Distinguished Speaker Series

Our faculty and graduate students are dedicated to theoretically strong and empirically-oriented research. Together, they annually host The Distinguished Speaker Series, a set of seminars featuring various scholars from around the world, showcasing our commitment to being internationally renowned as a leading centre for sociological research and dialogue.


View our past speakers below:

Richard York (University of Oregon) – A Critical Perspective on Energy Transitions

Globally, fossil fuel consumption continues to grow even as the production of non-fossil energy sources expands and energy efficiency improves. I show this empirically and present various theoretical reasons why alternative energy sources often do not suppress fossil fuel use and why efficiency does not lead to conservation. Central among these reasons is that the forces of production are connected with processes that generate demand, so that new energy sources allow for further growth in energy consumption and, likewise, improvements in efficiency stimulate the expansion of production. This analysis suggests that to spur a genuine energy transition – where fossil fuels are entirely replaced by renewable energy sources – efforts should be directed to suppressing fossil fuel extraction and curtailing corporate power.


Arne Kalleberg (UNC Chapel Hill) – Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies

Precarious work has emerged as a serious challenge and major concern in the contemporary world that has widespread consequences for many individual, family and social outcomes. Why has there been a rise in precarious work in rich democracies, with their high standards of living and privileged positions in the world economy?  How and why do people experience precarious work differently in countries with dissimilar institutions and cultures?  This talk addresses these questions by examining how social welfare protection and labor market institutions and policies shape the consequences of precarious work for job and economic insecurity, the transition to adulthood and family formation and subjective well-being by comparing six rich democracies representing diverse models of capitalism: Social Democratic nations (Denmark); coordinated market economies (Germany, Japan, Spain); and liberal market economies (the United Kingdom and United States).


Guillermina Jasso (New York University) – (Martha Foschi Honorary Lecture)

There is much we want to know about the way the social world works.  What causes this or that?  What factors are implicated in this or that?  But more deeply we seek the first principles that drive the things we see and we work hard to discern the routes they follow.  This talk describes three theory forms – two deductive and one inductive – discussing their testable predictions and propositions and the kinds of empirical work to which they lead.  Examples are provided throughout, and the state of knowledge assessed.  Finally, the talk discusses the prospects for discovering quantitative laws in sociology, with special attention to two forms of laws – laws that relate variables and laws that describe the distributions of variables.


Laura Hamilton (University of California) – College Outsourced? The Family-University Partnership and Its Costs

Involved college parents—frequently referred to as “helicopters”—are often derided as pesky interlopers who micromanage their children’s lives and make excessive demands on school decision makers. An entire generation of supposedly coddled and entitled youth is considered the byproduct of this problematic behavior. Do involved college parents damage their children and burden universities? To answer this question, Professor Hamilton followed the families of 41 young women as they moved through a public flagship. She interviewed the women every year for five years, asking about parental relationships and support, and interviewed both their mothers and fathers as women neared graduation. She found that intensive parenting is a logical response to the harsh risks facing young people during college and early adulthood; however, not all parents are able to offer assistance. Moreover, involved college parents are also highly desired by universities, as they solve institutional problems posed, in part, by the privatization process. As public funds dwindle and accountability pressures mount, institutions are looking elsewhere for support. Parents are drawn into the labor of producing successful students—assisting with recruitment, advising, psychological support, career development, and even student safety. This form of cooperation between public schools and wealthy families has important hidden costs, as it exacerbates both gender and class inequality.


Viviane Namaste Naegele (Concordia University) – Sa w pa konnen pi gran pase s’ Knowledge of the History of AIDS and the Case of Haitians in Montreal”

This presentation will present the results of an empirical research project on the history of AIDS in Montréal’s Haitian community in the 1980s. Fundamental to this research are questions of knowledge — how we understand the history of the AIDS epidemic (habitually associated with gay men in its early years in the North American context), and the kinds of knowledges that are too often ignored. Drawing on interviews with organizers, nurses, and Haitian community leaders, I consider how and why Haitians responded to the AIDS crisis, and what this history can tell us about how we know the AIDS epidemic in North America. The presentation will explore links to the legacy of Kaspar Naegele in two ways: firstly, with regards to matters of epistemology and society, and secondly with respect to the substantive work of nurses in health care.


Olli Pyyhtinen (University of Tampere) – From Trash to Treasure: The Valuation of Waste in Dumpster Diving

The talk explores the connections between value, ethics, and waste by attending to the voluntary dumpster diving for food. Despite its seemingly marginal nature, dumpster diving is a highly relevant and fruitful topic for the understanding the theory and practice of valuation (Simmel; Deleuze/Guattari), as it involves the transformation of trash into treasure in hands-on practices of valuation. Drawing upon ongoing fieldwork in Finland, this talk examines not only what is valued in dumpster diving, but also how valuation takes place in practice. First, for dumpster divers, judgments of whether something can or cannot be eaten are not separate from other activities but intertwined with them. In dumpster diving, the practices of moving in townscape, diving into waste containers, as well as sorting, picking up, transporting, washing, peeling, freezing, and cooking, for example, are integral to what it is to valuate. Second, that valuation of waste in dumpster diving is inextricably entangled with practices that are not explicitly about value also means that valuation is not only about knowing what can be eaten, but also about making them good to eat. Dumpster diving thus entails an important lesson about the creativity of valuation. Third, the case of dumpster diving also illustrates how valuation is bound to remain more or less uncertain. It lacks fixed variables and waste remains in excess of classifications.


Michaela Descoucey’s (North Carolina State University) – Gastropolitics and Contested Tastes

Who cares about foie gras? As it turns out, many do. In the last decade, this French delicacy – the fattened liver of ducks or geese that have been force-fed through a tube – has been at the center of contentious battles between animal rights activists, artisanal farmers, industry groups, politicians, chefs, and foodies. This talk focuses on the multivocal nature of foie gras’s American “gastropolitics,” defined as cultural conflicts over foods or culinary practices located at the intersection of social movement activism, cultural markets, and legal regulation, and interrogates the complexities of what it means to identify as a “moral” eater in today’s food world. In particular, I argue that foie gras is not an inconsequential issue for the small size of its industry or its lack of cultural resonance in American culinary practices, as some might posit. Rather, I argue that it is symbolically precarious – an exemplar of how combining moral politics and the culture of markets makes our relationship with food complex.


Clayton Childress (University of Toronto) – Under the Cover: The Creation, Production, and Reception of a Novel


Douglas John McAdam (Stanford University) – Putting Trump in Historic Perpsective: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar America and Today


Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University) – Group Pleasures: Collaborative Commitments, Shared Narrative, and the Sociology of Fun


Renisa Mawani (University of British Columbia) – Insect Knowledges and War Machines