My research investigates the politics of inequality. The privatization of the American welfare state over the past fifty years has systematically dismantled previously existing social entitlements. At the same time, a low-wage economy has rendered public sector support increasingly relevant to the wellbeing of the urban poor. My scholarship lies at the intersection of these two trends to address the role of an increasingly decentralized social safety net in complicating and contributing to experiences of poverty and family life in the contemporary American city. By combining deep community-based ethnography with spatial and archival analysis of administrative records, my projects link institutional-political processes to intimate experiences of disadvantage on the ground.
My dissertation, "Invisible Woman: The Child Care System in the Reproduction of Disadvantage," extends these interests to the site of child care. This project is a multi-year, multi-methods relational study of mothers and their children navigating the child care system in the city of Boston, one of the country’s most generous welfare settings. With support from the National Science Foundation and Brown University, I collected more than 100 in-depth interviews among multiple populations of mothers, child care providers, and policymakers that I combine with spatial and archival analysis of state administrative records to document how families are differentially processed by the child care system and the implications for their economic wellbeing. I find that, despite significant public investment, families’ access to care is actually diverging at both the community and household levels, and that the political administration of the system is at fault. This project has received funding at every step, from exploratory fieldwork through writing. Work from this project is currently under review for publication. My findings are also being used to inform the Boston Opportunity Agenda’s report to the City.
In a previous project, supported through a National Institutes of Health Research Service Award, I explored the emergency food system. Specifically, I examined how institutional constraints shape food banks' response to resource scarcity, work that is recently published in Social Problems and winner of the 2018 James Thompson Graduate Student Paper Award for the ASA Section on Organizations, Occupations, and Work. Results from this project are also published in the edited volume: Food and Poverty: Food Insecurity and Food Sovereignty among America's Poor.
My next project, tentatively titled Biding Time: How the Privatized Welfare State is Reshaping Family Rhythms, is a multi-method exploration of time and family life under neoliberal governance. Existing literature explicates temporal inequalities as manufactured by work and family as co-constitutive institutions. My fieldwork in food pantry lines and 24-hour-child care centers suggests that the increasingly complex network of social service providers through which the urban poor must navigate is a highly overlooked source of time and inequality.