Current Projects | Teaching
Current Projects
My research program focuses on racial inequality, with an emphasis on the institutions affecting racial stratification, including schools, labor markets, and the criminal justice system. In my work I have sought to develop and deploy a range of methods to examine patterns of racial inequality, with the goal of better understanding the varied social and structural forces that reinforce and maintain persistent racial disparities. The topics below represent a sample of the questions that animate my recent and current research.

The Consequences of Incarceration for Inmates and Ex-Offenders
Over the past three decades, the US has seen the number of inmates increase by more than 700%, resulting in an unprecedented growth in the population under criminal justice supervision. In addition to the more than two million individuals currently incarcerated, the number of inmates being released from prison - now roughly 700,000 each year- poses new problems for the cities and communities that absorb them. In this line of work I seek to assess the consequences of incarceration for inmates and ex-offenders, as well as to understand the broader contexts in which crime policy shifts in more or less punitive directions.

Recent projects in this line of work include:
-- A series of field experiments assessing the effect of a criminal record on subsequent labor market opportunities.
-- A study of the social organization of prison life, focusing in residential instability and social ties within prison and their consequences for inmate wellbeing
-- A study of the state-level social, political, and economic contexts in which incarceration rates rise and fall

Measuring the Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Discrimination
Racial differences in employment remain among the most intractable sources of economic inequality. The causes of these disparities, however, remain widely disputed. To some, the persistence of racial inequality is a clear sign of the continuing significance of discrimination. To others, discrimination is discounted as "the problem of an earlier era", with contemporary disparities explained more effectively by measures of cognitive skill, spatial location, social networks, and other ostensibly non-racial variables. Resolution to this debate has in part been obscured by a lack of rigorous empirical evidence. This line of my research focuses on developing precise measurement techniques to assess the role of race and racial discrimination in shaping employment opportunities.

Recent projects in this line of work include:
-- A series of field experiments measuring racial discrimination in low wage labor markets
-- In-depth interviews with employers about their attitudes and experiences with low wage workers
-- Conceptualizing and measuring how race or perceived discrimination shapes job search behavior

Race and Perceptions of Crime
A pivotal argument in my book is that the large-scale incarceration of African Americans casts a shadow of criminality across all black men, affecting even those who have not directly been involved with the criminal justice system. Racial stereotypes of black criminality are further fueled by media coverage of crime, which tends to exaggerate the frequency of crime and the representation of blacks among perpetrators. Together, these trends reinforce strong associations between race and crime in the minds of the general public. Directly investigating this issue, I have undertaken several projects over the past few years that explore the relationship between racial cues and perceptions of crime. This work takes seriously the question of rationality in assessments of the race-crime association, acknowledging and directly measuring the zero-order correlation between racial composition and crime rates. Controlling for official crime rates and/or actual victimization experiences, we then observe the extent to which perceptions of crime (or risk) are independently shaped by racial composition.

Ethnic Minorities and the Criminal Justice System in France
In recent years, worseing economic conditions have led to growing tensions between native-born French and a rising tide of immigrants, largely from North Africa and other parts of the developing world. The French criminal justice system has responded to perceived levels of social disorder and delinquency in these ethnic neighborhoods by increasing police surveillance, widening court jurisdiction, and imposing harsher penalties for offenders. As a result, France's foreign and immigrant residents, who comprise only about six percent of the population overall, now represent nearly thirty percent of the French prison population. In this work, I investigate whether the rise of ethnic differentiation and economic instability in France is associated with a more punitive approach to managing social disorder. This research aims to untangle the relationships between immigrant status, national origin, and economic standing as they relate to trends in law enforcement and criminal justice.

Current Teaching

Sociology 101: The Sociological Perspective

Sociology is the study of society, and of individuals in their social contexts. Sociologists examine the interactions among social institutions, cultures, groups, and individuals, investigating how the social world shapes individual lives. This course seeks to introduce key debates and ideas from the sociological perspective, including topics such as: social theory, social science methods, social interaction, networks, race, class, gender, crime and punishment, families, education, urban life, and social inequality.

Sample readings
- Introduction to Sociology, by Giddens, Duneier, and Appelbaum
- The Sociological Imagination, C.Wright Mills
- Unequal Childhoods, by Annette Lareau

Sociology 222 (also SOC567): The Sociology of Crime and Punishment

This course seeks to provide a sociological account of crime and punishment. Why do people commit crime? How should we respond to crime? How has crime policy changed over the past several decades? What are the consequences of recent crime policy? By reading classic and contemporary sociological research, policy analysis, and media coverage, we will explore the themes of crime and punishment in contemporary society.

Sample readings
- The Culture of Control, by David Garland
- Making Crime Pay, by Katherine Beckett
- Punishment and Inequality, by Bruce Western
- Broken Windows, by Wilson and Kelling

Sociology 510c: The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

This course is a graduate-level introduction to the study of race and ethnicity. The readings for each week seek to orient and engage students with the major debates in the research literature, including issues of assimilation, identify formation and change, urban segregation, class differentiation, labor market experiences among racial and ethnic groups, and international comparisons of racial/ethnic divisions. A central question this course will engage concerns the persistence of race and ethnicity as an organizing construct, over time and across national contexts. Are racial/ethnic divisions declining in significance, or will race and ethnicity continue to shape the identities and trajectories of social groups well into the future?

Sample readings
- The Declining Significance of Race, by William Julius Wilson Race in Another America, by Edward Telles
- How the Other Half Works, by Waldinger and Lichter
- Black Wealth, White Wealth, by Oliver and Shapiro
- American Apartheid, by Massey and Denton

Sociology 590c/WWS594g: The Sociology of Inequality

This course is a graduate-level introduction to the study of inequality from a sociological perspective. We begin by reviewing major theories, constructs, and empirical work on inequality. The remainder of the course will focus on institutions that mediate the transmission and reproduction of inequality, including families, schools, neighborhoods, labor markets, and the criminal justice system. Each week will also feature one policy intervention related to the institution under study. One version of this course is taught as part of a year-long sequence through the Joint Degree Program in Social Policy.

Sample readings
- Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, by David Grusky
- "Would Equal Opportunity Mean More Mobility?" by Jencks & Tach
- "Gender Inequalities in Education," by Buchman, DiPrete, and McDaniel
- "Inequality in Earnings at the Close of the Twentieth Century," by Morris & Western

Copyright © 2008 Devah Pager. Department of Sociology and the Office of Population Research. All Rights Reserved. Design by Student Design Agency.