Featured Publications

The featured publications of Harvard Sociology include a selection of significant books, articles, and working papers published by our faculty. We invite you to visit individual faculty websites for more complete listings of publications.

Beckfield, Jason, Sigrun Olafsdottir, and Ben Sosnaud. 2013. “Healthcare Systems in Comparative Perspective: Classification, Convergence, Institutions, Inequalities, and Five Missed Turns”. Annual Review of Sociology 39:127-146.Abstract

This essay reviews and evaluates recent comparative social science scholarship on healthcare systems. We focus on four of the strongest themes in current research: (1) the development of typologies of healthcare systems, (2) assessment of convergence among healthcare systems, (3) problematization of the shifting boundaries of healthcare systems, and (4) the relationship between healthcare systems and social inequalities. Our discussion seeks to highlight the central debates that animate current scholarship and identify unresolved questions and new opportunities for research. We also identify five currents in contemporary sociology that have not been incorporated as deeply as they might into research on healthcare systems. These five “missed turns” include an emphasis on social relations, culture, postnational theory, institutions, and causal mechanisms. We conclude by highlighting some key challenges for comparative research on healthcare systems.

Hall, Peter A, and Michèle Lamont, ed. 2013.Social Resilience In The Neoliberal Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Abstract

What is the impact of three decades of neoliberal narratives and policies on communities and individual lives? What are the sources of social resilience? This book offers a sweeping assessment of the effects of neoliberalism, the dominant feature of our times. It analyzes the ideology in unusually wide-ranging terms as a movement that not only opened markets but also introduced new logics into social life, integrating macro-level analyses of the ways in which neoliberal narratives made their way into international policy regimes with micro-level analyses of the ways in which individuals responded to the challenges of the neoliberal era. The book introduces the concept of social resilience and explores how communities, social groups, and nations sustain their well-being in the face of such challenges. The product of ten years of collaboration among a distinguished group of scholars, it integrates institutional and cultural analysis in new ways to understand neoliberalism as a syncretic social process and to explore the sources of social resilience across communities in the developed and developing worlds.

Beckfield, Jason. 2013. “The End of Equality in Europe?”. Current History. March: 112 (752):94-99.Abstract

The level of income inequality within European nations has been increasing since neoliberalism took hold in the EU in the 1980s and 1990s

Suh, Chan S, Paul Y Chang, and Yi Sook Lim. 2012. “Spill-Up and Spill-Over of Trust: An Extended Test of Cultural and Institutional Theories of Trust in South Korea”. Sociological Forum 27 (2):504-526.Abstract

In comparison to the heated debate over the origins of trust in political institutions, few studies have empirically examined the linkage between trust in political and nonpolitical institutions at the individual level. In this study, we utilize a two-step methodology to investigate attitudes toward the government in the broader context of attitudes toward related nonpolitical institutions in South Korea. Results from latent class analysis reveal that political trust is an integrated part of a more general set of attitudes toward social and economic institutions. In addition, results from multinomial logistic regression analysis corroborate past studies that found a positive relationship between perceptions of institutional performance and trust in institutions while partially supporting theories advocating the importance of interpersonal trust for institutional trust. This study points to the possibility of interpersonal trust “spilling up” to trust in institutions and the likelihood that trust in one institution “spills over” to trust in other related institutions.

Meyer, Rachel. 2012. “Transforming Citizenship: The Subjective Consequences of Local Political Mobilization”. Political Power and Social Theory 23:147-188.Abstract

In a context of increasing globalization and neoliberal restructuring and with labor's power diminishing vis-à-vis employers, American workers have turned in recent years to community-based campaigns targeting local government. These mobilizations have received considerable attention from scholars who see this emerging community orientation as a significant strategic innovation. This study, alternatively, focuses on the subjective and ideological consequences of such mobilizations for those engaged in protest. In particular, it seeks to extend social movement theory regarding the transformative impact of collective action by asking: how do distinct forms of collective action bring about particular kinds of consciousness and identity among participants? Scholars rooted in a variety of traditions – from theorists of “post-industrial” society and “new” social movements to state theorists and geographers – have suggested that identities fostered at the local level are characterized by a “defensive,” “introverted,” or “retrospective” quality. This study examines a local mobilization, the case of a living wage campaign in Chicago, which deviates from these expectations. Through an analysis of interviews with participants, I find that instead of spurring defensiveness the campaign engendered a citizenship identity that was both active and inclusive. In explaining why my findings diverge from existing theories of identity formation, my analysis highlights three conceptual deficiencies in the literature with respect to (1) the distinction between local versus transnational collective action, (2) the relationship between social movement goals/tactics and outcomes, and (3) the prioritization of “new” social movements over the labor movement. Examining the citizenship identities that developed during Chicago's living wage campaign is instructive, finally, for understanding the sources of counter-hegemonic subjectivity within a broader context of eroding citizenship rights and a dominant market fundamentalist ideology. More generally, this analysis paves the way for a more productive engagement among theories of social movements, citizenship, labor, and globalization.

Western, Bruce, Deirdre Bloome, Benjamin Sosnaud, and Laura Tach. 2012. “Economic Insecurity and Social Stratification”. Annual Review of Sociology 38:341-359.Abstract

Economic insecurity describes the risk of economic loss faced by workers and households as they encounter the unpredictable events of social life. Our review suggests a four-part framework for studying the distribution and trends in these economic risks. First, a focus on households rather than workers captures the microlevel risk pooling that can smooth income flows and stabilize economic well-being. Second, insecurity is related to income volatility and the risk of downward mobility into poverty. Third, adverse events such as unemployment, family dissolution, or poor health commonly trigger income losses. Fourth, the effects of adverse events are mitigated by insurance relationships provided by government programs, employer benefits, and the informal support of families. Empirical research in these areas reveals high levels of economic insecurity among low-income households and suggests an increase in economic insecurity with the growth in economic inequality in the United States.

Harding, David J, Lisa Gennetian, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Christopher Winship, and Jeffrey R Kling. 2012. “Unpacking Neighborhood Influences on Education Outcomes: Setting the Stage for Future Research”. Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances.Abstract

We motivate future neighborhood research through a simple model that considers youth educational outcomes as a function of neighborhood context, neighborhood exposure, individual vulnerability to neighborhood effects, and non-neighborhood educational inputs -- with a focus on effect heterogeneity. Research using this approach would require three steps. First, researchers would need to shift focus away from broad theories of neighborhood effects and examine the specific mechanisms through which the characteristics of a neighborhood might affect an individual. Second, neighborhood research would need new and far more nuanced data. Third, more research designs would be needed that can unpack the causal effects, if any, of specific neighborhood characteristics as they operate through well-specified mechanisms. http://www.nber.org/papers/w16055

Desmond, Matthew. 2012. “Disposable Ties and the Urban Poor”. American Journal of Sociology 117:1295-1335.Abstract

Sociologists long have observed that the urban poor rely on kinship networks to survive economic destitution. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among evicted tenants in high-poverty neighborhoods, this article presents a new explanation for urban survival, one that emphasizes the importance of disposable ties formed between strangers. To meet their most pressing needs, evicted families often relied more on new acquaintances than on kin. Disposable ties facilitated the flow of various resources, but often bonds were brittle and fleeting. The strategy of forming, using, and burning disposable ties allowed families caught in desperate situations to make it from one day to the next, but it also bred instability and fostered misgivings among peers.

Desmond, Matthew. 2012. “Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty.”. American Journal of Sociology 118:88-133.Abstract

Combining statistical and ethnographic analyses, this article explores the prevalence and ramifications of eviction in the lives of the urban poor. A quantitative analysis of administrative and survey data finds that eviction is commonplace in inner-city black neighborhoods and that women from those neighborhoods are evicted at significantly higher rates than men. A qualitative analysis of ethnographic data based on fieldwork among evicted tenants and their landlords reveals multiple mechanisms propelling this discrepancy. In poor black neighborhoods, eviction is to women what incarceration is to men: a typical but severely consequential occurrence contributing to the reproduction of urban poverty.

Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.
Sampson, Robert J. 2012.Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Abstract

For over fifty years numerous public intellectuals and social theorists have insisted that community is dead. Some would have us believe that we act solely as individuals choosing our own fates regardless of our surroundings, while other theories place us at the mercy of global forces beyond our control. These two perspectives dominate contemporary views of society, but by rejecting the importance of place they are both deeply flawed. Based on one of the most ambitious studies in the history of social science, Great American City argues that communities still matter because life is decisively shaped by where you live. To demonstrate the powerfully enduring impact of place, Robert J. Sampson presents here the fruits of over a decade’s research in Chicago combined with his own unique personal observations about life in the city, from Cabrini Green to Trump Tower and Millennium Park to the Robert Taylor Homes. He discovers that neighborhoods influence a remarkably wide variety of social phenomena, including crime, health, civic engagement, home foreclosures, teen births, altruism, leadership networks, and immigration. Even national crises cannot halt the impact of place, Sampson finds, as he analyzes the consequences of the Great Recession and its aftermath, bringing his magisterial study up to the fall of 2010. Following in the influential tradition of the Chicago School of urban studies but updated for the twenty-first century, Great American City is at once a landmark research project, a commanding argument for a new theory of social life, and the story of an iconic city.

Paxson, Christina, Elizabeth Fussell, Jean Rhodes, and Mary C Waters. 2012. “Five Years Later: Recovery from Post Traumatic Stress and Psychological Distress Among Low-Income Mothers Affected by Hurricane Katrina.”. Social Science and Medicine 74 (2):150-157.Abstract

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in August 2005, exposed area residents to trauma and extensive property loss. However, little is known about the long-run effects of the hurricane on the mental health of those who were exposed. This study documents long-run changes in mental health among a particularly vulnerable group-low income mothers-from before to after the hurricane, and identifies factors that are associated with different recovery trajectories. Longitudinal surveys of 532 low-income mothers from New Orleans were conducted approximately one year before, 7-19 months after, and 43-54 months after Hurricane Katrina. The surveys collected information on mental health, social support, earnings and hurricane experiences. We document changes in post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), as measured by the Impact of Event Scale-Revised, and symptoms of psychological distress (PD), as measured by the K6 scale. We find that although PTSS has declined over time after the hurricane, it remained high 43-54 months later. PD also declined, but did not return to pre-hurricane levels. At both time periods, psychological distress before the hurricane, hurricane-related home damage, and exposure to traumatic events were associated with PTSS that co-occurred with PD. Hurricane-related home damage and traumatic events were associated with PTSS without PD. Home damage was an especially important predictor of chronic PTSS, with and without PD. Most hurricane stressors did not have strong associations with PD alone over the short or long run. Over the long run, higher earnings were protective against PD, and greater social support was protective against PTSS. These results indicate that mental health problems, particularly PTSS alone or in co-occurrence with PD, among Hurricane Katrina survivors remain a concern, especially for those who experienced hurricane-related trauma and had poor mental health or low socioeconomic status before the hurricane.

Bobo, Lawrence D. 2012.“An American Conundrum: Race, Sociology, and the African American Road to Citizenship.”. Pp. 19-70 in The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-present. New York: Oxford University Press.Abstract

The question of race lies at the heart of one of the great debates of American ideas and scholarly discourse. At one end of this debate we can find those who argue for the American Liberal Tradition. At its core this position maintains that American institutions, values, and culture are deeply liberal. As such, the nation is destined to adopt a broadly expansive and inclusive sense of who belongs and is worthy of respect. Under this perspective, the United States will eventually and inevitably transcend the divisions of race and black–white inequality that marred the nation's founding, arriving ultimately at a place of full comity between blacks and whites. Several variants and exemplars of the argument exist. For example, sociologist Nathan Glazer made the case for one prominent version of this argument that he termed “the American ethnic pattern.” This view has three core claims. First, that people from the world over would be allowed to enter the United States. And, furthermore, that “all citizens would have equal rights. No group would be considered subordinate to another.” Second, that the government would not extend formal and distinctive political recognition and rights to separate ethnic groups. Third, however, that no ethnic group would be compelled to give up its distinctive cultural traditions and practices.

Bobo, Lawrence D. 2012.“The Real Record on Racial Attitudes”. Pp. 38-83 in Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Viterna, Jocelyn. 2012. “The Left and ’Life’: The Politics of Abortion in El Salvador”. Politics and Gender 8248-254.Abstract

Throughout the past decade, governments across Latin America have experienced an unprecedented swing to the left. In this essay, I ask: Does the rise of the Left promote women's equality? Or in contrast, could women's continued subordination be an important factor promoting the rise of the Left? Using the case of El Salvador, I demonstrate how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) deradicalized its public image—away from “guerrilla insurgents” and toward a viable political party—at least in part by converting its 1980s support for reproductive rights into present-day support for one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. I conclude that reversing the causal question about gender and left-leaning political parties may not only extend our understanding of the complicated relationship between gender and the Left but also improve our understanding of the factors moving Latin America from right to left, and from “red” to “pink.”

Viterna, Jocelyn, Kathleen Fallon, and Liam Swiss. 2012. “Resolving the Democracy Paradox: Democratization and Women’s Legislative Representation in Developing Nations, 1975-2009”. American Sociological Review 77:380-408.Abstract

Increasing levels of democratic freedoms should, in theory, improve women’s access to political positions. Yet studies demonstrate that democracy does little to improve women’s legislative representation. To resolve this paradox, we investigate how variations in the democratization process—including pre-transition legacies, historical experiences with elections, the global context of transition, and post-transition democratic freedoms and quotas—affect women’s representation in developing nations. We find that democratization’s effect is curvilinear. Women in non-democratic regimes often have high levels of legislative representation but little real political power. When democratization occurs, women’s representation initially drops, but with increasing democratic freedoms and additional elections, it increases again. The historical context of transition further moderates these effects. Prior to 1995, women’s representation increased most rapidly in countries transitioning from civil strife—but only when accompanied by gender quotas. After 1995 and the Beijing Conference on Women, the effectiveness of quotas becomes more universal, with the exception of post-communist countries. In these nations, quotas continue to do little to improve women’s representation. Our results, based on pooled time series analysis from 1975 to 2009, demonstrate that it is not democracy—as measured by a nation’s level of democratic freedoms at a particular moment in time—but rather the democratization process that matters for women’s legislative representation.

Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972
Marsden, Peter V, ed. 2012.Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Social Trends in American Life assembles a team of leading researchers to provide unparalleled insight into how American social attitudes and behaviors have changed since the 1970s. Drawing on the General Social Survey--a social science project that has tracked demographic and attitudinal trends in the United States since 1972--it offers a window into diverse facets of American life, from intergroup relations to political views and orientations, social affiliations, and perceived well-being. Among the book's many important findings are the greater willingness of ordinary Americans to accord rights of free expression to unpopular groups, to endorse formal racial equality, and to accept nontraditional roles for women in the workplace, politics, and the family. Some, but not all, signs indicate that political conservatism has grown, while a few suggest that Republicans and Democrats are more polarized. Some forms of social connectedness such as neighboring have declined, as has confidence in government, while participation in organized religion has softened. Despite rising standards of living, American happiness levels have changed little, though financial and employment insecurity has risen over three decades. Social Trends in American Life provides an invaluable perspective on how Americans view their lives and their society, and on how these views have changed over the last two generations.

Whyte, Martin. 2012. “China’s Post-Socialist Inequality”. Current History. September, 2012: 229-234.Abstract

The article is the first article in a series on the rise of post-socialist inequality in China. Since the launch of market reforms and the dismantling of centrally planned socialism under Deng Xiaoping's leadership in 1978, China has reportedly undergone changes that have impacted the lives of its citizens, raising living standards, easing poverty and developing infrastructure and other symbols of modern society. It notes that the 1970s goal of an egalitarian social order has been abandoned in the pursuit of economic growth at all costs since 1978, with China becoming an increasingly unequal and unfair society. It talks about the socialist legacy, Deng's reform model and the return of inequality with the creation of special economic zones and the entry of foreign direct investments.

Dobbin, Frank. 2012. “Review of Cathie Jo Martin and Duane Swank: The Political Construction of Business Interests”. Council for European Studies, Reviews and Critical Commentary Fall.Abstract

This book will reorient the discussion not only of business interests, but of the welfare state and social democracy, for it explains not only the rise of peak associations, but their support for welfare state measures today. Martin and Swank explain American exceptionalism as well as any book purporting to explain it, and explain the paradox that General Motors and Citibank face, of realizing belatedly that publicly funded health insurance and pension benefits are actually in the interest of business, but realizing that the business community is unable to coalesce around this interest in socializing the costs of insurance. Because the book so cogently explains this, and because this issue will not go away in our lifetimes, the book will be relevant not only in academic debates, but in politics around the world.