Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • HIGHER EDUCATION AND WELFARE STATE REGIMES: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN THE UNITED STATES AND NORWAY

    Author:
    Liza Reisel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Paul Attewell
    Abstract:

    Countless studies show that college degree attainment is very unequally distributed across socioeconomic strata in the United States. An unresolved question is whether this pattern is primarily explained by differences in priorities and preferences across social strata or whether the widely recognized flaws of the education system itself are actively hindering an otherwise more egalitarian outcome. This dissertation aims to answer this question by comparing the United States with another country, Norway, that is similar on characteristics such as average educational attainment among young adults, but that has more egalitarian social and economic policies. Does it look like the relationship between social background and educational attainment is universal or can the specific social and political context make a fundamental difference? Using recent, nationally representative longitudinal data from the United States and Norway, the overarching goal of this dissertation has been to use directly comparable statistical models to determine how family income, parents' education level, minority background and gender affect educational attainment and earnings in two very different welfare state contexts. I found that there are indeed more similarities than differences in the extent to which family background affects educational attainment in the two countries, when both access to and completion of higher education is included in the analysis. Parents' education level is particularly influential in both countries. My findings lead me to conclude that as a general rule, parents' level of education will influence their offspring's motivation to seek higher levels of education, as well as their academic abilities and their capacity to navigate through the education system. This pattern of inequality is therefore likely to be found in all merit-oriented education systems. The fundamental reason for this consistency is that despite its promise of equal opportunity, a `meritocratic' education system is inherently selective, since only a narrow range of `merits' are rewarded in the education system. Yet, context specific patterns of social stratification interact with historical, and politically engineered, features of the two education systems to produce three distinctively different outcomes nonetheless: first, family finances do matter more for educational attainment in the United States than they do in Norway, especially after students have entered college. Secondly, native minority students stand out as particularly disadvantaged in the U.S. education system. Finally, I show that due to the controlled character of the Norwegian labor market, differences in educational attainment produce much smaller differences in earnings in Norway than they do in the United States.

  • Constructing Spoiled Identity: The Case of the Child Molester

    Author:
    Diana Rickard
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Barbara Katz Rothman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the management of deviant identity in the case of child molesters. It is a micro-sociological investigation of some of the ways in which people labeled sex offenders understand and articulate themselves at a historical moment in which they are vilified and denied full civil rights. Life histories of six sex offenders convicted of charges against minors were collected and analyzed in terms of the narrative strategies employed in the construction of stigmatized identity. The sample was comprised of men in their mid-thirties to early fifties who live in New York State. They had been convicted of a variety of sex offenses, including "statutory" violations, internet-based non-contact offenses, and exhibitionism and public groping. The men in the study were all connected to their community through a variety of social roles prior to their convictions. Although employment bonds were severed with many, bonds with immediate family members remained intact after their conviction. However, many social bonds were severed as a result of their conviction, and an extensive range of civil restrictions imposed on them as part of their probation. The constraints on civil liberties dictated the quality and rhythm of their day-to-day life in ways that emphasized their dependence on the state. Every participant found himself at least partially unemployed or unemployable because of their conviction and all were in downwardly mobile financial positions. All participants developed strategies to retain a viable sense of social self. They did not see themselves as monsters who should be excommunicated. Instead they employed a variety of strategies to assert their social worthiness. These included espousing mainstream attitudes toward sex offenders as a dangerous "other". Significantly, they constructed the idea of an authentic or "real" self that they contrasted with this idea of the dangerous outsider. As insiders with special knowledge of how the system works, these men were able to critique policies in such a way that they reaffirmed the need for the policies at the same time that they distanced themselves from being seen as objects of those sanctions. In this way they reasserted their basic humanity and social worthiness.

  • Governance and Comprehensive Community Initiatives: A Case Study of the PRYSE Coalition in Far Rockaway, New York, 2000-2004

    Author:
    Michelle Ronda
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Paul Attewell
    Abstract:

    The US response to urban poverty has shifted from a welfare-state model to market-based solutions – toward governance as arrangement of service partnerships among different federal and local agencies, contractors, philanthropies, community facilities, residents and businesses. Economic, political and fiscal pressures and shifting views of poverty, race, crime, health, and service have seen increased federal adoption of comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs). Originally devised by philanthropies, CCIs are cross-sectoral or cross-agency, multi-actor partnerships relying constitutively on social science-crafted, measurable evaluations of strategies and results; modern CCIs adopt an apolitical focus on best practices and forego explicit treatment of race, class or gender. One federal inter-agency program started in 1999, the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative of the Justice, Education and Health departments, targets school violence and youth health by requiring schools, health facilities, and local law and justice authorities to enter CCI-type coalitions as a condition of grant funding; these partnerships are expected to solicit community participation. This ethnographic case study of an SS/HS-funded CCI in the Rockaway peninsula of Queens, in which the author served as a program evaluator, finds mixed effects of federal requirements; obstacles in engaging community participation; and difficulties in leveraging one-time grant funding into sustainable structures. Roles of police, prosecutors, social workers, educators, mediators, evaluators and community groups are examined, illuminating divides of organizational mission and philosophy, profession, class, race, turf and residency. This gives rise to critiques of national trends in governance; community policing and justice; and evaluation politics. Two critical extremes are considered: Does implementation of community governance extend state authority by calling upon a community to condition itself, generating remote-control government, or do partnership models merely cover for abandonment of public ideals and obligations? Included are a sociology of Rockaway; a quantitative demographic survey of class and racial disparities and resident assessments of neighborhood issues; and findings of focus groups in which targeted Rockaway high school youths reflect on the meaning of safety and health in their lives and neighborhoods.

  • BREASTFEEDING POLICY IN THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN: HOW CAN A GENDERED OR GENDER-BLIND POLICY SERVE AS A CONDUIT OR BARRIER TO EQUALITY?

    Author:
    Akiko Shimizu
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Barbara Katz Rothman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a cross-cultural analysis of breastfeeding experiences in the United States and Japan. I conceptualize women's breastfeeding practice as embodied cultural experiences and constituted by historical, medical, personal and social perspectives on their lactating and nursing bodies. Breastfeeding practice is differently experienced by women as mothers and women as workers. At the same time, differences in a country's public policies and social attitudes toward breastfeeding, in general, and breastfeeding workers in particular, shape the different experiences of breastfeeding mothers and workers. Accordingly, through an analysis of public policies, medical recommendations, and personal and social attitudes toward breastfeeding, I will offer proposals to mitigate problems breastfeeding mothers face in the public sphere in the United States and Japan. In comparing the gendered public policies that have emerged from the dominant cultural ideas of motherhood and "worker-hood" in the United States and Japan, I shed light on pitfalls that stem from an optimistically liberating view of the "mother friendly workplace" in Japan and the "gender-blind professionalized body" at work in the United States.

  • Oh Canada, Your Home on Native Land: Settlement, Development and Conflict in Southern Ontario

    Author:
    Shana Siegel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    William Kornblum
    Abstract:

    On February 28, 2006, members of the Haudenosaunee Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario physically occupied and halted construction on a housing development bordering their reserve. The Haudenosaunee claimed that the site was part of a larger tract of land that they had never surrendered, and they vowed to remain on the land as long as necessary prevent the planned development from taking place. When police had still not removed the Haudenosaunee protesters almost two months later, some 2,000-3,000 local non-Native residents began voicing their frustration and anger in regular anti-protest rallies. On some occasions, these rallies escalated to the point of what one local politician called "intense, irrational anger" and even "near riots." This Sociological study examines some of the factors motivating both the 2006 protest, and the reactions to it by local non-Native residents and their federal, provincial and local government officials. Based on legal, archival and ethnographic research; media analysis; GIS mapping; and 45 interviews with residents of the town of Caledonia and the Six Nations reserve, as well as with local government officials, a few conclusions are reached. In examining the motivations for the 2006 protest, the results of the legal and archival research suggest that the Canadian government violated its own Supreme Court of Canada rulings, as well as its binding international legal commitments regarding the human rights of indigenous peoples. This research also suggests that these violations of the rights of indigenous peoples have long constituted the norm in Canadian society, producing a climate in which Native peoples are regularly dehumanized and dispossessed. In examining the various responses to the protest, the dissertation pays particular attention to the ways that non-Native residents and government officials constructed and acted upon various settler-colonial narratives when seeking to justify their responses to the protest. The dissertation argues that both these narratives and the legal violations can only be understood within a broader context of problematic patterns of thought and behavior that have long been inherent in -and even foundational to--Western society and the Western cultural worldview.

  • The Lives of Kong, Labor and Moviemaking in Three Acts

    Author:
    Andrea Siegel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Stuart Ewen
    Abstract:

    Investigating the globalization process called runaway production—Hollywood film studios moving production to other countries and regions largely to avoid organized labor—is at the heart of The Lives of Kong: Labor and Moviemaking in Three Acts. It demonstrates that runaway production's devastating impact on the majority of unionized American film workers today emerges from an often bitterly contested history. Over three periods, from the 1920s – 1971, from 1972 – 1998, and from 1999 – the present, domestic and foreign film studio management, workers and their unions, artists and craftspeople, and state, federal and other nations' government officials struggled over this issue in significantly different ways. The re-historicizing of runaway production scholarship found in The Lives of Kong reclaims a much-needed scope for discussion of its causes, consequences, and remedies. This study also contributes to labor history scholarship by recovering aspects of the complex breadth of entertainment labor union history. The project further contributes to nascent studies of globalization's impact on the middle and creative classes. In addition, this dissertation demonstrates how links between film production processes and film content—a little-researched area—provide essential insight into conditions under which runaway production emerges. Using a multi-sited methodology appropriate to studying a globalization phenomenon, this project employs ethnographic methods, including oral history and participant-observation; analysis of 809 newspaper reports; and examination of production and content analysis. The iconic 1933 film King Kong, famous for its depiction of a giant gorilla, simultaneously dramatizes an overseas American film production that goes terribly wrong. Each ensuing version, first Dino De Laurentiis's (1976), and then Peter Jackson's (2005), joins with the original to provide a time-specific springboard for discussion of runaway production, including complicated portrayals of attitudes toward film work, film workers, and related explosive tensions involving race, gender and class. By re-connecting film process and product, while simultaneously re-historicizing the runaway production debate, The Lives of Kong shows the efficacy of interdisciplinary approaches to studying creative labor, leading to the potential for wide-ranging discussion about relationships between image and power, which have public policy implications on both the national and international levels.

  • Existing But Not Living: Neo-Civil Death And The Carceral State

    Author:
    CalvinJohn Smiley
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Juan Battle
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT In 2010, the United States prison releases exceeded prison admission for the first time since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting jurisdictional data in 1977. Prisoner reentry--the transition from prison to community--has grown exponentially in the 21st century. While individuals are coming home in larger quantities, many formerly incarcerated men and women lose social, political, and economic rights, otherwise known as civil death. The fundamental purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the impact of civil death on prisoner reentry. More specifically, how does the loss of civil rights construct notions of citizenship for recently released men and women? In addition, how do men and women navigate and negotiate the reentry process with both legal-related barriers imposed by the State as well as social obstacles created by incarceration? A community-based reentry program in Newark, New Jersey, is the field site of this research. Employing qualitative methods: interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic observations, this research explores the development of the prison industrial complex, which has led to mass incarceration and the growing prisoner reentry industry. The findings of this research give insight to the furthered underdevelopment of low-income communities via the carceral continuum.

  • Social Context and Perceived Belonging: A Comparative Study of Children of Immigrants in New York and Madrid

    Author:
    Jessica Sperling Smokoski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Richard Alba
    Abstract:

    This project examines the ways in which distinct contexts - and, specifically, distinct histories of immigration and ethnoracial diversity - affect the form, nature, and salience of boundaries demarcating an us/them (immigrant/non-immigrant) divide, including the perceived possibilities of social membership and the compatibility of minority and majority identity. It centers on the following research questions: What do the young adult 1.5/2nd generation see as the dominant boundaries or social divides in their countries of residence, in terms of differentiating immigrant-origin or ethnoracial minority groups from a perceived native-origin/mainstream population? How fluid are these boundaries, and when/why may they be subject to change? To what degree do children of immigrants feel receiving society national membership is available to them, and how does immigrant-origin or ethnoracial minority status play a role in in limiting (or, perhaps, permitting) membership? It examines these issues in a comparative perspective, focusing on young adult 1.5 and 2nd generation Dominicans and Colombians in New York City (a location with a historical immigrant presence) and Madrid (a location new to immigration). Methodologically, it utilizes 105 semi-structured in-depth interviews with individuals in these populations. By identifying the bases of, and barriers to, perceived possibilities of belonging in different social context, this project improves understanding of the current shape and possible future course of diversity in receiving societies.

  • Post-1960 U.S. Anarchism and Social Theory

    Author:
    Spencer Sunshine
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Stanley Aronowitz
    Abstract:

    Relatively recent political mobilizations--such as the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle (1999), the attempted uprising in Greece (2008), and the Occupy movement (2011)--have shown that anti-capitalist anarchists can be influential in political movements far beyond their small numbers. Recently, some have argued that anarchism has the potential for useful contributions to social theory; however, it has failed to make these. This study, using both theoretical and historical lenses, looks at the development of U.S. anarchism to answer the question of why this has not happened. First, a general political and theoretical history of anarchism is provided, including a focus on the implications of the transition between classical (1840-1939) and contemporary (1960 to the present) anarchism. Then the theoretical bases of several contemporary anarchist theorists are analyzed. Murray Bookchin is looked at in the light of post-Trotskyist and Hegelian Marxist traditions. John Zerzan's indebtedness to a variety of intellectual strains, including various forms of heterodox marxism as well as the German interwar right, is analyzed. David Graeber's work is shown to illustrate ideal type anarchism. Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt are seen as reviving syndicalist revisionism, and certain of the postanarchists are shown to deploy post-structuralist narratives that mask a rehashing of New Left anti-imperialism. This study concludes that in the contemporary period, anarchism has, instead of developing classical anarchist ideas, primarily borrowed its theoretical notions from non-anarchist intellectual traditions--sometimes by combining them with classical anarchism, but at other times merely acting under the general political framework set up by it. In conclusion, some suggestions are offered of how a theoretically rigorous and intellectually freestanding left-wing anarchist social theory could be developed.

  • Youth Civic Engagement: A Sociological Inquiry Into Programs and Participants in NYC

    Author:
    Rachel Swaner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Paul Attewell
    Abstract:

    America has low levels of civic, community and political participation, especially among youth. Moreover, poor and minority youth are particularly disaffected. This dissertation considers the emergence of the field of youth civic engagement programming that seeks to address that civic cynicism among teenagers in New York City. The data for this research comes from multiple sources, including: 7 interviews with youth civic engagement program coordinators/directors, 8 with youth policymakers, and 44 with teenagers; 5 focus groups with youth involved in youth civic engagement programs; survey data collected from 133 program youth; and a content analysis of 7 youth organizations' websites, publications, and tax statements. This mixed-methods approach was used to draw from the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of doing solely quantitative or qualitative research. The dissertation argues that youth civic engagement work has undergone organizational isomorphism that has contributed to it becoming its own homogenized field. As this has happened, there has been goal displacement whereby the organizations doing the work have become less focused on increasing and supporting civic dialogue among youth because more attention has to be paid to reporting to funders on non-related outcomes. By uncovering key advocacy strategies that have made some youth groups successful in influencing policy, the research hopes to push back on that goal displacement. It also shows how teenagers' involvement in delinquent behaviors does not mean they do not have a desire to actively make positive contributions to their communities, and their cynicism towards various institutions of social control does not mean they do not want to work with them to create positive change. The conclusions made speak to the concerns for the future sustainability of the field, as well as potential directions for it to move.