Recent Books from PHD Dissertations

Boystown
Jason Orne (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2017)

“Based on three years of ethnography in Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown examines the importance of sex to queer communities. Boystown is trading its radical sexual culture for normality, transforming into a “gay disneyland” through heritage commodification by business owners. The “sexy communities” that embody radical sexuality foster racial diversity by building sexual kinship through ritual moments of collective effervescence, what I call “naked intimacy.” Boystown is about the power of sex to connect across racial boundaries, the commodification of gay male culture, and the “intersectional knot” that supports respectability. I wrote Boystown in a creative nonfiction style that allows sociologists, their students, and lay readers to learn from Boystown’s queer lessons.” — Jason Orne

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Matthew Desmond, Ph.D. 2010 (Penguin Random House, 2016)

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible. — Penguin Random House

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production
Sarah Bowen, Ph.D. 2008 (University of California Press, 2015)

Divided Spirits tells the intertwined stories of tequila and mezcal, two of Mexico’s most iconic products. In doing so, the book illustrates how neoliberalism influences the production, branding, and regulation of local foods and drinks. It also challenges the strategy of relying on “alternative” markets to protect food cultures and rural livelihoods.

In recent years, as consumers increasingly demand to connect with the people and places that produce their food, the concept of terroir-the taste of place-has become more and more prominent. Tequila and mezcal are both protected by denominations of origin (DOs), legal designations that aim to guarantee a product’s authenticity based on its connection to terroir. Advocates argue that the DOs expand market opportunities, protect cultural heritage, and ensure the reputation of Mexico’s national spirits. But this book shows how the institutions that are supposed to guard “the legacy of all Mexicans” often fail those who are most in need of protection: the small producers, agave farmers, and other workers who have been making tequila and mezcal for generations. The consequences-for the quality and taste of tequila and mezcal, and for communities throughout Mexico-are stark.

Divided Spirits suggests that we must move beyond market-based models if we want to preserve local products and the people who make them. Instead, we need systems of production, consumption, and oversight that are more democratic, more inclusive, and more participatory. Lasting change is unlikely without the involvement of the state and a sustained commitment to addressing inequality and supporting rural development.” — University of California Press

Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India
Sharmila Rudrappa, Ph.D., 2001 (NYU Press, 2015)

India is the top provider of surrogacy services in the world, with a multi-million dollar surrogacy industry that continues to grow exponentially, as increasing numbers of couples from developed nations look for wombs in which to grow their babies. Some scholars have exulted transnational surrogacy for the possibilities it opens for infertile couples, while others have offered bioethical cautionary tales, rebuked exploitative intended parents, or lamented the exploitation of surrogate mothers—but very little is known about the experience of and transaction between surrogate mothers and intended parents outside the lens of the many agencies that control surrogacy in India. Drawing from rich interviews with surrogate mothers and egg donors in Bangalore, as well as twenty straight and gay couples in the U.S. and Australia, Discounted Life focuses on the processes of social and market exchange in transnational surrogacy. –NYU Press