Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • "If You See Something, Say Something: The Power of the 'War on Terrorism' to Name What We See"

    Author:
    Polly Sylvia
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Clough
    Abstract:

    This dissertation seeks to understand the cultural politics of the "war on terrorism" through a case study of the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign within the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority Subway System. Drawing upon literature that focuses on an understanding of the affective transmission of culture, this research seeks to understand this particular campaign as a technique of social control. Through a content analysis of the advertisements of this campaign and a performative methodology that analyzes the performance of security within the subway system, an understanding of the connections this local campaign (as a security campaign) has with a greater "war on terrorism" is explored.

  • NFL Means Not For Long: The Life And Career Of The NFL Athlete

    Author:
    Robert Turner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Stanley Aronowitz
    Abstract:

    Over the past four decades, the National Football League (NFL) has become the most popular professional sports league in the U. S. Yet within this popular discourse, the NFL is usually regarded as an entertainment entity and rarely discussed as a tightly structured corporate organization that enjoys legal cartel status. Likewise, NFL athletes receive extensive media coverage for their multi-million dollar contracts and public behavior, yet little attention has been directed at the challenges confronting these high profile athletes both while in the league and upon retirement - in particular the fact that only a few players are handsomely rewarded with long-term fame and fortune, while the vast majority wind up economically destitute with few marketable skills after only minimal seasons in the league. By focusing on the daily interactions of NFL athletes and their relationship with management, my work applies the principles of economic sociology in order to interrogate the following question: how do the structural inequalities of the NFL - particularly those of economics and race - impact athletes after leaving the game? To answer this question, the project draws on research from the league's collective bargaining agreement, archived and online sources, and, most centrally, in-depth interviews conducted with 120 present and former athletes and members of the NFL community. In exploring the lived experiences of NFL athletes grappling with such issues as labor struggles against management, economic hardship, forced retirement, physical and mental health problems, and family conflicts, my work demonstrates the ways that sports both reflects and informs core sociological issues of race, marginalization, socialization, and stratification.

  • Blogging Through Motherhood: Free Labor, Femininity, and the (Re)Production of Maternity

    Author:
    Kara Van Cleaf
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Clough
    Abstract:

    Drawing from a thematic analysis of 47 North American mommy blogs over a 2-year period, I situate the genre in critical discussions of feminism, media, and labor, exploring both the technological and cultural shifts that turn mothers into cultural producers and that turn the experience of motherhood into a commodity. I situate the content of such blogs, or what gets said therein, within theories of media, gender, and labor. Examining the blogs within and against such academic discussions allows me to develop an intersectional analysis of feminism, media, and labor studies.

  • The Creeks, Beaches, and Bay of the Jamaica Bay Estuary: The Importance of Place in Cultivating Relationships to Nature

    Author:
    Kristen Van Hooreweghe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    William Kornblum
    Abstract:

    It is often assumed that people living in urban areas lack connections to the natural world and are the source of environmental problems. This assumption, however, is an oversimplification of urban life. Employing an eco-ethnography, with participant observations, qualitative interviews, and an environmental history, this study examines New York City's Jamaica Bay estuary and surrounding neighborhoods to understand how residents cultivate their relationships to nature in a dense urban setting. Many residents near Jamaica Bay have developed a strong connection to place that is rooted in their regular, embodied experiences living, working, playing, and praying on the Jamaica Bay estuary. Through the process of creating place, residents have come to view Jamaica Bay as alive and a regular participant in daily life. As a result, some residents have come to take environmental action to preserve and protect the Bay. However, not all residents living along Jamaica Bay have the same access to the environmental experiences of the estuary, and therefore do not have the same opportunities to cultivate their relationship with nature. Furthermore, some residents have used their connection to place and environmental protection as reasons to keep "others" from accessing the Bay, resulting in environmental privilege. Consequently, the Jamaica Bay situation suggests the need for urban environmental policy that foregrounds the natural environment and engenders a sense, among all urban residents, that nature is a regular part of daily life.

  • Affective Otaku Labor: the circulation and modulation of affect in the anime industry

    Author:
    Pei-Ti Wang
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Clough
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the devoted anime fans - otaku, in Taiwan and in the U.S., focusing particularly on their fandom activities and relationships with the anime industry. Data sources include archival research, ethnographic observations, and in-depth interviews. Beginning with tracing the traditions of Marxist cultural criticism, I based my theoretical framework on the theory of affect, focusing on the affective labor of otaku and their affective responses to anime images. Drawing from theorists Tiziana Terranova, Maurizio Lazzarato, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Nigel Thrift, Brian Massumi, and Patricia T. Clough, I argue that the transformation of the forms of labor into immeasurable, voluntary, communicative, and affective labor is significantly reflected in the labor of otaku. Assisted by digital technologies, otaku are not simply passive consumers - they are able to interact with commodities, play with cultural contents, and easily become producers or distributors by using digital devices and the Internet. According to my ethnographic observations and interviews, the fandom activities of otaku - including surfing the Internet, networking, cosplaying, making doujinshi and other multi-media artwork - demonstrate that otaku labor is emotionally involved, voluntary and affective, and has potential monetary value in the market. Moreover, I discuss the concept of "moe" which is commonly used among anime fans to describe their "bursting" or "burning" affections toward certain anime characters. By analyzing otaku's feelings of moe, I argue that moe are affective responses in the body that precede feelings and emotions. In the era of digital technology, otaku's reception of images is turning more and more visual, sensational, and affective - without deep thoughts and without consciousness. The digital technologies allow the modulation of the moe/affective responses upon otaku's reception of images. Moe responses are bodily movements without consciousness - but with the potentiality and capacity to become emotions and provide new meanings. It is such affective responses - "powers to act" - that motivate otaku to do something voluntarily.

  • On the Same Page: The Strong Teacher Professional Community at the Heart of a Good New York City Public Middle School

    Author:
    Nathan Warner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Paul Attewell
    Abstract:

    This dissertation analyzes how one high-functioning, public, non-selective middle school in New York City, the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS/MS348), consistently gets strong student achievement gains. For the past three years, WHEELS has ranked near the top of all middle schools on the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) School Progress Reports, which measure student academic growth and performance in each school. At the same time its students, assigned randomly and coming from the neighborhood catchment zone, rank in the bottom decile in terms of economic advantage, and the bottom quartile in terms of elementary school academic performance upon entering WHEELS. WHEELS' success is also exemplified by the fact that it is an Expeditionary Learning (EL) Model School, a NYCDOE Demonstration School, and its achievement gains have been documented in a handful of quantitative reports as well. This study is the first in-depth academic analysis of the school's inner workings. I use a mixed-methods case study approach including seven years of informal and formal ethnographic participant-observation in all areas of the school; interview data from teachers, students and administrators; NYCDOE parent and student Learning Environment survey data; and NYCDOE school-level student achievement data. I document that WHEELS' success is driven by the collaboration, coordination, expertise, and empowerment of its strong teachers. I describe the school's structures, policies, and shared pedagogical practices, and analyze how they operate together to allow for cohesive teams of teachers to have maximum impact on students. In doing this, I extend teacher-student social capital theory, synthesize collective efficacy theory with the research on relational trust in schools, and analyze some strong instructional techniques and supports. My findings will add to the relevant educational and sociological research and theory on teacher-teacher and teacher-student social interactions, school organizational characteristics, teacher quality, and student engagement and achievement processes. Of particular interest for readers contemplating educational policies and questions of replication may be the fact that as a non-charter, non-selective, neighborhood public middle school, WHEELS operates within the parameters of the teacher's union contract, and NYCDOE regulations and funding levels.

  • "COLORED PEOPLE'S TIME": PRAXIS AND TEMPORALITY IN THE STAND-UP PERFORMANCES OF RICHARD PRYOR AND JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY

    Author:
    Henry Welcome Jr.
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Charles Smith
    Abstract:

    Oppression can be interpreted as a process through which specific groups are created and subordinated for the purpose of mediating, and in so alleviating, the alienation of privileged groups. As oppression operates on many levels--e.g. the social, the economic, the psychological, the bodily, and in the academy--it leads to the development of a number of issues. Oppression can be conceptualized in terms of temporality. Those who are oppressed are atemporal: this atemporality is phenomenological in that oppressed groups feel as though they are socially and psychologically fixed. The oppressed internalize and reiterate their own oppression, oppression that the academy also perpetuates. While these dynamics call traditional methods of inquiry into question, comedic discourse bypasses these problems. Group laughter--based in relief, incongruity, or superiority--reflects a collective consciousness. More importantly, as a group these various types of laughter are indicative of psyches beholden to and free of the ideological constraints of oppression. Audio recordings of the stand-up performances of two of the U.S.'s most gifted and influential stand-up comedians--Richard Pryor and Jackie "Moms" Mabley--constitute rich cultural artifacts reflective of popular attitudes about black oppression and freedom. This dissertation examines explicit and implicit theoretical articulations of oppression and freedom. Using the black existentialist writings of Frantz Fanon as a theoretical framework; my dissertation, a discourse analysis of the stand-up comedic performances of Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor, locates both Mabley and Pryor within the school of thought that frames oppression as a process defined by the phenomenal fixity of the subordinated. Part of the richness of Mabley and Pryor's comedy is that as the performers alternate between positions of subordination and positions of privilege they are able to detail how various types of oppression--those based on race, sex, gender, and nationality--are suffered, enforced, and transcended. For these comedians the transcendence of oppression is equated with a phenomenal residence in the present. This mode can be achieved by the appropriation--sometimes active, at other times passive--of violence, and praxis grounded in care. Overall, Pryor and Mabley argue that embracing all of one's possibilities of agency is the key to freedom.

  • Re-enchanting the World: Religion, Secularism and the Crisis of Modernity

    Author:
    Dominic Wetzel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Stanley Aronowitz
    Abstract:

    My dissertation, Re-enchanting the World: Religion, Desire and the Crisis of Modernity, combines theoretical, historical, ethnographic and cultural analysis with memoir to examine the ways in which "renewalist" religious movements with charismatic practices reflect both a sense of disenchantment with modernity as well as a desire to "re-enchant" it in a technological, postmodern era. Long assumed to decline with the onset of modernity, the unexpected "revival" of religion reflects the rationalization, commodification and authoritarian tendencies of the larger society, calling into question Harvey Cox (1995) and others analysis of it as an upsurge of "authentic, primordial" spirituality. Focusing on the Pentecostal-influenced Catholic charismatic movement, with which my family was affiliated, it utilizes a feminist, queer and critical theory perspective to attain a "social physiognomy" of American society through an "immanent critique" (Adorno 1983; Cho 2002) of charismatic and apocalyptic literature, practices and culture to discern its "negative utopian" desire for a better world, here or beyond. Social physiognomy seeks "contradictions within the cultural object that express and contest the contradiction of the social totality" through the method of "immanent critique" - which seeks to both decipher the "secret code" according to which an object expresses and reproduces social domination - while at the same time recognizing the object's "enigmatic" and utopian denunciations of injustice (Adorno 1983; Apostolidis 2000). In a time of particular crisis in the Catholic Church, it tries to make use of immanent critique to understand the troubled conjunctions of sexuality, gender, politics and religion in the contemporary moment, and what they reflect about the larger social totality. It also examines the unexpected revival of religion in relation to the crisis of modernity's "dialectic of enlightenment" - where the overcoming of superstition and myth by science and technology results paradoxically in a dominating bureaucratic and technological rationality that renewalist religions reflect, even as they may seek to resist it. The raging debates over secularism and secularization - given the rise of political Islam and the Christian Right, and the postcolonial critique (Asad 2003) of the (largely unacknowledged) Christian bases of Western secularism - have led some to call for the "opening up" of secularism to religion, in a recognition of their "blurred" historical and boundaries and interdependencies, to get over the stale "church-state" debates (Taylor 2007; Habermas 2006). My work tries to go the extra step of trying to re-imagine and re-think the ways that secularisms' more progressive histories might also be renewed as an alternate yet empathetic path to the "renewal" offered by conservative, politicized religious movements. To this end, on the one hand my work situates itself in a tradition of progressive, secular critique of contemporary religiosity, for its commodified (and hence secularized) nature, as exemplified by Adorno's study of the Christian Right radio addresses of the 1930s, Apostolidis' study of Focus on the Family (2000), and Dong Ho-Cho's unpublished study of Korean Pentecostalism (2002). Such an approach runs contrary to the contemporary dominance of the triumphalist "rational choice" approach of the Christian "religious economies" school in the sociology of religion in the US. While critical, it also tries to decipher the "negative utopian" desire of contemporary religiosity - albeit often manifested in a commodified, regressive, and repressive form - for a different world, by trying to understand the ways in which it offers a putative resistance to the bureaucratic rationality of an often threatening, technological, postmodern world, where more progressive secular options, post-Cold War, seem unavailable. The study explores such themes as the Intelligent Design debate and science skepticism (and its implications for action around such pressing issues as climate change) through a re-thinking of the class and cultural conflicts of the original Scopes Trial; the "negative utopian" desire for change of the best-selling, apocalyptic Left Behind novels and their violent, high-tech battles against the Antichrist; the increasingly dominionist and authoritarian nature of both fundamentalist and charismatic religion; the apocalyptic piety of Marian apparitions and its image of a "militarized Virgin Mary battling a feminized Devil" (Cousino 2006); and the popularity of charismatic practices of being slain in the spirit, healing masses, speaking in tongues, and demonic possession - interpreting them as emanations of sexually repressed, alienated and regulated bodies as well as, somewhat paradoxically, attempts at somatic and communal engagement. Ultimately, the work is a sympathetic, symptomatic reading of the unexpected renewal of religiosity in the modern world. It interprets this emergence as an attempt to re-enchant what is perceived as a stale, lifeless modernity, amidst a largely defeated horizon of radical secular possibility, and argues for the re-engagement and re-imaging of the radical secular imaginary, one that could learn from - and perhaps channel in a more fruitful way - the "negative utopian desire" of contemporary conservative, politicized, renewalist religious movements for a "re-enchanted" world.

  • Surplus Life: The Neoliberal Making and Managing of Housing Insecurity

    Author:
    Craig Willse
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Patricia Clough
    Abstract:

    SURPLUS LIFE: THE NEOLIBERAL MAKING AND MANAGING OF HOUSING INSECURITY by Craig Willse Advisor: Professor Patricia Ticineto Clough This dissertation investigates the techno-conceptual organization of homelessness, or the ways in which housing insecurity and deprivation become organized as objects of scientific knowledge and governmental intervention. As outlined in the Introduction, drawing from science studies, the dissertation uses both historical and textual interpretation and open-ended interviews to form an archive of the contemporary homeless services industry. Chapter 1 argues that housing insecurity and deprivation must be understood in terms of the co-constitution of race and property. From this view, populations living without shelter should be understood as "surplus life"--a kind of social and political abandonment that is made economically productive under neoliberalism. Chapter 2 provides an historical overview of the role of the federal government in managing unsheltered populations, and argues that the return of federal involvement in the mid-1980s effects a biopoliticization of homelessness, or a re-conceptualization of homelessness as a problem of population management and costs. Chapter 3 offers the first of two case studies of federal programs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS. The chapter argues that HMIS does not so much spy upon individual clients of social service agencies, but rather produces a population as a mechanism to regulate the activities of agencies, primarily in terms of standardizing services in economic terms. The second case, Chapter 4, looks at the rise of chronic homelessness as an academic, popular, and governmental concern, and the ways this concern has challenged long-standing practices and discourses of case management. The chapter argues that chronic homelessness initiatives evidence the ways in which social programs are transformed through neoliberalism into economic enterprises. Chapter 5 considers the historical and contemporary role of sociology in governing surplus populations, and argues that the study of homelessness has served a discipline-building function for sociology. Sociology has not only made "the homeless" available for governmental intervention, but the study of homelessness has provided sociology an opportunity to produce its own role in governance as necessary and ethical. Finally, the Conclusion offers a summary of the major arguments.

  • Acts of Belonging: Perceptions of Citizenship Among Queer Turkish Women in Germany

    Author:
    Ilgin Yorukoglu
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Sociology
    Advisor:
    Lynn Chancer
    Abstract:

    This thesis examines how people who have multiple identifications develop a sense of belonging. It focuses on those with politicized, romanticized, and stigmatized identifications which are assumed to be in conflict with one another. My particular case is that of "queer" women of Turkish descent in Germany with Berlin as my main study site.  These people embody what is considered to be an oxymoron: being queer yet also Turkish, being a lesbian yet having a Muslim background, being of immigrant origin yet also German.  In short, they are between all worlds and thus, seemingly, do not belong anywhere. Their ambiguous position allows my thesis to offer a critique of mainstream ideas about cohesion and social capital, noting that in this case, cohesion is not needed for my informants to develop a sense of belonging. From here, it develops the concept of what I call "acts of belonging." This concept directs our attention away from the question of where belonging happens to the question of how: how do migrants belong to contexts, communities, societies to which the mainstream does not consider them to belong?  What relieves them from the burdens their conflicting identifications might otherwise cause? Acts of belonging are the tools, the means, through which they relieve this anxiety, even momentarily, and satisfy their individual need for belonging. Acts of belonging also points at the ways in which legal acceptance, in the form of citizenship or naturalization, differs from lived experiences of belonging. Finally, these acts reveal the ways in which people engage with diversity in various ways which are not always obvious to the reveal the ways in which people By looking simultaneously at psycho-social and emotional factors on the one hand and sexuality on the other, my research bridges various gaps in the literatures of queer studies, migration and citizenship, and social psychology. My work presents an alternative way to look through the lens of belonging at the relationship between cohesion and conflict.