Virtual Coffee Hours

Upcoming Events

August 10, 2024 at 4:00 to 5:30pm (Eastern)

Theory Section's Session at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association

"Theory and The World’s Problems: Perspectives on Using Sociology to Create Change" (only available to meeting registrants)

From the beginning of our discipline, many sociologists, including Marx, Addams, and DuBois, have theorized the world in order to change it. New generations of sociologists are looking back to these examples and proposing new paths forward for bringing sociological theorizing to bear on the world’s problems. This panel will examine the theoretical foundations of these various approaches, as well the successes and failures of their efforts to address real problems such as urban development and climate change. What blind spots remain in our theorizing, and what critical problems have been undertheorized within our discipline? What is the role of theory at the intersection of sociology and social change, and how can engagement with the world's problems change theory?

August 10, 2024 at 6:00 to 9:00pm (Eastern)

Theory and Social Inquiry Launch Party

Rooftop Terrace, Intercontinental Hotel, 360 Rue Saint-Antoine O, Montréal

The former Senior Editors of Theory and Society cordially invite you to a Launch Party at ASA for our new journal, Theory and Social Inquiry.  For background on the new journal, please see here.

August 12, 2024 at 10:00 to 11:00am (Eastern)

Decision-Making, Social Networks, and Society Section's Invited Session at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association

"Coordination Problems, Unintended Consequences, and Solving Social Problems" (only available to meeting registrants)

This session includes papers and remarks that consider, present, or evaluate how the frameworks or methods traditionally employed in social network research, rational choice theory, and analytical sociology can be used to address and potentially resolve existing social problems. Many of the problems we face as a society, such as climate change, police reform, municipal corruption, educational reform, discrimination can be characterized as thorny problems that are difficult to address. This panel considers whether the frameworks of social coordination and unintended consequences – or others – can be mobilized to more effectively address these difficult issues.

September 27, 2024 at 3:00-4:00 (Eastren)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jose Eos Trinidad, Assistant Professor, University of California Berkeley (Zoom Link)

"Education and Civil Society in the Postcolony"

Education in previous colonies is often highly nationally centralized as a legacy of empires' desires to control public instruction. This comes in contrast with local control (the type one sees in the United States) and comes in conflict with variable community participation (such as civic organizing and state-society partnerships). In recent years, however, new forms of civic or nonprofit organizations have arisen in countries like India, Malaysia, and the Philippines---large postcolonies of the British and American empires. How did these organizations rise, adapt, and change? How did they transact with large state bureaucracies? How did they navigate tensions, problems, and politics---to be able to solve education in various communities? These are questions I plan to investigate and theorize in a project entitled, "Education and Civil Society in the Postcolony."

Virtual Coffee Hour?

The Problem Solving Sociology’s Virtual Coffee Hour is a platform for members to sent their work, share their experience, and to connect throughout the year in between ASA conferences.  We aim to have about six virtual coffees during the year. In each session, a group of people connect for a video conference to have an informal conversation.

Possible Topics?

Really anything you can imagine.  Some options:

Why Should I Do It?

Virtual Coffee Hours are a great way to identify and connect with people who share similar interests. It is an opportunity to start a conversation and receive valuable feedback as a presenter or participant. Your profile and proposed topic (2-3 sentences) will be broadcast to the Problem Solving Sociology mailing list. 

Individuals who are interested in your proposed topic will attend the virtual coffee hour and may provide interesting questions, or valuable feedback on your project.

How Do I Sign Up? 👇

How Do I Join?

Past Events

[44] Friday, May 3, 2024 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Neil Gong, Assistant Professor, University of California San Diego, and Alex Barnard, Assistant Professor, New York University 

"Fixing Public Psychiatric Care"

Since the mid 20th century closing of its state psychiatric hospitals, the US has seen successive crises of patient neglect, homelessness, and incarceration. Some suggest a simple need to fund the underdeveloped community-care system, whereas others blame patient civil liberties and issue a call to "bring back the asylum." At stake are theoretical questions about the nature of psychiatric power and the welfare state, on the one hand, and practical questions about care delivery, design, and procedure, on the other. In this discussion we will examine how practical problem solving efforts might inform theory, and vice versa. 

[43] Friday, April 12, 2024 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jasmine Sausedo, Michelle Naffziger-Hirsch, and Monica Prasad 

"Power and Attunement: Community Colleges and Socio-Economic Mobility"

Community colleges serve nearly one third of the country’s undergraduates, and can help to address the crisis of college affordability in America.  But entering a community college rather than a four-year institution significantly reduces the chances of attaining a bachelor’s degree.  Recent research has argued this is because four-year institutions are reluctant to allow community college students to transfer.  Why are they reluctant?  We answer this question based on 139 interviews with students and administrators, and through a reformulation of the theory of strategic action fields.  Although existing scholarship stresses that fields are sites of power and contestation, we argue that the most important aspect of social fields is that they are also the context in which social cooperation can occur.  In particular, we draw attention to the idea of social "attunement," a less developed part of field theory that, we show, explains universities' reluctance better than the alternative, and also shows how to overcome it.  Understanding field theory in this way leads to specific practical implications, and also gives us a specifically sociological approach to problems of socio-economic mobility.

[42] Friday, March 29, 2024 at 3:00–4:30 pm (Eastern) 

The Second Annual Solving Climate Change Panel with Jason Beckfield, Ankit Bhardwaj, Taylor Braswell, Benjamin Bradlow, and Raka Sen

Panel organizer and presider: Joshua Basseches

JASON BECKFIELD at Harvard will discuss how sociological ideas and tools can reveal and support the social mechanisms of energy transition, drawing on his study of the US Gulf Coast.

ANKIT BHARDWAJ at New York University will argue that emphasizing near-term emissions reduction, rather than long-term plans, better addresses climate justice.

TAYLOR HARRIS BRASWELL at the University of California, Santa Cruz will argue that democratizing the electric grid involves understanding how urban growth politics shape conflict between electric utilities in U.S. states.

BENJAMIN BRADLOW at Princeton University will be arguing that post-World War II experiences of developmental “catch-up” make it possible to theorize and make policy for how we get from one energy basis of economic life to another — that is, the sociological problem of climate change.

RAKA SEN at the University of Pennsylvania will argue that emphasizing the everyday labor of adapting to climate change unearths new mechanisms of social change that are emerging in response to the climate crisis. 

[41] Friday, March 15, 2024 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Xuemei Cao, Assistant Professor, Bentley University 

"Assigning (un)Deservingness: How Do Aging Services Shape Older Immigrants’ Access to Formal Support"

Older immigrants make up an increasingly larger share of the overall aging population in the United States. By 2050, about one in five US older adults is estimated to be foreign-born, and many will face barriers in navigating the highly complex US healthcare and eldercare systems. Drawing on in-depth interviews with aging service workers and older Chinese immigrant elders in the New England region and some ethnographic observations at aging service organizations and community spaces, I will show that aging service organizations and professional caregivers can improve immigrant elders’ quality of life by initiating assessments and services under state mandates, market competitions, and professional norms. However, aging professionals also exercise discretion based on the tacit judgment of each elder’s deservingness. Those who are medically ill, who are compliant and passive care recipients, and who are perceived as assimilated are constructed as more deserving and thus have better access to formal services. In this talk, I will also reveal how a biomedical framing of aging and an assimilationist framing of immigration constrain immigrant elders’ access to non-medical support that they truly need to age with dignity, belonging, and joy. Government regulations and professional training should tackle the unspoken expectations of immigrant deservingness to better care for the rising older immigrant population.

[40] Friday, March 1, 2024 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jensen Sass and John Braithwaite, RegNet, Australian National University 

"Leveraged Decommodification: Tempering Domination in Academic Publishing" 

The central idea we explore began as a blog comment written during the recent controversy surrounding The Journal of Political Philosophy, a journal founded and edited for thirty odd years by our colleague and friend Bob Goodin. The Problem-Solving Sociology Coffee Hour seemed the perfect venue to share our blue sky thinking on this topic. We briefly describe some problems confronting academic publishing and efforts to challenge its commercial domination. We then set out a strategy that aims to decommodify academic publishing and expand the global knowledge commons.

[39] Friday, January 26, 2024 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Catherine van de Ruit, Associate Professor of Sociology, Ursinus College 

"Public-private partnerships and health disparity in South African HIV/AIDS care: A call to action"

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are now ubiquitous in global health governance, and yet their performance in containing the  global COVID-19 pandemic points to widespread deficiencies in this governing model. This paper is part of a larger book project Outsourcing Obligation: the Organization of South African AIDS care. The book considers how governance by partnership to eliminate HIV/AIDS shifts health service delivery from the sole responsibility of the public sector to a mix of public and private agencies. South Africa is a compelling case to examine PPPs as it runs the worlds largest national HIV/AIDS antiretroviral therapy program managed by a combination of public and private agencies. However, in keeping with other countries in both the Global North and South this program has seen mixed outcomes. Patient HIV testing rates are commendable, but drug adherence and rates of viral suppression are low. Outsourcing obligation, drawing on archival and ethnographic evidence, critically examines the structural factors that contribute to unsatisfactory patient outcomes. This paper and penultimate book chapter steps away from South Africa to contrast to countries that have accomplished impressive patient adherence to antiretroviral therapy and concomitant HIV viral suppression. Modifications made to the outsourcing model will be reviewed and their applicability to the South Africa context analyzed.

[38] Friday, November 3, 2023 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Adam D. Reich, Associate Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

"Can social science help rebuild the labor movement?" 

Scholars concerned about the future of the labor movement often wonder how our research might benefit the workers and organizations on behalf of which we advocate. Strong labor organizations are necessary for the passage of labor-friendly policies in the political realm and necessary to channeling any moments of worker militancy into durable political power for workers. Yet, our social science scholarship typically takes one of two forms: research aimed at policymakers in support of policies that might strengthen the hand of labor, but which are unlikely to get passed in the current political environment; or broader paeans about the importance of labor unions and labor militancy, reaching those already mostly likely to agree. Here, I discuss the work of Columbia's Labor Lab, in which we are oriented towards a different way for our scholarship to be of use: using modern quantitative social science to strengthen existing labor organizations.  

[37] Friday, October 6, 2023 at 3:00–4:00 pm (Eastern)

Virtual Book Forum with Neil Gross, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, Colby College

Book: Walk the Walk: How Three Police Chiefs Defied the Odds and Changed Cop Culture

Discussant: Laura Doering (University of Toronto)

[36] August 18, 2023 at 8:00-9:30 am (Eastern)

Thematic Session at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association 

"Solving Problems That Have Never Been Solved" (access through the ASA Virtual Annual Meeting Portal; only available to meeting registrants)

Sociologists often compare successful cases to unsuccessful cases to identify solutions to problems. But what happens when there are no successful cases? How can we think rigorously about theory, methods, and evidence in this situation? Papers consider how activists in the past imagined solutions to problems that had never been solved; how scholars gather and evaluate evidence for things that do not exist; how we can break problems down into parts or analogize them to other problems; and how new technologies could be deployed to solve previously unsolvable problems. Papers also give ideas for solving currently unsolved problems, including racism and climate change.

[35] May 26, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Gabriel Suchodolski, Ph.D. student the University of California, Los Angeles

"How Can We Save the Amazon (and the World)? The Politics and Policy for and Against Deforestation"

Amazonian deforestation is a central question for global climate security and international development. Human-led deforestation could produce climate catastrophe—a biome switch from tropical forest to savannah, widespread extinctions, massive hydrological changes, droughts in the Southern Cone, impact on global atmospheric dynamics, and colossal CO2 emissions. Since the 1970s, massive deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has been caused by two main factors: (i) regional and rural development policies and (ii) an open frontier economy. Command and control policies reduced deforestation by 80% between 2004 and 2012, starting under the first Lula government (2003-2010). Nonetheless, deforestation regrew since 2013, exploded under Jair Bolsonaro’s government (2019-2022), and remained high in 2023 under Lula’s newly sworn-in and pro-environment government. How can we eliminate large-scale Amazonian deforestation? This paper compares three periods of deforestation rates—high, declining, and rising—to analyze factors. Policy shocks cannot fully explain the outcome. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Amazonia between 2012 and 2022, this paper shows the social and political micro-foundations and mechanisms that promoted deforestation over time. I show that Amazonian rural communities living in precarious economic and institutional conditions experienced environmental policies as punitive and resorted to clientelism. Predatory elites mobilize people into pro-deforestation structures—directly through capital and labor and indirectly through clientelism and coercion. These findings suggest anti-deforestation policies should seriously engage questions of income, inequality, public service provision, and civil society organization—i.e., a Green New Deal for Amazonia.

[34] May 5, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Aliza Luft, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles

"The Moral Career of the Genocide Perpetrator: Dehumanization as Consequence, Not Cause, of Violence"

This talk is about dehumanization and how people shift their judgments of violent actions from morally bad to morally neutral by shifting their judgments of victims. Crucially, however, and through qualitative analysis of interviews with Hutu who participated in the Rwandan genocide, I find that dehumanization did not cause Hutu to harm Tutsi but rather emerged because of ongoing participation in violence. This finding challenges existing research and common assumptions that dehumanization is necessary for people to kill. Rather, it suggests that people can act in ways that counter their moral values, including actions that are violent, but through ongoing participation in such actions, their values can change. Moreover, one mechanism that facilitates such change is a change in judgments of victims. Judgments of actions and judgments of people go hand-in-hand.

[33] April 21, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Myungji Yang, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

"Angry Young Korean Men? Anti-Feminist Politics in an Age of Polarization"

Existing scholarship on anti-gender and anti-feminist politics is predominantly Western-centric, with analyses often limited to European and US cases. While feminist scholars have studied misogyny and anti-feminism in extremist online spaces in the South Korean context, few studies have focused on how anti-feminist attitudes have been normalized among ordinary young men. Why do young Korean men in their twenties believe so strongly that they are the victims of gender inequality and feminism is a female supremacy movement? I argue that young men’s frustration, anger, and anxiety about competitive and limited opportunity structures and what they believe to be a corrupt and unfair “establishment” have been translated into anti-feminist opinions. My analysis will deepen understanding of the roots of anti-feminist attitudes among young men and the processes by which anti-feminism is mobilized and propagated in South Korean society. 

[32] March 17, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with David Joseph-Goteiner, Doctoral Student at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Are Digital Labor Platforms Creating Dependent Workers through Their Payment Systems?" 

Some scholars suggest that those who are most dependent on platforms are structurally those who are most reliant on the platform to meet basic needs. Others suggest dependence is driven by psychological dynamics of the game that is being played, notably through algorithmic control and piece rate pay. Both explanations assume that the qualities of the payment system matter, but the idea that platform pay might differ in its meaning from salaried pay hasn't been explored fully. What are the qualities that make platform pay distinctive, and attractive, to workers? My paper hypothesizes that platform money is more easily earmarked in its structure of delivery, but also in its reception, and therefore can become more meaningful than the more mainstream payment systems. 

[31] March 3, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Steven Schmidt, National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Southern California

"The Persistence of Inadequate Rental Housing Conditions"

In the United States, landlords are legally responsible for most apartment maintenance and repair. However, millions of tenants continue to live in inadequate homes that threaten their health and safety. How do landlords make decisions around building maintenance, and why do inadequate housing conditions persist, despite robust enforcement mechanisms? During this virtual coffee hour, I will present a drafted research proposal for a qualitative project that investigates how landlords make maintenance decisions in Los Angeles, California and how landlords respond to building code enforcement. Los Angeles—a city with relatively strong tenant protections, substantial code enforcement mechanisms, and persistent rental housing quality problems—offers a strategic site to explore these questions. This data collection effort will complement another portion of my postdoc project, which examines how LA tenants become “stuck in place” in inadequate living conditions. Prior to our meeting, I will circulate a research proposal draft and sample interview questions. I welcome the group’s feedback to improve the research design and to orient the project towards a problem-solving framework. 

[30] February 3, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Juho Korhonen, Professor of Sociology at the Boğaziçi University

"Democratic Breakthrough in the Periphery: Non-Sovereign Democratization in the Grand Duchy of Finland of the Russian Empire, 1899 – 1919" 

This interdisciplinary project (history and sociology) addresses a missing transnational dimension in sociological literature on modern democracy’s origins and enriches those theories to include overlooked cases of peripheral democratization and the importance of women’s suffrage. 

How did Finnish actors in 1905-06 imagine and implement the first case of democracy in its modern sense (e.q. Eley 2002, Sulkunen 2019, Korhonen 2019), including the right for women to stand for election, as a non-sovereign state of the Russian Empire? 

A key problem Finnish actors tackled was to separate democratization in the periphery from the authoritarian politics of the metropole. What can we learn from these actors and their political imagination in terms of understanding democratization as separate from sovereign power politics and its associated patriarchal hierarchies and why did that lead to a more encompassing democratic politics in the periphery?

[29] January 27, 2023 at 2:00-3:30 pm (Central) 

Virtual Book Forum on Problem-Solving Sociology: A Guide for Students (Oxford University Press, 2022) 


Neil Gross (Colby College)

Victoria Reyes (University of California, Riverside)

Adaner Usmani (Harvard)

[28] January 6, 2023 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Analidis Ochoa, Doctoral Student at the University of Michigan 

"Social Insurance programs as place-conscious policies to reduce interregional geographic inequality"

Interregional geographic inequality in the United States has grown substantially over the past 40 years, and is an increasingly urgent topic for scholarship and policy. In this paper we consider the role that national social insurance programs, such as Social Security and the EITC, play in reducing geographic inequality. Although these programs do not have an explicit goal of reducing geographic inequality, they nonetheless have that effect, because they are disproportionately used by residents of low-income regions. We show that transfers from social insurance programs had the effect of reducing interregional inequality in 2019 by 12%, equivalent to reversing 28.6% of the growth in pre-transfer inequality since the 1970s. We also use simulations to evaluate the geographic consequences of proposed expansions to the US welfare state such as the expanded Child Tax Credit enacted in 2021 or a Universal Basic Income, showing that these programs could achieve further reductions in interregional inequality. 

* Co-working with Robert Manduca and Catalina Anampa Castro 

[27] December 2, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Paul Lichterman, Professor of Sociology and Religion at the University of Southern California 

"The Timing of Seemingly Intractable Problems: Unaffordable Housing in Los Angeles"

Part of constructing a social problem is projecting a timeline for its solution. For at least a quarter century, advocates have considered housing affordability a dire problem in Los Angeles. Advocates time the course of their solutions differently, though. During ethnographic research, I found two timelines, each of which limited advocates’ and constituents’ practical grasp of collective problem solving. One constructed unaffordable housing as a relatively sudden “crisis”— pegged to the cycles of election campaigns, short-term coalition-building and media attention. The other constructed unaffordable housing as a hazard suffered recurrently by an essentialized, subordinated “community,” often understood in very local if hazy terms. In different ways, both of these imagined timelines cultivate a limited understanding of political realities that transpire on vastly different timelines. For that reason, I propose these timelines contribute to perpetuating unaffordable housing, homelessness—and ultimately, a larger public pessimism among Angelenos regarding efforts to address them.  

[26] November 11, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Hyunsik Chun, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Iowa

"Removing the Heavy Burden of Corruption: Media, Movements, and Politics in the Grand Corruption Reform in South Korea, 2016-2017"

A growing consensus among researchers is that most attempts to combat corruption have ended in miserable failure. This case study of the 2016 presidential scandal in South Korea offers a new perspective that presents corruption as a complex secret problem. Building upon the sociological literature on organized secrecy and deception, we shift attention from what reduces corrupt behavior to when corruption is kept hidden or leads to political and legal consequences. Past research and policy goals often aimed to create top-down approaches that create a one-size-fits-all solution to combat corruption. However, we propose to pay attention to the complex interactions between different actors to understand the development of anti-corruption campaigns: media outlets, legal associations and organizations, social movement organizations, political parties, and corporations. First, we examine how the corrupt relationship between President Park and the Choi family effectively stayed hidden until a 2016 media investigation. We pay attention to what mechanisms contribute to social ignorance of the corrupt relationship even though the relationship itself was repeatedly revealed over a long period of time (1979, 1987-1990, 2007, and 2014). After that, we trace three media outlets that shed new light on the relationship in 2016. We explore how the combination of whistleblowing and material evidence attracted a wider audience while the counterstrategies posed by the presidential office and the conservative leading party became invalidated. Lastly, we delve into the role of social movements in anti-corruption campaigns. The 2016-2017 Candlelight mobilized an unprecedentedly large volume of protesters every week. We examine how these protests affected the media and political discourses on how to address the grand corruption. The 2016 presidential scandal and the subsequent presidential impeachment give important lessons about how to generate a successful anti-corruption campaign in a democracy.  

* Co-working with Ion Bogdan Vasi (University of Iowa), Chanhum Yoon (Opensurvey)

[25] October 21, 2022 at 2-3:30 pm (Central) 

Panel Discussion on "Solving Climate Change" with Joshua Basseches, Daniel Driscoll, David Pellow, Raka Sen, and Gabriel Suchodolski

JOSHUA BASSECHES at Tulane University will discuss how a policy approach toward equitable climate change mitigation will require grappling explicitly with the question of who pays when designing policy.

DANIEL DRISCOLL at Brown University will discuss how the limited time to solve climate change forces choices with critical political economy trade-offs that require strategic action.

DAVID PELLOW at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will discuss how local leaders in California's Central Coast are developing a grassroots, community-drive policy framework to deliver climate and environmental justice for the area.

RAKA SEN at the University of Pennsylvania will utilize her work in the Sundarbans to discuss how large-scale climate change adaptation needs to better align itself with everyday adaptation strategies of local people.

GABRIEL SUCHODOLSKI at the University of California, Los Angeles, will discuss how rural elites promote Amazonian deforestation, and how redistributive policies can curb deforestation.

[24] September 30, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jose Eos Trinidad, Ph.D. Candidate at University of Chicago

"Private Interests in Public Education: Why, How, and What Now?" 

In recent years, many "outside" school improvement organizations are providing support and assistance to typical schools and educational bureaucracies. These include for-profit, nonprofit, research, and philanthropic organizations that have tried to solve problems in education in both developed and developing countries. While they can initiate and catalyze important positive changes, their support may also lead to undesirable consequences, unaccountable policies, and unaddressed social needs. Thus, I investigate how we can theorize the "right" or "optimal" form of private intervention necessary in public education. I am currently studying the case of the ecology of school improvement organizations that have helped with the spread of dropout prediction and prevention systems--and how solutions can be created through new webs of connections among various stakeholders. 

[23] May 20, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Douglas Thomson, Independent Scholar/Retired Professor

"The Striking Failure of Illinois to Reform Its Residential Burglary Sentencing Law, 1982-2022: Challenges for Scholar-Activism and Problem-Solving Sociology"

Mass incarceration has multiple sources. One of the most significant is mandatory incarceration statutes, frequently referred to as mandatory minimums. They make imprisonment the required sentence for many felonies and mark a major reversal of the traditional preference for probation. Mandatory minimums have played a notable role in the imprisonment binge of the past half century as the states have enacted such laws in considerable volume. 

Illinois did so in 1982 with increased severity for residential burglary. The previous presumptive sentence of probation for such crimes escalated to a mandatory minimum of four years in prison. Forty years later, residential burglary remains a non-probationable offense. Opposition to the law was strong at enactment and has continued. Research initiated early on found strong public support for probation as preferred sentence for residential burglary. My involvement initiated a long-term incidental participation observation case study of attempted sentencing reform that provides the basis for this reflection on implications for scholar-activism, social movements, and problem-solving sociology.

This cautionary tale highlights the difficulties of achieving reform even with multiple factors working in its favor. More importantly, the case study provides an opportunity to reflect on how we might do better. Its encompassing book project (Overcoming Imprisonment Culture: Common Good Strategies to Roll Back Mass Incarceration, Temple University Press, pending) seeks to advance that commitment.

[22] May 13, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Megan Jordan, Ph.D. Candidate at Vanderbilt University

"Not a Sellout or a Dropout: Activists' Strategies of Retention"

Activist burnout has received substantial attention in popular media and scholarship. Scholars often relate activist burnout concerns to the issue of social movement sustainability with deep concerns about disengagement. This study focuses on activists’ responses to burnout and coping strategies of retention. What keeps them going in the work?

Although disengagement is clearly one of the primary responses to activist burnout, this chapter of my dissertation project explores an additional type of response, which is termed here “transmobilization.” Transmobilization is a response to burnout in which activists maneuver their activities across different arenas by engaging in activism in other locations within their daily lives.  It may include some disengagement from regular activist and advocacy work of protest, meetings, lobbying, educating, and media outreach. But transmobilization represents a shift of activist work into other areas. Unlike micromobilization, it does not involve one’s entrance into social movement work, and unlike demobilization, it does not involve one’s exit from movement work. The goal of introducing this term to our conceptualizations of social movement activity and retention strategies is to guide popular and scholarly understandings of activist disengagement away from tropes of “selling out” and “dropping out” so we can further enhance cross-sector solidarity, reduce progressive in-fighting and gatekeeping, and make visible the invisible acts of activism occurring in our workplaces, homes, intimate relations, and other areas of daily life. This term helps us broaden our understanding of social change as necessarily micro, meso, and macro.

[21] April 8, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Benjamin Bradlow, Lecturer on Sociology at Harvard University and a Faculty Affiliate of the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality and Inclusion

"Urban Power: Democracy and Inequality in São Paulo and Johannesburg." 

Why are some cities more effective than others at reducing inequality? In Urban Power, I provide a comparative-historical analysis of the divergent trajectories of urban public goods distribution in the largest cities in two of the most unequal countries on earth. In Brazil and South Africa, protests over inequality — especially urban inequality — fueled struggles for political democracy. An alliance of industrial trade unions with neighborhood-based organizations fighting for rights to urban public goods formed the social basis of democratic transition in the 1980s and early 1990s in both countries. As a result, Brazil and South Africa are rare for their constitutional commitments to reduce poverty and inequality. São Paulo and Johannesburg, each country’s largest city, have had strikingly different trajectories in reducing inequalities in the distribution of three urban public goods: housing, sanitation and collective transportation. I argue that Sao Paulo’s success relative to Johannesburg was thanks to the sequence and configuration of two factors: the “embeddedness” of the local state in civil society, especially housing movements, and the “cohesion” of the local state to coordinate across scales of government. I define “embeddedness” as the ties of the local state to civil society that produce the ideas and space within bureaucratic agencies for redistributive policy change. And I define “cohesion” as the coordinating capacity of the local state to implement policy changes.

[20] March 4, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Lourdes Aguas, Ph.D. Student at University at Albany, SUNY 

"The Vernacularization of the Right to Prior Consultation and Free, Prior and Informed Consent in Ecuador" 

In countries like Ecuador, fiscal dependency on resource extraction has increased over time. Given the uneven distribution of costs and benefits, resource extraction creates tensions and provokes conflicts between affected communities, oil and mining companies, and the state. Resource extraction raises vexed questions concerning resources governance: Who controls local territories?

What happens when there are competing forms of political authority within these territories? Can international instruments be used to hold states and companies accountable? Indigenous and environmental activists have creatively adopted, adapted, and translated international norms to contest resource extractive projects. For instance, they have appealed to the rights to prior consultation (PC) and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) that stem from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and the ILO Convention No. 169 (1989) as a form of nonviolent resistance and as a way to demand alternative forms of territorial governance. Thus, while state officials conceive laws, plan, and implement oil and mining projects, they are not the only knowledge brokers when it comes to resource extraction. By comparing two large-scale mining projects, Quimsacocha and Mirador, I plan to examine through field and archival research the interpretative battles among these diverse groups of state and non-state actors. This research can serve as a case of how state officials in developing countries make sense of their place in the global economy and how indigenous and environmental non-state actors succeed and/or fail at contesting the expansion of the extractive frontier.

[19] February 18, 2022 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Nicole Bedera, Ph.D. at University of Michigan

"The Illusion of Choice: Organizational Dependency and the Neutralization of University Sexual Assault Complaints."

In “The Illusion of Choice,” I detail how self-regulation and organization-specific policies allow universities to shirk their legal responsibility to address sexual violence. In particular, I describe how organizations craft complex, confusing policies and procedures that make anyone interacting with their systems dependent on the organization to understand how to navigate them. As a result, universities can make complaints disappear by simply withholding key information.

For this conversation, I want to imagine how policymakers, activists, and ordinary people who inhabit these organizations can intervene on organizational dependency. How can we hold our institutions accountable? What types of internal and external pressures are necessary to build effective responses to violence? Can we ever trust organizations to do the right thing on their own?

(For anyone who is interested, the entire dissertation that is the basis of this talk is also publicly available at this link.)

[18] December 3, 2021 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Devin Wiggs, Ph.D. Student at Northwestern University 

"Labor’s Capital as a Shareholder Activist: Pensions and their Proxies in Corporate America" 

Financialization has eroded labor conditions across the world while it has made workers many of the world’s largest shareholders within their pensions. Can workers use this hand of cards to improve labor conditions as shareholders by wielding the investment clout of their pensions? My dissertation examines the shareholder activism and investments of institutional pensions within public corporations and private equity firms to unearth the hidden and unsuspecting relationships labor has with finance in 21st century capitalism. For this talk, I will present on public and private sector pensions and their shareholder activism in Fortune 500 companies. In an examination of shareholder “proxy proposals,” I reveal the particular problems that Labor’s Capital takes issue with in corporate America and compare their proxies to other investors, like hedge funds and socially responsible investment Funds, to examine how similar or different pension funds are to other institutional investors. I also uncover the success rate of shareholder proxy proposals by Labor's Capital. 

[17] November 19, 2021 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Brittany Friedman, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California 

"Access Denied: Representation and Exploitation in a Rent-Seeking Justice System"

In the wake of mass incarceration, jurisdictions have expanded the imposition of monetary sanctions (e.g. fines and fees) in the criminal legal system to pay for an unprecedented correctional population and ballooned justice system. This trend has resulted in shifting the financial burden away from the state and departments of corrections to those in contact with the system. Such a shift can be seen most acutely in the use of “pay-to-stay” practices, with system-linked individuals being charged for the cost of being detained in jail or incarcerated in prison. 49 states have jurisdictions that charge pay-to-stay fees, making pay-to-stay a common policy in the U.S. My previous collaborative research has examined the imposition and recoupment of prison pay-to-stay fees, specifically the use of civil lawsuits filed by the Attorney General’s Office of a given state on behalf of the Department of Corrections against incarcerated defendants. These lawsuits are most often seeking payment for pay-to-stay bills that are well over $100,000, at times reaching $800,000, a debt that the average person in the U.S. could not afford, let alone a person that is incarcerated. We have shown how upon penalty of denied parole, incarcerated people are required to disclose any assets such as pensions, real estate, benefits, etc., and are informed that their inmate accounts will be monitored for deposits and subject to garnishment. My current work as a ‘21-22 Access to Justice Faculty Scholar with the American Bar Foundation and JPB Foundation investigates and proposes solutions to the problem of inadequate legal representation for incarcerated defendants and the overall objective of system transformation rather than incremental reform. 

[16] October 1, 2021 at 2:00-3:00 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Peter Kent-Stoll, Ph.D Student at University of Massachusetts Amherst 

"Struggles for the Land and the City: Anticolonialism, Dispossessory Citizenship, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program, 1952-1972" 

Through the post-World War II Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) relocation program, the US sought to “get out of the Indian business” through formally terminating federal trust restrictions for American Indians and relocating reservation and rural-residing Indigenous people to cities to be assimilated into the white “mainstream.” Drawing on primary sources—including oral history interviews, media archives, congressional hearings, and key policy statements—and secondary sources, I ask, how and why do the practices of settler colonial states change? I also examine Indigenous struggles against the BIA, analyzing how these forms of anticolonial resistance lay the ground for an understanding of land and property informed by Indigenous studies, offering a framework for theory and action for fighting urban inequality and dispossession.

[15] August 7, 2021 at 3:15-4:40 pm (Central) / 4:15-5:40 pm (Eastern) 

Thematic Session at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association 

"(How) Should Sociology Solve Problems?" (access through the ASA Virtual Annual Meeting Portal; only available to meeting registrants)

Session organizer and presider: Monica Prasad


Fred Block (University of California-Davis)

John Levi Martin (University of Chicago)

Isaac Ariail Reed (University of Virginia)

Mariana Zaloznaya (University of Iowa)

[14] August 6, 2021 at 10 am (Central) / 11 am (Eastern) 

Informal session for those who are new to problem-solving

"Introduction to Problem-Solving Sociology" ( link) [Zoom session has been replaced by the format.]

Missing the casual and informal parts of ASA? Bumping into old friends, and meeting new ones? We have the answer! We're holding a joint intro/reunion/reception event in the "" format. For those new to problem-solving, Monica will give an introduction to problem solving on the "stage" in the back. For those familiar with problem-solving, feel free to mill around inside or outside--you won't hear the main event unless you get near the stage, so you can have your own private conversations. If you haven't tried, it's easy, and fun. You can even check out the venue ahead of time by clicking on the link--the great set-up is courtesy of Ji-won Lee.

[13] May 28, 2021 at 3-4 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jeremy Levine, Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and Sociology (by courtesy) at the University of Michigan. 

"Protecting Places or Punishing Offenders?: Moral Economies, Political Legacies, and U.S. Crime Victim Policy" 

In the mid- to late 1960s, federal lawmakers confronted an unprecedented crime problem. Violent crime rates were increasing, and urban rebellions resulted in significant property destruction across the country. Scholars have largely studied this period as a critical turning point in the development of punitive criminal justice policy. A comparatively understudied development was the emergence of crime victim policy. Two distinct policy paths emerged, one focused on financial compensation for victims with bodily injuries, and another focused on affordable insurance for property crime victims. In both cases, racist understandings of criminality infused seemingly race-neutral policy design decisions. The result was a reflection and refraction of racist criminal justice policy under the guise of benefits for crime victims. These institutional configurations set the crime victims’ movement down a particularly punitive path, with important implications for victims’ services and support for punishment.

[12] May 7, 2021 at 3-4:30 pm (Central) 

Panel Discussion on "How to Rebuild the American Working Class" with Ruth Milkman, John N. Robinson III, Leah Ruppanner, Lauren Schudde, and Stephanie Ternullo 

RUTH MILKMAN (City University of New York) will discuss the decline of unions as a cause of the decline of the working class, and explore the prospects for rebuilding unions.  

JOHN ROBINSON (Washington University in St. Louis) will discuss the role of affordable housing reform in rebuilding the American working class, with emphasis on reimagining the public role in housing finance. 

LEAH RUPPANNER (University of Melbourne) will focus on the role of childcare in rebuilding the working class.  

LAUREN SCHUDDE (University of Texas-Austin) will discuss the need for re-investment in public higher education, with an explicit focus on broad-access institutions that educate the majority of college-goers in the United States.  

STEPHANIE TERNULLO (University of Chicago) will argue that labor’s integration into local politics is a crucial mechanism by which communities can come to understand their problems as structural rather than individual and develop political identities around this understanding.

[11] April 16, at 3-4 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Alonso Aravena, Ph.D. student at Baylor University 

"A case for Social Equity: How equal funding for low-income students can disprove biased narratives and improve Class and Gender Disparities in Higher Education"

A college degree is usually seen as a driver of social mobility, while not being a sufficient marker to guarantee access to the workforce. Using data in modernized developing countries, sociologists are able to shed some light on debates about Higher Education. The Chilean Congress passed in 2015 an educational reform that provided funding for any student from the 50% lowest income households in the country who was enrolled at a public university or a high-quality private one. Despite its developed status in Latin America, Chilean education has been plagued with income-based and gendered segregation for decades. Using population data, my research has focused on two biased narratives. The first one says that the reform would only benefit a small number of low-income students, since they do not usually qualify for top universities. Expensive private high schools are in fact overrepresented at universities, but my research suggests this is a self-fulfilled prophecy built on financial segregation. The second biased narrative is the notion that even though more women go to college than men, they choose to self-exclude from higher prestige and higher rewarding majors, also attending lower quality institutions. Longitudinal analyses for the past 5 years provide evidence against both narratives, suggesting that providing equal benefits can improve gender parity, even within STEM majors.  

[10] April 2, 2021 at 3-4 pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Berenike Firestone, Ph.D. candidate and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow at Columbia University.

"Political Socialization during Historical Turning Points: Perceptions of the “German Fatherland” by School Students in Post-WWII Germany" 

Parents and teachers are instrumental in shaping the political socialization of children and youth. In post-WWII West Germany, the Allies and subsequently the new German political elites sought to use schools to educate a new generation of democratic citizens. At the same time, many parents still embraced fascist ideology. How did these conflicting socialization forces – at school versus home – inform the perspectives of students regarding identity and belonging? In this paper, I analyze an archival collection of 69 school student essays about the meaning of the “German fatherland” from the mid-1950s. To what extent did students draw on fascist “blood and soil” narratives and language? In which ways did their writing reflect the content of new curricula and textbooks that sought to teach more inclusive notions of belonging? How did the students tie their analyses to recent history, and which themes and events did they emphasize? Preliminary findings point to the predominance of themes around territory, land, and nature, as well as physical labor and work ethos.

[9] March 19, 2021 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Marina Zaloznaya, Associate Professor at the University of Iowa.

"How Sociology Can Help Solve Public Sector Corruption"

[8] February 19, 2021 at 3pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Ji-won Lee, Ph.D. Candidate at University at Albany, SUNY

"Standardizing Private Schools, a Remedy for Educational Inequality and/or Source of Hyper Education?" 

Discussions of educational reform presume that private schools are engines of social inequality. Private schools are often viewed to be a place reproducing social disparities in academic achievement and credentials, and thus policy efforts supporting educational equity tend to focus on expanding the public education sector. However, despite private schools’ stratifying tendencies, policymakers sometimes prefer regulating and negotiating with private schools to nurturing public institutions. In the case of Korea, such negotiations have been present since the 1950s. What is notable is that the government imposed various and robust standardization policies on private schools that were not conditioned on providing sufficient subsidies, resulting in mixed consequences. For example, the Korean state was able to build a comparatively equal K-12 education system without compromising its overall competency. However, many social pundits have criticized that standardization has amplified educational competition among students and their parents and reduced their interest in demanding a welfare state. How did the Korean government enact these standardization policies? Is this policy path reproducible and desirable in other countries? How can we measure the “negative” impact of standardization policies at the macrosocial level? How can the US sociological literature on educational inequality and welfare policymaking help us to understand the Korean education system and solve its problem? 

[7] February 5, 2021 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Rourke O'Brien, Assistant Professor at Yale University.

"Robots Don’t Pay Taxes: Deindustrialization and Fiscal Decline" 

Abstract: Structural shifts in the U.S. economy have led to a dramatic decline in manufacturing employment over the past five decades. Recent estimates suggest more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 1990 and 2014 due to automation alone. Existing research details the lasting negative effects of deindustrialization on the material well-being of displaced workers and their families--but what about their communities? In this study we examine the effect of deindustrialization on state and local public finances. Harnessing plausibly exogenous variation in the adoption of robots by industry sector, we estimate the causal effect of automation-driven manufacturing job loss on public sector revenues and expenditures at both the state and local levels. 

[6] January 29, 2021 at 3pm (Central) 

Virtual Coffee Hour with Oded Marom, PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California  

"Wide Ponds and Narrow Barrels: How Community Organizing and Local Recruitment Strategies Shape Partisan Tendencies Among American Libertarians"

Social scientists have long identified two parallel trends in American society: a decline in local civic engagement, and a rise in political polarization. While these trends have been thoroughly investigated, the relations between them remain under debate. This study shows how changing forms of local organizing play a key role in shaping political actors’ understanding of politics and, accordingly, their partisan tendencies. The paper draws on four years of participant-observation and twelve guided focus-group discussions with two American libertarian groups. Findings show how differences in groups’ style of civic organization, and especially in the way members understand the bonds between them, directly correspond with differences in activists’ adoption of partisan frames of ideological commitments and political action. Specifically, the differences in the type of bonds between members create distinct constraints on local political organizers as they recruit volunteers for political projects. When members understand the bonds between them as communal, organizers are forced to diversify their pool of potential volunteers and organize political projects based on diverse, bipartisan coalitions. On the other hand, when members understand their bonds as rooted in shared ideological convictions, as in advocacy-group organizing, organizers can rely on a politically narrow, highly committed group of volunteers for organizing various political action. These differences create different active political spheres in each group, which correspond with the meanings members attribute to civic participation, and their understanding of politics in general, with community-style of civic organizing working to alleviate partisan identifications and animosity among members. As these findings suggest, changes in local forms of civic organizing should be a key factor in future explanations of rising political polarization.

[5] December 4, 2020 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Jenny Melo, PhD Candidate at the University of Missouri.

 "Socio-ethical implications of Digital Agricultural Technologies in Latin America

Digital agricultural technologies —involving sensors, drones, and robots, and technologies such as blockchain, internet of things, and artificial intelligence, both creating and using massive amounts of data— are being promoted across the globe with the promise to transform how food is produced and commercialized. Potential benefits are high, so are the risks for small farmers. Scholars are calling for empirical explorations of socio-ethical implications to better understand the specific consequences of these technologies, how they are unpacked and configurated in different contexts, and various trajectories.  This exploratory qualitative study addresses these needs by bringing insights from two underrepresented actors –promoters of digital agricultural technologies and purpose-driven or triple-impact technological entrepreneurs— and an overlooked context —Latin America. It shows the perspectives of individuals and organizations supporting the expansion of these technologies —promoters— or unfolding business initiatives trying to achieve economic, social, and environmental objectives —triple-impact entrepreneurs. In particular, it addresses their views on digital technology opportunities, complexities, and unforeseen impacts on small farmers. The results show concerns on social implications revolve mostly around access —how to develop low-cost technology and service models reaching small farmers. Furthermore, there is little awareness yet of the complex intersection between the double-edged sword that technology is, and the unequal social structure of the region. I argue that to address this lack of awareness, a scholarship digging more in-depth on how these technologies are being deployed has to go hand in hand with an engagement with the current conversations and actions held by policymakers and practitioners across the region.

[4] November 30, 2020 at 4pm (Central)

Feedback on Proposed Legislation with Gianpaolo Baiocchi and H. Jacob Carlson 

[3] November 20, 2020 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Andrew Messamore, PhD  Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.

 "Elite Consolidation Among Community Based Organizations: on the consolidation of interlocking boards of directors" 

In U.S. cities, community-based organizations (CBOs) are the primary advocates and service providers for many social service domains. However, even as governments and neighborhoods continue to rely on CBOs, an emerging literature has documented the consolidation of a “civic elite” of asset-rich CBOs across communities who appear less likely to cooperate with grassroots activists and more likely to consolidate ties with funders and one another. This trend has so far been documented through case studies of particular organizations or communities. In this paper, administrative data on CBO boards of directors is leveraged to evaluate whether asset-rich organizations tend to form interlocking directorates with one another across multiple Texas cities, signaling the consolidation of information and resource flows. Social network analyses reveal that interlocking directorates are common and unevenly distributed in Texas cities. Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGMs) are then used to evaluate the micro-mechanisms behind tie formation, revealing that asset-rich organizations do tend to have the most interlocks and strongly tend to build interlocks with one another. This finding is robust to analyses that test for endogeneity by following only new ties between organizations. These results provide an initial test of elite consolidation theory from ethnography and invite future research on mediators of elite entrenchment across communities.

[2] October 9, 2020 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Monica Prasad, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University.

 "The Place of Problem-Solving in American Sociology

At the level of sociological practice a threefold debate occurs in American sociology between the rationalist tradition, in which the goal is the better understanding of society, the emancipatory tradition, in which the goal is improvement of society, and the skeptical tradition, which argues that we cannot know if either our knowledge or our norms are correct, and therefore it is not possible to expect progress in either.  Each of these strands runs into problems: for the rationalist tradition, an inability to cumulate knowledge; for the emancipatory strand, a difficulty in grounding the norms that would determine what counts as emancipation; and for the skeptical strand, inability to accept the logical conclusion of the argument, which is inaction even in the face of extreme oppression.  This paper argues that the practice of problem-solving offers resolutions to these dilemmas, developing the idea through a discussion of pragmatism.  Pragmatism has attracted some attention within sociology recently, but most sociologists who study pragmatism are not very pragmatist themselves, and have thus missed the opportunity to develop the problem-solving strain of pragmatist thought.

[1] September 18, 2020 at 3pm (Central)

Virtual Coffee Hour with Michael Soto, PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota.

 "Building on your Problem Solving lens after data collection

The Problem Solving Sociology Workshops have emphasized that the best time to start thinking about research design is before you begin conducting research.  But even if you are part of the way through the process, there are still important decisions to make as you begin to analyze your data and write up results.  Michael Soto just returned from conducting his dissertation fieldwork in Colombia examining the social reintegration of ex-combatants of the FARC-EP.  As a result of the pandemic, this involved an unplanned combination of participant observation, interviews, and Twitter data. He will provide a brief overview of his fieldwork and plans now for analyzing and writing up results.