The Café meets monthly to debate a recent book with its author and a discussant. Participants are expected to have read the book (or chapters available in the announcement). The author gives a ten-minute presentation, the discussant has ten minutes to offer comments, and the author another ten to respond. This is followed by an hour of open discussion. Come join the fun!

**Café sessions take place on Zoom, on select Fridays at 12 noon-1:30 pm PT/ 3-4:30 pm ET/ 9-10:30 pm Europe, unless otherwise noted.

Upcoming Event

Refuge: How the State Shapes Human Potential

Sep 30, 12 p.m. PST, 3 p.m. EST

Check the event details here

Meeting Passcode: 1234

Past Events

May 20, 10 a.m. PST, 1 p.m. EST

ETHNOGRAPHIC CAFÉ SPECIAL PANEL: Ethnography in/of the Global South: Critical Reflections

A half century ago, Manuel Castells posed an existential question for urban sociologists: does the subfield constitute sociology in the city, or does urban space play a defining role, producing a sociology of the city? This panel poses a comparable question to ethnographers carrying out fieldwork in the global South: do they study sociological phenomena that just happen to occur beyond Euro-America, or is there something distinctive about the majority of the world’s surface that we call “the global South,” home to more than 85 percent of the global population? Scholars working on Africa, Asia, and Latin America discuss the meaning and limits of the concept and its significance for their work. Should southern ethnography be considered a distinct enterprise, or does this contribute to self-marginalization within an already notoriously parochial discipline?

Moderator: Zachary Levenson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Levenson studies the politics of eviction in postapartheid South Africa. His work is based on a decade of fieldwork in land occupations and informal settlements in Cape Town, and his book Delivery as Dispossession was released in April 2022 on Oxford University Press.

Presenter: Elena Shih, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, Brown University

Trained as a sociologist, Shih studies the transnational social movement to combat human trafficking in China, Thailand, and the US. She works at the intersection of ethnography and critical humanitarianism studies. Her book Manufacturing Freedom is under contract with UC Press.

Presenter: Oluwakemi Balogun, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Oregon

Balogun’s research focuses on gender, globalization, and nationalism in the context of the Nigerian beauty pageant industry. Based on years of fieldwork, her book Beauty Diplomacy was released by Stanford University Press in 2020.

Presenter: Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Professor of Individualized Studies and Sociology, New York University

Baiocchi is interested in questions of politics and culture, critical social theory, and cities. He has cultivated a distinctly political ethnography, which he has deployed in his fieldwork in Brazil, the US, and elsewhere. He is the author of numerous books, the most recent of which, co-authored with Jake Carlson, is Housing Is a Social Good, forthcoming from University of Chicago Press.

Claudio Benzecry



April 29, 12-1.30 pm (PT)

Claudio Benzecry

In conversation with Rosana Pinheiro-Machado

The Perfect Fit: Creative Work in the Global Shoe Industry

**Read the preface and chapter 1 here.

Claudio E. Benzecry is Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University and a sociologist interested in culture, arts, knowledge, and globalization. He is the editor of three volumes on theory, culture, and knowledge, and the co-Editor in Chief of Qualitative Sociology. His book The Opera Fanatic. Ethnography of an Obsession (University of Chicago Press, 2011) received the Mary Douglas Award for best book in the Sociology of Culture (2012), and an Honorable mention for the ASA Distinguished Book award (2014). His new book, The Perfect Fit. Creative Work in the Global Shoe Industry (University of Chicago Press) is based on a five-year ethnographic research on fashion, creativity, and globalization, following how a shoe is imagined, sketched, designed, developed, and produced in between the US, Europe, Brazil, and China.

Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, an anthropologist, is Assistant Professor of International Development in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath (UK) and a fellow of the British Higher Education Academy. Her research deals with the topics of authoritarianism, labour, consumption, and poverty. She seeks to gain a longitudinal, local understanding of the major processes of world-making and world-ordering that have transformed emerging countries in economic and political terms. She has conducted multi-scalar and multi-sited ethnographic projects in the Global South (e.g., China and Brazil) over the last 20 years. She has recently been laureated by the European Research Council with a Consolidator Grant to lead the comparative and multi-methods transnational project "Flexible Work, Rigid Politics" in Brazil, India, and the Philippines.

Janet Vertesi

Florian Jaton

March 18, 12-1.30 pm (PT)

Janet Vertesi

In conversation with Florian Jaton

Shaping Science: Organizations, Decisions, and Culture on NASA's Teams

**Read chapters here. (password for the drive folder: cafe22)

Janet Vertesi is Associate Professor of Sociology at Princeton. She is an expert in the sociology of science, technology, and organizations. Her past decade of research, funded by the National Science Foundation, examines how distributed robotic spacecraft teams work together effectively to produce scientific and technical results. Vertesi is the author of two books about NASA science teams, and has also produced edited volumes with colleagues on the topic of images and representation in science, and studying digital environments and interactions. She also studies digital technologies and personal data privacy.

Florian Jaton is a sociologist of science, technology and computing, currently senior researcher and lecturer at the STS Lab, Lausanne, Switzerland. He has researched algorithmic finance, personalized medicine, and is the author of The Constitution of Algorithms: Ground-Truthing, Programming, Formulating (MIT Press, 2021), based on four years of ethnographic study of a computer science laboratory that specialized in digital image processing.

Nicholas Rush Smith

Javier Auyero

February 25, 12- 1.30pm (PT)

Nicholas Rush Smith

In conversation with Javier Auyero

Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa

**Read chapters here.

Nicholas Rush Smith teaches Political Science at CUNY-City College. Based on 20 months of ethnographic and archival research in two townships outside Durban, Contradictions of Democracy reveals that, in the context of densely networked neighborhoods, poor citizens often interpret the technical success of legal institutions—say, the arrest and subsequent release of suspects on bail—as failure and work to correct such perceived failures through extra-legal violence. When viewed through the eyes of young Black men on South Africa’s margins, vigilantism emerges as a reaction, not to state failure, but to democratic state-making.

Javier Auyero teaches sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, where he founded and directs the Ethnography Lab. His work deals with poverty, violence, the state, and politics at ground level. His latest book, The Ambivalent State (with Katherine Sobering) draws on court cases to dissect the dynamics of police-drug trafficker collusion in the Argentine periphery. His is currently at work (with Sofía Servian) on a book tentatively entitled Overwhelmed. How do the urban poor keep surviving?

Danielle Raudenbush



January 28, 11am-12:30pm (PT)*

Danielle T. Raudenbush

in conversation with

Armando Lara-Millán

Health Care Off the Books: Poverty, Illness, and Strategies for Survival in Urban America

*Please note the earlier time

**Read the introduction and methods chapters here.

Danielle Raudenbush is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC San Diego. In Health Care Off the Books: Poverty, Illness, and Strategies for Survival in Urban America (University of California Press, February 2020), she draws on three years of fieldwork in a Chicago community to examine the health care practices of the urban poor, and specifically the informal network strategies that low-income African Americans develop in attempts to treat health problems when they face barriers to accessing formal health services. Currently, she is working on a project in which she investigates how living in the San Diego, California border region shapes the health care experiences of Mexican immigrants, including how members of this group strategically use health services in Mexico to meet their health care needs and goals.

Armando Lara-Millán is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley. He uses ethnography and historical methods to study powerful organizations. He examines how these organizations use culture and cognitive processes to recast the economic worth of resources that many people depend on, purchase, or are subject too (e.g. jail and hospital space, crime, advanced medical technology, or even property value). He is the author of Redistributing the Poor: Jails, Hospitals, and the Crisis of Law and Fiscal Austerity (OUP, 2021).

Leslie PAIK

Vincent DUBOIS

December 10, 2021

Leslie PAIK

In conversation with Vincent DUBOIS

Trapped in a Maze: How Social Control Institutions Drive Family Poverty and Inequality

Leslie Paik is Professor in the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with 10 families, and interviews with another 53 families, her book Trapped in a Maze: How Social Control Institutions Drive Family Poverty and Inequality traces how low-income families navigate complex and multiple institutions –such as courts, hospitals, housing, schools, and welfare. The book reveals how the formal rationality by which these institutions ostensibly operate undercuts what they can actually achieve. And worse, it demonstrates how involvement with multiple institutions can perpetuate the conditions of poverty that these families are fighting to escape.

Vincent Dubois is Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Strasbourg (France) and the author of The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices (2017, Routledge). He works on surveillance and sanction policies in the contemporary social state and the relationship between the lower classes and public institutions. He will lead us in discussion.



November 19, 2021


In conversation with Sarah BRAYNE

Click to read the Introduction and Methods chapters.

Angèle Christin is Assistant Professor of Communications and (by courtesy) of Sociology at Stanford University. Her book Metrics at Work draws on four years of fieldwork in web newsrooms in the United States and France, including more than one hundred interviews with journalists. It uncovers crucial and paradoxical differences in how American and French journalists understand audience analytics and how these affect the news produced in each country.

Sarah Brayne, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UT-Austin, will lead us in discussion. Her research examines the social consequences of data-intensive surveillance practices and she is the author of Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing.

Special Event, Oct 29

Tahseen SHAMS

Hajar Yazdiha


October 22, 2021

Tahseen SHAMS in conversation with


Chapters 1 and 2 available here.

Tahseen SHAMS is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her award-winning book, Here, There, and Elsewhere: The Making of Immigrant Identities in a Globalized World (2020), uncovers how different dimensions of the ethnic and religious identities of immigrants connect them to, not just to their homeland and hostland, but to different "elsewheres" around the planet, making immigrants prime agents of globalization.

Hajar YAZDIHA, Assistant Professor of Sociology at USC, will lead us in discussion. Her work focuses on the Muslim diaspora and develops a comparative Du Boisian framework for the study of immigrant incorporation and ethnic identity formation. She is also working on a book entitled The Kingmakers: Making and Mobilizing the Collective Memory of the Civil Rights Movement in American Politics.

Sept 24, 2021.

Matthew Clair in conversation with Mona Lynch

Matthew Clair is Assistant Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Law at Stanford University. His award-winning book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court (Princeton University Press, 2020) examines how racial and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship. Based on fieldwork and interviews in the Boston court system, Clair found that attempts to exercise legal rights often backfire on the poor and on working-class people of color, and that effective legal representation alone is no guarantee of justice.

Mona Lynch, Chancellor’s Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine and the author of Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court (2016), will lead us in discussion.