Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Confucius, Yamaha, or Mozart? Cultural Capital and Upward Mobility Among Children of Chinese Immigrants

    Author:
    Wei-Ting Lu
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Philip Kasinitz
    Abstract:

    This study examines the determinants of upward mobility among children of Chinese immigrants. While most studies emphasize ethnic cultural capital as a primary determinant of Chinese upward mobility, this study proposes three new concepts to illuminate understudied processes promoting mobility. Specifically, this study argues that Chinese immigrants' interactions with classical music schools in the Chinese community help generate globalized cultural capital (resources from immigrants' participation in transnational networks), navigational capital (the ability to connect social networks together to facilitate community navigation through higher-status educational institutions) and aspirational capital (the ability of parents to acknowledge the barriers to upward mobility). These music schools offer parents highly valued Western cultural capital in the form of difficult-to-acquire competence in classical music, which parents are promised will help their children gain access to higher-status educational institutions. Parents internalize this valorizing of classical music and believe it will help their children. In addition, Western classical music as a component of Chinese American identity is also reconstructed and blurred through family cultural practice in the local context. Moreover, the competition to climb the educational ladder in the new land encourages Chinese immigrant families to create ethnic identities of hybrid cultural components. This more instrumental acquisition of highly valued cultural capital is a qualitatively different (though not incommensurate) explanation of Chinese upward mobility, which usually centers on Confucian values, retention of Chinese language, and obedience. This study seeks here not to attack the Chinese-values argument, but to argue that institutional factors outside the family are also crucial to understanding Chinese upward mobility.

  • America is Not the Heaven We Dream Of: Race, Gender, and Refugee Status among Liberians in Staten Island, New York

    Author:
    Bernadette Ludwig
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Nancy Foner
    Abstract:

    New York City has long been a destination for immigrants from all over the world. But even within this historical immigrant city, there are some areas that have seen little immigration. Staten Island's North Shore, where thousands of Liberian refugees settled beginning in the mid-1990s, is one of these areas. Based on over three years of ethnographic research and fifty-five interviews with Liberian refugees and immigrants and those working with them, this dissertation examines how a range of social factors, including demographics, immigration status, relationships with natives (ethno-racial minorities as well as Whites), and gender shape the experiences and integration of immigrants in the U.S. In addition, the study illustrates how Liberian refugees respond to these social factors, play an active role in creating new lives in this country, and thus challenging the prevalent images of refugees as victims without agency. This research about Liberians in Staten Island highlights how immigrants' and refugees' experiences are shaped not only by the larger context of reception at the national and city level, but also by the very micro-level local context. This study establishes that the term "refugee" has different meanings and implications depending on its definition and usage. The legal refugee status confers privileges and access to resources while the informal refugee label is only experienced as a stigmatizing burden. Being labeled as "refugees" is not the only "othering" Liberians have encountered in Staten Island. They have also been racialized. While Liberians' experiences with race resemble in some ways those of Black West Indian immigrants, they also differ in significant ways. For example, Liberians' responses and interpretations to racism and discrimination are greatly shaped by their experiences during Liberia's civil war. Liberian women have benefited in a number of ways from their gender--in resettlement, in getting jobs, and, contrary to what many other studies have emphasized, in gaining opportunities for community leadership roles. The women's success in local and Diaspora politics reveals the importance of a transnational perspective, since it has been influenced by the election and popularity of Liberian's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf--the first female president of an African country.

  • PARADOXES OF PIETY IN YOUNG MUSLIM AMERICAN WOMEN: PUBLIC PERCEPTION AND INDIVIDUAL REALITIES

    Author:
    Emily Mahon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Mehdi Bozorgmehr
    Abstract:

    Drawing on both the Pew Research Center's Muslim American Survey of 2007 and a series of original in-depth interviews with young Muslim American women in northern New Jersey, this dissertation seeks to learn more about these women and their motivations for covering and its meaning to them. The theoretical framework for this study begins with Weber's commitment the interplay of religion and society and his perspective of Verstehen, which privileges the perceptions of the subjects. It uses the lenses offered by Goffman and Göle for understanding the strategic uses of stigma; theories of assimilation building from Gordan and Gans to Kasinitz, Mollenkopf, and Waters to Dixon; and the insights of Giddens about the nature of institutional change. The study found that covered women are more likely to attend mosques frequently, to identify as Muslim, to be single, and to be conservative in their religious views (separation of sexes, women cannot lead prayers, scarf is required). The survey finding that most coverers think that Islam does not favor men is echoed in interviewees' argument that "equal" treatment does not mean "same;" they view themselves as feminists who affirm the role of woman at the center of the Muslim family. While not embracing American identity, the interviewees turned away from ancestral culture as either outmoded or oppressive. The Muslim-denseness of their environments gives comfort that dissipates as they bridge to wider spheres. And finally, covering was described repeatedly as a "completion" of self and a reminder of piety to both the outside world and to themselves.

  • A Community of Women: A Model Intervention For Overcoming Poverty and Domestic Violence

    Author:
    Carmella Marrone
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Hester Eisenstein
    Abstract:

    Women and Work is an innovative and holistic approach to workforce development that relies on the power of community to deliver the technical and social skills needed for today's competitive job-market. This study explores the impact of the Women and Work Program on survivors of intimate partner violence, their ability to obtain and retain sustainable employment, and their ability to work towards establishing violence-free lives.

  • WASTING AWAY: SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND HEALTH RISK OUTCOMES AMONG DOMINICAN DEPORTEES

    Author:
    Yolanda Martin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    David Brotherton
    Abstract:

    This is a mixed-methods study conducted among heroin-using deportees in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, from 2008 to 2010. The study illustrates how forced mobility in transnational groups can lead to sudden changes in cultural environment, which promote risk-seeking attitudes, such as substance abuse, in the absence of structural checks and balances on high-risk behavior. In this study I adapt Merrill Singer's Syndemics model to illustrate how social isolation, mental health issues, and substance abuse are synergistic forces that aggravate the deportee's risk for serious health conditions. Data were gathered through a combination of (a) participant observation (inside shooting galleries, private homes, and public spaces); (b) life-histories, open-ended (N= 12); and (c) semi-structured interviews (N=120). In order to obtain detailed information about the life trajectory of the returnees, I first conducted participatory observation in various marginalized neighborhoods of Santo Domingo, such as Guachupita, Capotillo, San Carlos, and Villa Juana. Qualitative data served as the foundation for the semi-structured interview protocol. These research tools were used to illustrate pre- and post-removal protective and risk factors, and the subsequent health risk outcomes in the deportee life-course. According to the findings in this study, risk factors that may encourage risk seeking behavior and substance abuse are the lack of positive social networks, lack of financial means of subsistence, lack of adequate health care services, and institutional and structural stigmatization. Additionally, deportation-related trauma heightens the returnee's likelihood to suffer from mental health conditions.

  • 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?