Jennifer Bouek is the 2018-2019 OOW Council Student Representative. She was the recipient of the 2018 Thompson Graduate Student Paper Award for her Social Problems paper, “Navigating Networks: How Nonprofit Network Membership Shapes Response to Resource Scarcity.” Her dissertation, The Ecological Patterning and Effects of Child Care Markets, which is supported by the National Science Foundation, explores the institution of child care using in-depth interviews, as well as spatial and archival analysis of administrative records, survey data, and observational data. Bouek is currently finishing her Ph.D. in the Department of Sociology at Brown University. Below, she discusses her research and experiences at ASA.
Where did your interests in organizations and markets originate? Your work unites organizational scholarship and economic sociology with sociological research on poverty and inequality – how do the intersections of these fields inform your perspective?
Before coming to graduate school I went to business school and worked in advertising as a researcher, so I think I’ve always been interested in markets and the organizational fields that background individuals’ experiences. In the sociological tradition of emphasizing context, I think organizational and economic sociology offer the conceptual tools for drawing connections between what’s happening at the policy level and the organizational field, and then placing individuals’ experiences within those contexts. In the case of poor and even middle income families, the organization of the welfare state and the organization of work have both changed dramatically over the past twenty years. I’m interested in learning about how these changes, at the macro- and meso-levels, are reshaping the lived experiences of poverty and family life in a low-wage and precarious economy.
What impact do you hope your dissertation research has both within and beyond the discipline?
I hope my dissertation offers insight into how the organization of the welfare bureaucracy shapes families’ experiences of poverty and need and, more broadly, contributes to patterns of stratification. My goal is for my work to contribute to the emerging scholarship on the relational infrastructures of poverty and inequality — to shift attention from studying the poor to studying poverty, to paraphrase O’Connor. Beyond the discipline, I hope my dissertation, which focuses on child care markets, brings awareness to the everyday difficulties families, especially mothers, face in arranging their children’s care and helps to explain why child care remains such a problem. (For example, I find that both the private and subsidized child care markets have contracted dramatically over the past several years.) Even more so, though, I hope to bring awareness to the persistent and grave inequities that mothers encounter when trying to arrange, and maintain, care for their children and how these pathways into care impair mothers’ economic futures.
What were some of your most memorable experiences at this year’s ASA?
My most memorable experience was the Council breakfast. I really admire the work of everyone who sits on the Council currently and in the recent past. Getting to meet them all in person and seeing how the Section’s work gets done was an enjoyable experience for me, even if it was at 7am. Outside of the conference, I also enjoyed being so close to the Reading Terminal and getting to try the huge variety of foods.
Where do you see the field of OOW heading in the coming years? What excites you about our subfield?
I’m still early in my career so it’s hard for me to make sweeping statements about the state of the field. I’ll leave that to the more senior members. But I do think that there’s a lot of opportunity for new scholars working within organizational sociology, and that’s what excites me most about working in this subfield. There’s already some really interesting work happening at the intersection of organizational sociology, culture, race and gender. I think there are also opportunities to connect some of this work to work on the political economy, urban governance, and to the study of time, where again there is some work emerging. I hope we’ll see a lot more of that in the years to come.
As an advanced graduate student and student representative of the Section, how do you recommend other students maximize their involvement in the Section?
I’m only now learning about the business side of Sociology. I think understanding the work that sections do and the work, more broadly, that is required to keep the discipline strong and innovative would be useful to graduate students early in their careers. I would recommend doing things that I didn’t do as a graduate student, like getting involved in a section or multiple sections early in your graduate school career by attending the section business meetings and volunteering for positions or projects. These opportunities also give you a chance to meet graduate students in other departments, which I’ve found to be helpful in reflecting on my own experiences in graduate school and in making conferences that much more enjoyable by getting to see colleagues who become friends.