regulation absent the teeth or enforcement of law.

  • Constructing Multiethnic Space: East Asian Immigration in Fort Lee, New Jersey

    Author:
    Noriko Matsumoto
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Philip Kasinitz
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the social formation and organization of the East Asian ethnic communities in Fort Lee, from the 1970s to the present. Beginning in the later-twentieth century the American suburb became an important site for immigrant settlement. A rapid influx of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants into Fort Lee, located in the metropolitan area of New York, has had an important influence on the social structures and everyday practice of this formerly white suburban community. The research is considered against existing social scientific theories of immigration including models of "spatial assimilation" and "ethnoburb." The central research question concerns how assimilation and ethnic retention are structured among East Asian immigrants and their offspring in Fort Lee. The findings suggest that three East Asian groups have formed distinct co-ethnic communities with different institutional structures and social organization. At the same time, coterminous residency in a specific suburban space has offered the possibility for development of new interrelations and informal pan-Asian affinities. Although the borough's diversity has facilitated immigrant incorporation, this has neither erased group differences nor the racialization of East Asians. The middle-class status of immigrants and the relative receptiveness of the locality have had a significant bearing on the processes of assimilation and ethnic retention. The dissertation proposes the concept of "multiethnic space" to account for the synchronicity of these processes as a product of everyday practice, relational power, and group formation. Assimilation and ethnic retention are considered as relational--rather than as mutually exclusive polarities. Practice is enacted in social relations with others: the various transformations of the multiethnic suburb are interdependent. Multiple methods were employed for the collection and analysis of the data, including: in-depth interviews with members of East Asian groups and native whites; ethnographic observations of community life and local events; analysis of census data (1950-2009); the analysis of archival records, including local community documents, and press accounts from the 1970s through the first decade of the twenty-first century.

  • PARENTS OF DEAF CHILDREN WITH COCHLEAR IMPLANTS: DISABILITY, MEDICALIZATION AND NEUROCULTURE

    Author:
    Laura Mauldin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Barbara Katz Rothman
    Abstract:

    Changes in technology are radically altering how conditions are treated, transforming the way we understand diseases and disabilities, and creating new stakeholders and subjectivities. This dissertation is an ethnographic study of parents and professionals involved in cochlear implantation in and around New York City. In the last two decades, the cochlear implant (CI) has become a common treatment for deafness, and since deaf children born to hearing parents are the fastest growing demographic of recipients, this research focuses on pediatric implantation. By spending time in a CI clinic, parents' homes, and children's schools, I learned how these parents and professionals participate in a social world based on interconnected institutions and the integration of clinical aspects of care into the home. I found that the success of this was significantly correlated with a mother's style of parenting, which was influenced by her class position. Perhaps the most striking quality of this social world was how dependent it is upon neuroscientific knowledge. I found that parents saw themselves as engaged in a `neural project' to overcome their child's deafness. I describe parents' desires to be successful at this, their willingness to comply with medical professionals, but also the ways they struggle to find their own agency in the middle of it all. Lastly, all of this must be seen within the larger context of social and technological change. There has been tremendous controversy over CIs; many in Deaf culture argue against their use because they diminish the numbers of children that learn sign language. They argue that CIs ultimately represent a case of a technology destroying a community. I found that this technology also generates community. The battle has been characterized as medical knowledge versus Deaf cultural knowledge. However, this research shows that the world of implantation, while steeped in medicine and presumed `objectivity,' is equally cultural and uses neuroscientific arguments that help to maintain controversy and division between the communities.

  • In Dubious Battle: A Case Study of the New Labor Transnationalism

    Author:
    Jamie McCallum
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Frances Piven
    Abstract:

    IN DUBIOUS BATTLE: A CASE STUDY OF THE NEW LABOR TRANSNATIONALISM Adviser: Professor Frances Fox Piven This dissertation revisits the widely held assertion that neoliberal globalization necessarily undermines the power of workers. While increasing economic integration clearly presents challenges for organized labor, scholars have shown it also offers new opportunities based upon the contradictions of global capitalism. But recent debates about labor transnationalism provide a point of entry for a deeper examination of strategies for unions in the global era. Particularly, I assess the prospects for unions to exercise associational power by enforcing new modes of global governance. I believe that a careful assessment of actually existing labor transnationalism can help transcend debates between the negative prognosis of global processes and abstract internationalism. This in-depth case study suggests that global union campaigns can empower local voices and impact local unionization strategies. I therefore offer a new theoretical perspective that links labor transnationalism with union revitalization. Within this large and complex context, I compare the experiences of unions in South Africa and India as they collaborate with their partner unions in North America to battle multinational employers. First, I describe the contours of a global campaign in the private security industry, in which unions from multiple countries force their global employer to sign an international framework agreement, guaranteeing certain rights and standards for all the company's employees. Secondly, I compare the different implementation processes of the agreement between unions in South Africa and India. I conclude that workers in South Africa were able to use the rights won in the agreement to organize new workers and build stronger workplace unions. I refer to these as mobilization-type impacts. In India, unions have used the agreement to force the company to re-interpret important labor laws, which I call legislative-type impacts. I explain this variation based on an analysis of the local environments in which transnational collaboration takes place. This case suggests that scholars of labor transnationalism should more seriously consider the dynamic interaction of local mobilization and transnational campaigning. I also seek to correct a pattern in the literature which describes the recent interest in global unionism as simply following the trajectory of corporate globalization. Instead, I argue that failed domestic campaigns against multinational employers have encouraged some unions to experiment with innovative strategies at different scales, while others have become more inward-looking.

  • Reducing Risk, Producing Selves: Drug Use and Identity in Needle Exchange

    Author:
    Katherine McLean
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    VIctoria Pitts-Taylor
    Abstract:

    "Harm reduction" refers to a drug policy paradigm that promotes measures intended to reduce the negative consequences of illicit substance use within the context of legal prohibition. Citing values such as pragmatism, flexibility, and humanism, harm reduction "technologies" include needle exchange, methadone maintenance, and supervised injection - programs that defer the long-term goal of abstinence in favor of short-term measures aiming at the amelioration of risk. Discourses of risk pervade harm reduction programming, and indeed, the dangers of overdose, infection, and arrest faced by injection drug users are real, and further, exacerbated by a national drug strategy that emphasizes criminalization. However, this dissertation is less interested in the objective nature of the risk(s) surrounding injection drug use, and instead focuses on the construction of risk and risk subjects within harm reduction practice. By documenting the "techniques of subjectivation" employed at one community-based needle exchange, Bronx Harm Reduction, this project ultimately seeks to characterize harm reduction as both a technology of domination, and a technology of the self, while describing the identities forged therein (Foucault 1988). Drawing upon one year of participant observation and in-depth interviews with program participants and staff, this study contributes to an emerging body of critical social science research into harm reduction. Where previous study have focused upon more "spectacular" methods of harm reduction, like methadone maintenance, this research aims to explore a less controversial structural intervention, needle exchange, which works upon users' bodies by first molding their sense of self. It further endeavors to move beyond a binary of empowerment and control, in problematizing the forms of agency that are generated within needle exchange. Where harm reduction theory rests upon a construction of "clients" as autonomous and rational subjects, Bronx Harm Reduction's rules, staff actions, and client experiences betrayed a more complex reality. Ultimately, this dissertation asks: how empowering is an identity that posits the individual as potentially dangerous to him or herself and others?

  • 'Banding Together:' Biosociality, Weight Loss Surgery, and Neoliberal Discourses Around Obesity

    Author:
    Zoe Meleo-Erwin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Victoria Pitts-Taylor
    Abstract:

    Drawing on post-structuralist and feminist theories about the relationship between knowledge, power, bodies, health, and subjectification, in this dissertation I critically analyze the experience of individuals who were medically diagnosed as obese or morbidly obese and underwent bariatric (weight loss) surgery. During the late 20th and early 21st century, the United States saw an explosion of discourse and anxiety about rising population body weights. In national public health addresses, obesity was commonly referred to as a threat to the nation state. During this same time period, anti-fat stigma significantly increased and the number of bariatric surgeries performed skyrocketed. I argue that these concurrent phenomena must be understood within a neoliberal political-economic and healthist context in which `proper' citizenship is held to involve `proper' health (and by extension `proper' weight). Fat bodies, within this framing, suggest `failed' citizenship and moral laxity. Through the use of qualitative interviews with bariatric patients and surgeons, as well as brief participation at peer-led weight loss surgery conferences, I explore the ways in which bariatric patients take up or refute medicalized notions of fatness. I do so by examining why formerly fat individuals underwent bariatric surgery as a means of weight loss, and the physical, physiological, psychological, and social transformations involved in this process. I show that participants experienced pervasive anti-fat stigma and that this stigma operated in ways that were simultaneously discursive, emotional, and material. I argue that choosing weight loss surgery was not just a means of achieving a visually more normal appearance, but a means by which these individuals took responsibility for their current and moreover, their future states of health. I document how, following surgery, bariatric patients reported substantial improvements in physical health as well as emotional well being. However, they also experienced significant physiological and physical side effects from both rapidly loosing a tremendous amount of weight and also living with a dramatically altered digestive system. Because of this, bariatric patients effectively trade one set of embodied health concerns for another. I demonstrate that bariatric surgery not only shifts the relationship to the body but to others as well: patients must learn to both socially manage the impact of their new eating rituals and navigate the complexities of new attentions, envy from others, and criticisms for having taken the `easy way out.' I argue that these new embodied and social concerns are helping produce the formation of online and in-person communities around bariatric surgery. I conclude this dissertation by documenting both the forces that help push bariatric patients together, as well as those factors that pull them apart, creating divisions within bariatric communities in the process.

  • Intersecting Systems of Oppression: Race, Class, and Gender Differences among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Hate Crime Victims

    Author:
    Doug Meyer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Victoria Pitts-Taylor
    Abstract:

    Drawing on intersectionality theory, hate crime studies, and feminist and sexuality research, this dissertation project employs an intersectional approach to examine race, class, and gender differences among an interview sample of 44 people who experienced violence for being perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). In contrast to previous studies of LGBT hate crime victims, which have focused on the psychological effects of bias-motivated violence, this dissertation examines the sociological components of hate crime. In particular, this dissertation builds on research questions that have been explored in the hate crime literature - specifically, how LGBT people evaluate the severity of their violent experiences and how they determine whether violence is based on their sexuality or gender identity. Results are based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews, conducted in New York City, and reveal significant differences along the lines of race, class, and gender. White gay men, for instance, generally expressed certainty as to the cause of their violent experiences, while LGBT people of color sometimes expressed uncertainty because they could not be sure whether racism had also played a role. Moreover, with regard to evaluating the severity of their violent experiences, middle-class white respondents were more likely than low-income people of color to perceive their violent experiences as severe, even though the latter experienced more physical violence than the former. By employing an intersectional approach to examine these research questions, this dissertation augments our understanding of the ways in which LGBT people perceive their violent experiences, revealing how forms of anti-LGBT violence are linked with institutional power structures such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Entrenched in the disciplinary crossroads of sociology, criminal justice, and feminist and sexuality studies, this dissertation suggests that the social position of LGBT people plays a significant role in structuring their experiences of hate-motivated violence.

  • The Other Tribeca: Immigrant Work and Incorporation amid Affluence

    Author:
    Elizabeth Miller
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Nancy Foner
    Abstract:

    Tribeca, a small, affluent neighborhood in the lower west side of Manhattan, is a microcosm of the service-and-information-based economic structure that characterizes many communities in other American cities today, and thus provides an opportunity to study the effects of this system. Tribeca residents are predominantly wealthy and work in high-end service-oriented professions, so they consume low-end personal services produced locally. Many of the people who provide these personal services in the neighborhood are foreign born. Although they share space and have regular interactions, conventional assumptions might suggest that Tribeca residents and immigrant service workers lack much in common, and have little meaningful interpersonal contact with one another. This study explores the actual nature of intergroup contact and how the people in Tribeca navigate the symbolic and social boundaries between them. In order to understand these processes of contact and boundary navigation, I collected extensive ethnographic and interview data from 66 participants. The perspectives of both immigrant workers and Tribeca residents--as well as Tribeca's local history, identity, and culture--are taken into account to clarify how their perceptions of the neighborhood and of one another influence their interactions, their feelings of belonging, and their criteria for inclusion in the community. Although intergroup contact between residents and immigrants fails to alter the host of boundaries that separate them, they are still able to interpersonally connect in ways that are meaningful to them. They do this by bridging, or overlooking, the significance of symbolic and social boundaries. Because of these interpersonal interactions that go beyond service transactions, the local community is defined in a way that incorporates the immigrants who work in the neighborhood in a social way. Tribeca has become an inclusive and unexpected community--to borrow a term from Hochschild (1973)--one in which residents and workers from varying backgrounds are considered an integral and social part.

  • The Other Tribeca: Immigrant Work and Incorporation amid Affluence

    Author:
    Elizabeth Miller
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Nancy Foner
    Abstract:

    Tribeca, a small, affluent neighborhood in the lower west side of Manhattan, is a microcosm of the service-and-information-based economic structure that characterizes many communities in other American cities today, and thus provides an opportunity to study the effects of this system. Tribeca residents are predominantly wealthy and work in high-end service-oriented professions, so they consume low-end personal services produced locally. Many of the people who provide these personal services in the neighborhood are foreign born. Although they share space and have regular interactions, conventional assumptions might suggest that Tribeca residents and immigrant service workers lack much in common, and have little meaningful interpersonal contact with one another. This study explores the actual nature of intergroup contact and how the people in Tribeca navigate the symbolic and social boundaries between them. In order to understand these processes of contact and boundary navigation, I collected extensive ethnographic and interview data from 66 participants. The perspectives of both immigrant workers and Tribeca residents--as well as Tribeca's local history, identity, and culture--are taken into account to clarify how their perceptions of the neighborhood and of one another influence their interactions, their feelings of belonging, and their criteria for inclusion in the community. Although intergroup contact between residents and immigrants fails to alter the host of boundaries that separate them, they are still able to interpersonally connect in ways that are meaningful to them. They do this by bridging, or overlooking, the significance of symbolic and social boundaries. Because of these interpersonal interactions that go beyond service transactions, the local community is defined in a way that incorporates the immigrants who work in the neighborhood in a social way. Tribeca has become an inclusive and unexpected community--to borrow a term from Hochschild (1973)--one in which residents and workers from varying backgrounds are considered an integral and social part.

  • VETERAN ROLE SALIENCE: A STUDY OF STUDENT VETERAN REINTEGRATION IN THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK

    Author:
    Demond Mullins
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Paul Attewell
    Abstract:

    The research question that informed this dissertation was: in what ways do military identities impede or enhance student veteran engagement in higher education institutions? This research was designed with a mixed methods approach; a 40 question survey instrument (N=300) constituted the quantitative portion of the study; 20 in-depth interviews and one semester of ethnography with several student veteran clubs constituted the qualitative portion of the study. All data collection was conducted in the City University of New York (CUNY) with student veterans attending 4-year and community colleges. My findings confirmed a correlation between military occupational specialties and the differential quality of relationships student veterans experience with nonveteran students, faculty, administrators, and amongst themselves. This research also discovered a number of issues CUNY could address at an administrative level in order to facilitate the academic success of these particular nontraditional students. Some of these issues were: the tendency toward marginalization of female student veterans in student veteran clubs and campus spaces, the need to take affirmative measures to encourage student veteran and nonveteran student communication to the benefit of both groups, and the need to develop a standard system to assess military service for college credit.