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.

Past Distinguished Speakers (2011-2020)

Sharon Sassler (Cornell) – Early Career Transitions among STEM Majors: Does Gender Matter?

Date: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Despite increases in the share of recent college graduates with STEM degrees, women’s representation in STEM professions remains low. Whereas there is no longer evidence of gender disparities in the transition from school to work for STEM majors, women remain more likely than men to exit STEM occupations within the first few years of employment.  This paper examines the processes employed by men and women as they search for jobs after receiving a STEM degree and their views about work-place climate once working. Data are from longitudinal in-depth interviews from a sample of graduating seniors who completed a degree in a STEM field at a northern private university and a public southern university in the spring of 2015 and 2016.  Our preliminary results suggest where gender gaps in STEM retention begins – with the transition into the first job post-college.  We also show how Millennial’s views of the importance of work-life balance shape their commitment to the STEM work force.


Harvey Krahn (Alberta) [Naegele lecture] – “Tracking Generation X: Insights and Findings from the Edmonton Transitions Study”

Date: Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

The Edmonton Transitions Study (ETS) has tracked a cohort of high school seniors for 32 years (1985 – 2017), from late adolescence to early midlife (age 18 to 50), with eight waves of data collection. In his review of selected ETS findings, Dr. Krahn will discuss the value of longitudinal research for addressing complex sociological research questions, the interpretative insights offered by a life course theoretical perspective, and the experience of working with an inter-disciplinary research team.


Bernice Pescosolido, (Indiana) – “Is the Tide Turning on the Stigma of Mental Illness? Lessons from the U.S. National Stigma Studies

Date: Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Stigma is considered nearly as critical as treatment is to recovery for mental illness currently. While research has revealed improvements in mental health literacy globally, no scientific studies have documented sizeable decreases in cultural-level prejudice and discrimination.  I review the role and initial findings from the US National Stigma Studies (NSSs).  However, the detailed analyses will concentrate on the 2018 General Social Survey and the National Stigma Study – Replication II findings. The data  document the first signal of significant stigma reduction in American society over a 22-year period, specific only to major depression.  They also suggest a continuing “drift” on American’s cultural beliefs in the dangerousness of people with mental illness.  The implications for stigma reduction efforts and for public policy debates will be discussed.


Stefan Timmermans, (UCLA) – “The Science of the Deal: When Patients Resist Medical Treatment.”

Date: Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

One of the challenges for physicians in an era of patient-centered care is to close the deal for treatment. Physicians may have to say no when patients make inappropriate treatment requests (as in opioids for chronic pain), or insist on treatment when patients resist (as in vaccination refusal). In this talk, I examine how neurologists overcome resistance against medication recommendations for pediatric patients with epilepsy. Neurologists meet these grounds with three corresponding persuasion strategies ranging from pressuring, to coaxing, to accommodating. Even when physicians increasingly rely on persuasion to achieve patient buy-in, they preserve professional authority.


Cecilia L. Ridgeway, (Stanford University) – “Understanding the Nature of Status Inequality:  Why Is It Everywhere?  Why Does It Matter?”

Date: September 3, 2019

Status, which is based on differences in esteem and honor, is an ancient and universal form of inequality which nevertheless interpenetrates modern institutions and organizations.  Given its ubiquity and significance, we need to better understand the basic nature of status as a form of inequality.  I argue that status hierarches are a cultural invention to organize and manage social relations in a fundamental human condition: cooperative interdependence to achieve valued goals with nested competitive interdependence to maximize individual outcomes in the effort. I consider this claim in relation to both evolutionary arguments and empirical evidence.  Evidence suggests that the cultural schema of status is two-fold, consisting of a deeply learned basic norm of status allocation and a set of more explicit, variable, and changing common knowledge status beliefs that people draw on to coordinate judgments about who or what is more deserving of higher status.  The cultural nature of status allows people to spread it widely to social phenomena (e.g., firms in a business field) well beyond its origins in interpersonal hierarchies. In particular, I argue, the association of status with social difference groups (e.g., race, gender, class-as-culture) gives inequalities based on those difference groups an autonomous, independent capacity to reproduce themselves through interpersonal status processes.


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

Date: April 2, 2019

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

Date: March 5, 2019

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)

Date: February 5, 2019

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

Date: March 6, 2018

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”

Date: February 6, 2018

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

Date: January 30, 2018

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

Date: January 9, 2018

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

Date: October 31, 2017

Starting in the early 1970s, in sociology and allied disciplines the studies of cultural production and reception began to split apart. Likewise, while applications of field theory to cultural production and reception have generated no shortage insights about the internal orders within fields, for the most part empirical analyses have stopped short at the relationships between fields. What are the consequences of both of these of arrangements? Through following a novel in real-time all the way from its authoring, into its publishing and selling, and then to the reading of it in 21 book groups, this talk reveals how decisions are made, inequalities are reproduced, and novels are built to travel in the creation, production, and consumption of culture.


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

Date: September 26, 2017

The turbulent onset of Donald Drumpf’s administration, to say nothing of the president’s oversize presence, has so focused our attention in the moment, that we’re in danger of losing critically important historical perspective. Drumpf’s rhetoric and behavior are so extreme that the tendency is to see him and the divisions he embodies as something wholly new in American politics. They are not, nor in broad relief, is the president. Instead, Drumpf is only the most extreme expression and product of a brand of racial politics practiced ever more zealously by the Republican Party since its origins in the 1960s. Drawing on the argument and evidence presented in Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar America, Stanford sociologist, Doug McAdam, will use his talk to put the rise of Donald Drumpf in historical perspective and to briefly highlight the threats to American democracy that preceded his rise and which, indeed, helped him win the White House.


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

Date: September 5, 2017

As a consequence of their size and fragility, small groups depend on cohesion. Central to group continuation are occasions of collective hedonic satisfaction that encourage attachment. These times are popularly labeled “fun.” While groupness can be the cause of fun, we emphasize the effects of fun, as understood by participants. Shared enjoyment, located in temporal and spatial affordances, creates conditions for communal identification. Such moments serve as commitment devices building affiliation, modeling positive relations, and moderating interpersonal tension. Further, they encourage retrospective narration, providing an appealing past, an assumed future, and a sense of groupness. The rhetoric of fun supports interactional smoothness in the face of potential ruptures. Building on the authors’ field observations and other ethnographies, we argue that both the experience and recall of fun bolsters group stability. We conclude by suggesting that additional research must address the role of power and boundary-building in the fun moment.


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

Date: October 13, 2011

Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by Green College as part of the Knowledge Brokers and Knowledge Formats symposium. Today, the study of knowledge production, knowledge formats and knowledge politics is being developed across a wide variety of research fields. Along with the work of scholars such as Ian Hacking, Mary Poovey, and Bruno Latour, the work of the late Green College Principal, Richard Ericson, have all on policing, risk, the news media, and the insurance industry made an important contribution not only to these substantive areas but also to the methodological tools that scholars use in their everyday study of knowledge‐power processes. Jointly sponsored by Green College, UBC, and the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto.