Ph.D. University of Massachussetts-Amherst, 1994
Co-Director, Graduate Studies in Sociology
My primary research focus is the study of socially and economically marginalized communities. There are two venues through which I have conducted my research – the first is an ethnographic study of a Puerto Rican community in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the second includes a range of applied research studies in Connecticut.
The best representation of my work on urban poverty is my book, When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets, published by Pantheon Books in 2009 and by Vintage Books in paperback in 2010. The book is based on an 18-year ethnographic study of a network of Puerto Rican men from Springfield, Massachusetts. The breadth of the study is unprecedented in sociology and provided the opportunity for me to examine the intersections of larger structural changes and individual changes over the past 20 years, a key historical period because of the effects of neoliberalism on marginalized communities. The book is based upon relationships that I developed with a network of men who I followed into a variety of social spaces -- city schools, the drug trade, formal and informal low-wage jobs, the trucking industry, prisons, and drug treatment programs. The analysis takes a Millsian approach (C. Wright Mills) by demonstrating how larger social structures are lived -- something I refer to as sociological storytelling -- and thereby demonstrating how personal struggles are linked to public issues.
The book has received a number of accolades. Identified as one of best books of 2009 by The Washington Post, it won the 2010 Mirra Komarovsky book award from Eastern Sociological Society, the 2010 book award from Association of Humanist Sociology, and was selected as a finalist by the Puerto Rican Studies Association for their 2010 book award.
There are also currently two books in process based upon my applied research. The first is a coauthored book on adolescent mothers with Mary Patrice Erdmans. The Distraction of Adolescent Motherhood is based on life-story interviews we collected with 108 adolescent mothers from vulnerable families in Connecticut. We argue that teen motherhood has been largely decontexualized and reified as a social problem by public leaders, pundits, and, to some extent, scholars. Our intention is to recontextualize adolescent motherhood through the use of life stories, which invoke interrelated issues such as child sexual abuse, failing urban schools, concentrated poverty, and violence against women. While numerous problems are correlated with early childbirth, we argue that the focus on the timing of the birth distracts us from larger social problems that originate in systemic racial, class, and gender inequalities. We are currently revising the book manuscript.
The second book is on socially and economically marginalized fathers in Connecticut and is based on three studies I conducted over the past decade. The book will examine the political, economic, and cultural dynamics that shape the lives of these men, as both men and fathers, and will explore the contradictions they confront daily as they attempt to integrate normative expectations of fathering with the social and economic realities of their lives. The book is in its early stages and is being co-authored with a former “street entrepreneur” and current political activist whom I have worked with over the past several years, and who is rapidly developing his potential as a scholar. My collaborations with this young man, a research assistant in the last of the three father studies, also reflects my interest in bridging academic work and community life in more marginalized communities.