Graduate Fellows

Graduate Student Coordinator

Sadie Dempsey | | Twitter

Sadie Dempsey is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at University of Wisconsin – Madison. As a political sociologist, she studies democracy, social movements, and civic life. Her dissertation is an ethnography of engaged citizenship that interrogates two interwoven paradoxes: Why do engaged citizens increasingly distrust political institutions and the people in them? Why do they continue to participate in a system they do not trust? This research has important implications in this time of democratic crisis – where concerns of plummeting trust, declining participation, and democratic backsliding abound – challenging us to rethink the structure of our political institutions in pursuit of a more just, democratic future.

Sadie is a 2023-24 Mellon Public Humanities Fellow, where she will work with the League of Women Voters in Dane County to build a civic education curriculum to make politics more accessible to all Wisconsin residents. She is also the co-founder of the Qualitative Methods Workshop and the graduate student coordinator for the Wisconsin Center for Ethnographic Research (WISCER).


Alexis Econie | | Twitter

Alexis Econie (she/her) is a PhD student of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Alexis’ primary research interests are in environmental justice, green jobs, and precarious work. Her current research combines participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and spatial mapping tools to interrogate how the notion of ‘expendability’ is deployed and experienced in the workplace to reproduce social inequality for marginalized workers. Alexis’ research interests are informed by her upbringing in a post-industrial central-IL community driven by commercial agriculture and her experiences working in urban waste collection and as a rural factory day-laborer.

Kristina Fullerton Rico | | Twitter

Kristina Fullerton Rico (she/her) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her binational, ethnographic research focuses on the experiences of unauthorized immigrants and their families who are physically divided –– due to the tightening Mexico–U.S. border –– but digitally close thanks to cheaper, more accessible communication technologies. Kristina’s Master’s thesis found that mothers with children on either side of the border use technology to forge bonds of “digital siblinghood” between siblings who have never met. Her dissertation uses a feminist, intersectional perspective to study the experiences of older adults who are aging while undocumented. With a focus on gendered and racialized processes, this project examines how individuals cope with social exclusion, isolation, and uncertainty, as well as sources of social support for older immigrants in the United States and for older return migrants in Mexico.

If Kristina had to sum up the key takeaways from her research in just a few lines, she would explain that most migrants who are undocumented hope to adjust their status in order to be able to return to their communities of origin without having to leave the United States for good. In short, unauthorized immigrants are not just afraid of being deported; they also fear not being able to see the people they love — in both of their home countries — again.

Morgan Henson |

I am from Tacoma, Washington (just south of Seattle). I did my bachelors in history at Fordham University in New York City and my masters in Russian Studies and Global Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. In between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I lived and travelled around Russia and Eastern Europe learning Russian culture, language, and history as well as meeting ambassadors and military attachés in various post-Soviet countries. During this time abroad, and the subsequent times I lived in Eastern Europe, I became interested in identities and the social power one may have over another in different social contexts. Since then, I have been interested in different forms of domination and social hierarchy (race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.) and the salience of certain hierarchies on a global scale; specifically, I am interested in the global hierarchy of whiteness and the cross-national institutional structures that make it so prominent, sustainable, and invisible to those who reap its benefits.

Jungmyung Kim |

Jungmyung Kim is a PhD candidate of the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His main research interest is in the sociology of organizations. For his dissertation, he revisits the concept of division of labor with the case of the police-social services nexus. He seeks to achieve this task by conducting an ethnography of a Midwestern law enforcement agency and related social service agencies and organizations. His research also regards mainly collaborative efforts to analyze relations between organizations and social lives of various kinds. As a part of this direction, he studies various topics such as the relationship between workplace paid leave policies and mothers’ labor market outcomes and the status competition among countries through the aesthetic prowess embedded in the automation of metro systems.

Kurt W. Kuehne |

Kurt W. Kuehne is a UW-Madison Sociology PhD candidate focusing on international labor migration, urban sociology, and social marginalization.

His dissertation project examines the conditions of South Asian manual workers and Southeast Asian domestic workers in Singapore, describing a long history of ‘social distancing’ between ordinary citizens and the low-wage, non-citizen workers who comprise over a quarter of Singapore’s resident workforce. Kurt uses comparative methods to analyze how migrant populations are forced into gendered employment configurations—including distinct forms of social boundary-making and control, debt financing models, employment legislation, and labor dispute systems.

Kurt has served as a volunteer caseworker at a shelter for runaway domestic workers, assisting victims of abuse, wage disputes, and labor violations. He holds an A.B. in Politics from Princeton University and an M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research has been supported by UW graduate research fellowships, the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of State, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, the 4W Initiative and Women’s Philanthropy Council, and various research centers.

Taylor Laemmli |

Taylor is a PhD student in Sociology at UW-Madison. She is a cultural sociologist with research interests in the sociology of class, work, interaction, social theory, history, and qualitative methodology. Specifically, she uses ethnography, interviews, and historical research to study how class as a cultural phenomenon relies on symbolic divisions between sacred and profane, enables experiences of social mobility, and reproduces symbolic and material domination. Her dissertation examines class keepers, her name for a group of occupations devoted to producing and maintaining elite lifestyles. She analyzes the 1990s rise of these occupations and how this new organization of elite support is bound up with both democratic sensibilities and social hierarchies. Other current projects include a monograph on the sociology of makeup (co-written as first author); an article theorizing class experience mobility (CEM), a previously unidentified form of class mobility in which people temporarily access a class lifestyle that does not correspond to their class position; and research on service workers’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. In past work, Taylor has written about the formal sociology of restaurant workers’ emotional experiences and first-generation students’ accounts of higher education.

Wendy Li | | website | Twitter

Wendy Li is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include political sociology, international trade law and regulation, qualitative methods, social networks, and policymaking processes.

Li’s dissertation investigates policy careers, social networks, and influence in the policymaking process. She uses ethnographic methods, sequence analysis, and social network analysis to understand how career paths, interest group politics, and social interactions shape the ways that lobbyists and policymakers diagnose policy problems and solutions. In particular, she focuses on the trade policymaking process and how regulatory principles are negotiated.

Prior to academia, Li served in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of State. She holds a M.S. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an A.B. in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University.

Ruo-Fan Liu | | website

I am an ethnography researching higher education, social inequality, and cultural reproduction. My work has centered on how teens envision the future, how others assist them, and how they procure admissions advantages in a college-for-all era. I also conducted online, offline, and hybrid ethnography despite my primary work. My work has appeared in International Studies of Sociology of Education and is currently under review in Sociological Perspectives and Ethnography.

Chiara Packard | | website | Twitter

Chiara Packard is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at UW-Madison with research interests in the sociology of punishment, criminal justice, inequality, and discretion. Her research is unified by both an interest in how and why communities adopt different systems of punishment as well as a concern for how the criminal justice system impacts people’s lives. Her dissertation is an ethnographic study of prosecutorial discretion and decision-making, drawing on interviews, observations, archival evidence, and court administrative data from the District Attorney’s offices of two mid-sized midwestern counties. This project first explores generally the factors that shape prosecutors’ use of discretion and how prosecutors make sense of their decisions as they process criminal cases. Then, it focuses specifically on how prosecutors think about and construct the boundary between violent and nonviolent crimes in cases where prosecutors could choose to charge disorderly conduct or battery. Chiara is also engaged in several collaborative research projects including a survey study of the experiences of incarcerated individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, an interview study on families’ experiences with fines, fees, and restitution in the juvenile justice system, and a quantitative analysis of the relationship between prison building and incarceration. In past work, published in Violence Against Women, she has explored how feminists in India contend with punitive approaches to gender-based violence in television news media. Chiara’s research is being generously supported by the Mellon-Wisconsin Fellowship and the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty Fellowship.

Jill Richardson | | website

Jill Richardson is a PhD candidate in sociology. Questions of why people conflict and how collaboration is possible motivate her research. Using participant observation, interviews, and content analysis, she studies how hunters, ranchers, environmental and animal rights activists, U.S. government, and Native American tribes conflict and collaborate to manage wildlife. Areas of interest include: environmental justice, governance of natural resources, social movements and political sociology, food and agriculture, and science and technology studies.

Jill’s current project is inspired by Jill Lindsey Harrison’s work examining barriers to environmental justice in white-dominated institutions and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s work on colorblind racism. Using digital ethnography, she is studying interactions between white-dominated social movements and BIPOC environmental justice (EJ) social movements. How are activists in both movements working to partner together and how does colorblind racism prevent white-dominated social movements from allying with EJ movements more effectively?

Sara Gia Trongone |

Sara is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include social movements, sociology of labor, and political sociology. Sara is currently conducting a comparative analysis of union campaigns in Chicago in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

Benny Witkovsky | | Twitter

I am a political and urban sociologist using a range of methods to study local political life in Wisconsin’s small cities. My dissertation draws on archival research, ethnographic observation, and interviews in several small Wisconsin cities to examine the mechanisms through which nonpartisan local politics polarizes along partisan lines across. Other research projects examine: the partisan consequences of local political exclusion, the growing political divide between adjacent rural and urban communities, elder activism in rural Wisconsin, and the political dimensions of rural prison building. Additionally, I have worked as an evaluator on community-based research projects with the Legacy Community Alliance for Health and the Madison Police Department. Beyond research, I am committed to undergraduate education having served as the principal instructor for Intro to Sociology, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, and Ethnic Movements in the United States. Having grown up in Madison, I spent several years working interfaith politics in Washington, DC before returning to Wisconsin for graduate school.

Matthew J. Zinsli | | website | Twitter

Matthew J. Zinsli is a PhD candidate in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology and the International Development Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research explores place-based food networks, rural development, and scientific discourses, expertise, and practices in international development projects.