Beyond the Case: Comparative Ethnography During COVID-19 and Beyond

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Friday, December 4 | 12:00 - 3:00pm PT


How do ethnographers engage in comparison? Do their comparative logics align with or diverge from the methodological foundations of other forms of social scientific research? And how do the current historical ruptures in the era of COVID-19 shape the present and future of ethnographic comparison?  Drawing on central themes from Beyond the Case: The Logics and Practices of Comparative Ethnography (Oxford University Press 2020), this event will provide a venue for researchers from various ethnographic approaches to share their thoughts on these topics. The speakers, including many of the book’s contributors, represent a host of ethnographic traditions ranging from phenomenology, to interpretivism, to the extended case method, to various “post-positivist” forms of scientific realism. It is our hope that this discussion will reveal not only points of divergence, but also synergies with other empirical methods, and between competing approaches to ethnography. This parallels the book’s call to leverage the field’s epistemic variation in order to expand opportunities for meaningful comparisons and conversations on a broad range of substantive topics - including the convergent crises of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research

Co-sponsored by Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; School of Sociology, University of Arizona

Schedule (speaker bios below)

Panel 1: 12-1:40 PT

Welcome: Martín Sánchez-Jankowski

Introductory comments: Corey Abramson and Neil Gong


  • Martín Sánchez-Jankowski
  • Stefan Timmermans and Iddo Tavory
  • Annette Lareau
  • Thomas DeGloma and Max Papadantonakis
  • Claire Decoteau


Panel 2: 1:45-3

Introduction: Neil Gong and Corey Abramson


  • Diane Vaughan
  • Al Young
  • Lynn Chancer
  • Dan Dohan


3pm: Virtual mixer (link will be provided during the event)

Speaker Bios

Corey M. Abramson is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Arizona. His research uses a combination of quantitative, qualitative and computational methods to understand how the connections between inequality, culture and health shape outcomes over the life course. His comparative ethnography on this topic, The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years (Harvard University Press 2015) was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Publication Award by the American Sociological Association Section (ASA) on Aging and the Life Course and featured in national media outlets including the New York Times. Abramson’s methodological work, including recent pieces in Sociological Methodology, Ethnography, and Beyond the Case (Oxford University Press 2020), is focused on: 1. Demonstrating how ethnography’s epistemic variation can be a strength, 2. Elaborating modes of ethnographic comparison, and 3. Developing tools to improve the scalability, replicability, and transparency of large multi-site ethnographic projects through engagement with computational techniques. His current book project deploys these methods to examine how terminal cancer shapes the lives and deaths of people from different backgrounds.






Lynn Chancer is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author and co-editor of seven books, including Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness (Rutgers 1992); Reconcilable Differences: Confronting Beauty, Pornography and the Future of Feminism (University of California Press 1998); High Profile Crimes: When Legal Cases Become Social Causes (University of Chicago Press 2005); The Unhappy Divorce of Sociology and Psychoanalysis (co-edited with John Andrews, London Palgrave Macmillan 2014); and, most recently, Youth, Jobs and the Future: Problems and Prospects (co-edited with Martin Sanchez-Jankowski and Christine Trost, Oxford 2018) and After the Rise and Stall of American Feminism: Taking Back A Revolution (Stanford University Press 2019). She is also the author of articles on varied subjects from criminology, gender, sex and sex work through social and feminist theory. 






Claire Laurier Decoteau is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the social construction of health and disease, the politics of knowledge production, and peoples’ grounded experiences with healing and health care systems. Her first book, Ancestors and Antiretrovirals: The Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2013, University of Chicago Press) was awarded three honorable mentions for outstanding book awards from ASA sections: Medical Sociology; Science, Knowledge and Technology; and the Theory Section. Decoteau has articles published in journals such as Sociological Theory, Political Power and Social Theory, European Journal of Social Theory, BioSocieties, Social Science & Medicine, and Social Studies of Science. Decoteau is currently writing her second book, The “Western Disease”: Epistemic Contestations over Autism in the Somali Diaspora, which is under contract with the University of Chicago Press. 






Thomas DeGloma is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. His research interests fall within the intersecting areas of cultural sociology and symbolic interaction, and include explorations of cognition, memory, time, knowledge, autobiography, identity, and trauma. His book, Seeing the Light: The Social Logic of Personal Discovery (University of Chicago Press, 2014), explores the stories people tell about life-changing discoveries of “truth” and illuminates the ways that individuals and communities use autobiographical stories to weigh in on salient moral and political controversies. This book received the 2015 Charles Horton Cooley Book Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. His other publications include articles in Social Psychology Quarterly, Symbolic Interaction, Sociological Forum, and the American Journal of Cultural Sociology. He is currently working on his second book, which explores the phenomenon of anonymity and the impact of anonymous actors in various social situations and interactions. 








Dan Dohan, PhD, is Professor of Health Policy, Surgery, and Humanities & Social Sciences at UCSF. He is Principal Investigator at the Medical Cultures Lab, a scholarly community at the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies that works to understand medical culture and advance health equity. His current NIH-funded research focuses on advancing qualitative research on medical culture, understanding trajectories of dementia among diverse populations, exploring social implications of novel neurotechnologies, and making surgery safer for older adults. 







Neil Gong is a sociologist and ethnographer at the University of Michigan Society of Fellows. He is also an assistant professor of Sociology at UC San Diego. Neil's book project (under contract with University of Chicago Press) examines inequality in community-based mental health care by contrasting public safety net and private psychiatric services. He is co-editor (with Corey Abramson) of Beyond the Case: The Logics and Practices of Comparative Ethnography (Oxford University Press 2020). Neil’s recent peer-reviewed articles appear in journals including the American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, Social Problems, and Ethnography











Annette Lareau is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies family life and is interested how the social position of children and parents has an impact on the quality of their life experiences. She has explored these issues in the arena of family-school relationships (i.e., Home Advantage), the cultural logic of child rearing (i.e., Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life), the process through which parents go about deciding where to live and send their children to school (i.e., Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools edited with Kimberly Goyette), and, in her current study, the blessings and challenges of families with high net worth. In her current study, funded by the National Science Foundation, she is using qualitative methods to understand the blessings and challenges faced by families with high net worth. She is studying a total of 70 families. One-half of the families have created wealth (i.e., “Generation one”); the other one-half of the families in the study have inherited wealth. 








Max Papadantonakis is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Queens College where he teaches Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory. His interests are in the areas of Social Theory, Culture, Sociology of Work, and Ethnography. Recently he published a chapter (with Sharon Zukin) in Precarious Work, an edited volume of the series Research in the Sociology of Work. Max recently carried out an ethnography in seven hackathons in New York City and looked at the different ways workers' consent is manufactured in the "new" economy. His dissertation research focuses on the social formation of the tech workforce in New York City with emphasis on the cultural differences between engineers and entrepreneurs.






Martín Sánchez-Jankowski is Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Center for Ethnographic Research at the University of California, Berkeley.  His research has focused on the sociology of poverty and violence.  He has conducted long-term participant-observation field research for 42 years.  He has published a number of books and research papers, among them are the books Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society; Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighborhoods; and Burning Dislike: Ethnic Violence in High Schools. His current field research focuses on the poverty conditions of rural indigenous people in the U.S., Fiji, and India.









Iddo Tavory is an Associate Professor of sociology at NYU. A sociologist of culture and an ethnographer, he is broadly interested in the interactional patterns through which people come to construct and understand their lives across situations. His book Abductive Analysis (with Stefan Timmermans) provides a pragmatist account that allows researchers to make the most of the surprises that emerge in the process of research. His second book, Summoned, is an ethnography of a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles as well as a treatise on the co-constitution of interaction, identity and social worlds. He is currently working on an ethnography of an advertising agency in New York and co-authoring a book on pro bono work and notions of worth in the advertising world. Among other awards, Iddo has received the Lewis A. Coser Award for theoretical agenda setting in sociology.






Stefan Timmermans is professor of sociology at UCLA. His research interests include medical sociology and science studies. He has conducted research on medical technologies, health professions, death and dying, and population health. He is the author, most recently, of Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths (Chicago, 2006), Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening (Chicago 2013, with Mara Buchbinder), and Abductive Analysis: Theorizing Qualitative Research (Chicago 2014, with Iddo Tavory). He is also senior editor of medical sociology for the journal Social Science and Medicine.






Diane Vaughan is a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Influenced as a graduate student by Georg Simmel’s work on social forms, she began experimenting with what she calls analogical theorizing: developing theory by comparing cases of similar events, activities or phenomena across different organizational forms in order to elaborate general theory or concepts. Since then, she has written three books on how things go wrong in organizations: Controlling Unlawful Organizational Behavior, Uncoupling, and The Challenger Launch Decision. The fourth book in the project, Dead Reckoning: System Effects, Boundary Work, and Risk in Air Traffic Control (in review) is her negative case, looking at how an organization gets it (mostly) right. Challenger and Dead Reckoning are both historical ethnographies. Next, she will complete Theorizing: Analogy, Cases, and Comparative Social Organization.






Alford A. Young Jr., is the Edgar G. Epps Collegiate Professor of Sociology and the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Departments of Sociology, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on low-income, urban-based African Americans, employees at an automobile manufacturing plant, African American scholars and intellectuals, and the classroom-based experiences of higher-education faculty as they pertain to diversity and multiculturalism. He employs ethnographic interviewing as his primary data collection method. Young’s books are: The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances (Princeton University Press, 2004), Are Black Men Doomed? (Polity Press, 2018), and From the Edge of the Ghetto: African Americans and the World of Work (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2019).
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