Research

A central puzzle underlies my research: why are some forms of inequality so resilient, despite the rise of legal and cultural mandates for equality in the United States over the last half-century?  I address this puzzle by investigating cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction, particularly cultural beliefs and practices (e.g. meritocracy, self-expression, scientific excellence) that seem objective or benign but may serve as powerful forces reproducing inequality. 

I seek out these cultural mechanisms in three interrelated substantive arenas:

 
 
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Inequality in STEM

STEM professions are useful sites for identifying cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction because they are powerful social institutions that are popularly depicted as objective, bias-free, and insulated from the “messiness” of culture and politics; yet, ascriptive inequalities are particularly intractable within them. My past and current work in this area focuses on how gender, racial, and LGBTQ biases are interwoven into professional cultures of science and engineering, with consequences for who is seen as appropriate, competent, and excellent members of these fields.

Ongoing Research Efforts

  • STEM Inclusion Study

  • LGBTQ Inequality

  • Professional cultures and gendered professional identities

  • Book Manuscript: “Misconceiving Merit” with Mary-Blair-Loy

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Cultural Beliefs about “Good Work” and “Good Workers”

While formal anti-discrimination legislation has expanded over the last several decades and normative rejection of overt discrimination in the labor force has strengthened, work continues to anchor many of the most pernicious material and immaterial mechanisms of inequality in the US. 

My research in this arena examines how cultural narratives about work—what “good work” and “a good worker” means—can buttress unequal workforce processes.

Ongoing Research Efforts

My most extensive undertaking in this arena, and a centerpiece of my current research efforts, is an in-progress book on a ubiquitous cultural schema I call the “passion principle.” The passion principle is the belief that self-expressive, fulfilling work should be the central guiding principle for career decision-making for college-going and college-educated career aspirants, even over and above financial stability.

See PASSION PRINCIPLE PAPER HERE

In addition to this, I have investigated “flexibility stigma,” the negative assessment of workers who seek or are presumed to need schedule adjustments to care for personal responsibilities, as a site of inequality reproduction not only for workers with childcare responsibilities and flexible work arrangements, but for all workers—even those who seem to fulfill the “ideal worker norm.”

The role of the Passion Principle (the elevation of self-expression and the central guiding principle in career selection) in the reproduction of occupational inequalities.

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Popular Beliefs about Inequality

Sociologists have long worked to develop disciplinary understanding of ascriptive disadvantages, but much less is known about the landscape of cultural schemas that the general public uses to understand inequalities, or the ways such schemas may retrench (or challenge) those disadvantages.  I argue that cultural schemas of inequality that explain social differences as rooted in biology, choice, or individual failings (rather than in structural processes), are powerful cultural scaffolds that help support many other processes of social inequality. Such schemas, for example, may help determine whether individuals tolerate or perpetuate prejudiced behaviors and support or oppose policy initiatives meant to undermine socio-demographic inequality.

Ongoing Research Efforts

  • Cultural schemas of inequality and reproduction of social disadvantage

  • Recognition of glass ceilings and chilly workplace climates