Jennifer Utrata wins Puget Sound Research Award

Hi all,Utrata

The SOAN department has been in the spotlight quite a bit recently for the teaching and research achievements of its faculty. As we shared on this blog earlier in September, Professor Monica Dehart won the 2014 President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious of the teaching awards on campus. Excellent teaching has been recognized for several years now, but this year Dean Kristine Bartanen started a new tradition of formally recognizing the research excellence of faculty under review in a given year. At this year’s annual fall faculty dinner, our own Jennifer Utrata, Associate Professor of Sociology, was one of two university-wide recipients of this inaugural Faculty Research Recognition.

Prof. Utrata is a sociologist of gender, family, and culture with expertise on how ordinary people navigate the transition from state socialism to neoliberal capitalism in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Recently tenured and promoted, she came to Puget Sound (where she teaches courses in the sociology of gender and family, social theory, and more recently, men and masculinities) right after completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at U.C. Berkeley in 2008. Dean Bartanen noted that during her first five years at Puget Sound, Prof. Utrata completed a book, Women Without Men: Single Mothers and Family Change in the New Russia (forthcoming from Cornell University Press in March 2015), and was recognized nationally in 2012 with a Distinguished Article Award from the American Sociological Association’s Sex and Gender Section for a 2011 article in Gender and Society, entitled “Youth Privilege: Doing Age and Gender in Russia’s Single-Mother Families,” research recently reprinted in a Sage volume used in college courses. Prof. Utrata also wrote a feature article for a U.S.-based magazine of Russian culture and ideas, Russian Life; published a piece on masculinities and fatherhood in transition in the Journal of Marriage and Family; co-authored another piece on Russian fathers in a Routledge volume, Fathers in Cultural Context; and wrote a chapter about how Russian single mothers adapt to systemic changes and refashion the kind of selves newly capitalist workplaces demand of them, forthcoming Winter 2015 in an Oxford University Press volume about the broader effects of job insecurity in contemporary culture. Dean Bartanen concluded her remarks by noting that external reviewers found Prof. Utrata’s work exceptional, path-breaking, and theoretically innovative, bridging scholarly fields while using “her keen interpretive powers and a unique case – that of post-Soviet Russia – to challenge existing theoretical understandings for wider sociological audiences.”

Congratulations Professor Utrata!



Andrew, Presentations and Workshops in Japan

Hi all,

Early in 2014, I was contacted by Masaki Matsuo, a professor and researcher in Japan. He and other researchers there were familiar with my work, and asked if I could come over for a visit in September. I just returned from that trip, and thought I would give a brief description of the impressive institutions and individuals I encountered there.

JETRO presentation hall, before our presentations

The JETRO presentation hall, before our presentations

Thanks to Masaki and Hirotake Ishiguro‘s arrangements, I was able to deliver one presentation and participate in two workshops during my week-long visit. That visit started in Tokyo, where I was hosted with JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) and IDE (Institute for Developing Economies). I first met with a group of researchers at IDE who share my focus on the Gulf States of the Arabian Peninsula, and who have active projects in the region. My presentation, Social Research in the Contemporary GCC, provided me with an opportunity to discuss various facets of the research project designs I’ve implemented over the last decade, and with a small group of knowledgeable and experienced researchers, we found much to discuss.

The next day was a presentation in front of an extremely large audience at JETRO. That audience, consisting of scholars, people with active business concerns in the Middle East, and personnel from various government ministries, were actively interested in academic readings of the culture, societies, economy, and evolving political frameworks in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. My presentation, entitled Migration, Labor and Business in the Worlding Cities of the Arabian Peninsula, described the Gulf States’ long history of regional and global interaction, the political economy of development predominant there today, and the important role of labor migration in those societies. In that presentation, I also took the opportunity to introduce a few new ideas that I’ve been exploring, including the social role of gatekeepers and imagineers in the unique, cosmopolitan demographies of the region.


Drs. Masaki Matsui, me, Marc Valeri, and Hirotake Ishiguro, visting a temple in Kyoto

Our final scheduled event was at Kyoto University, where my hosts had arranged a workshop entitled The Arab Gulf States: Authoritarian Regimes and Expatriates. My paper, entitled Hosts, Migrants, Visitors, and the Enveloping Field of Relations, focused more specifically on the frontiers of our collective scholarly knowledge of the migrations and mobilities with one endpoint in the Gulf States.

Meeting and presenting with Dr. Marc Valeri (Exeter) was an honor, and I was equally impressed by the extraordinary number and quality of research that the Japanese academic system fosters. As we discussed after our workshops and presentations, I hope that this visit will help build future collaborations that extend our knowledge and understanding of the Arabian Gulf States.


New Visiting Professor Devparna Roy

Devparna, with two farmers, amidst fieldwork in India

Devparna, with two farmers, amidst fieldwork in India

We would also like to welcome visiting assistant professor Devparna Roy to the University of Puget Sound!  Professor Roy earned a masters degree in biotechnology from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India.  She later worked as a journalist, before earning her Ph.D in development sociology from Cornell University in 2006.  As a doctoral student, she worked with Indian farmers to understand why they chose to use (or not use) Bt cotton, a genetically modified strain of cotton developed by Monsanto.  Professor Roy has worked with cotton growers in Mississippi and Texas, as well.  Her work has been presented at conferences across India and the United States, and she has published articles in the Journal of Development Studies and the Agricultural Biotechnology and Development Review.

Professor Roy’s passion for social justice led her to pursue her doctorate in Sociology.  In her opinion, “the time for sociology is now,” as we learn to better study the different forms of inequality in the world.  Aside from teaching, Professor Roy loves movies.  One of her favorites is The Shawshank Redemption, which she describes as “a story of the man who does not give into the system.”  This semester Professor Roy is teaching two sections of SOAN 101 –  Introduction to Sociology, as well as CONN 335 – Race and Multiculturalism in the American Context.

New Visiting Assistant Professor Mytoan Nguyen-Akbar


We would like to welcome Visiting Assistant Professor Mytoan Nguyen-Akbar
to the University of Puget Sound!  Earlier in 2014, Professor Nguyen-Akbar
earned her Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Her dissertation was titled “Ambivalent Diasporics: High-Skilled Return
Migration and Social Change in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam”, and she spent several months (over the course of six years) living alongside young Vietnamese-Americans who worked in
transnational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and arts/media
jobs in Vietnam, to better understand their experiences of work, extended
family ties, and social lives in Ho Chi Minh City.

In her free time, Professor Nguyen-Akbar likes to keep up with popular
culture, following shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.
She describes the importance of the “sociological imagination”, and the
insight provided by books, television, and people’s life experiences.
Professor Nguyen-Akbar is teaching two sections of SOAN 101 – Introduction
to Sociology, along with SOAN 301 – Power and Inequality.

Summer Update: Andrew Gardner

Hi all,

Friends and acquaintances often think that professors like me have our summers “off.”  But those of us who have these sorts of jobs know that while we’re often not teaching during the summer, there are many other things to keep us extremely busy. I used my time this summer to carry several of my research/writing projects to conclusion, to prepare for my Fall semester courses, and to get a few things done around my new house. I’ll describe a few of those research/writing projects here.

A tribal tent assembled in urban interstitial space for National Day, 2009. Photograph by Kristin Giordano.

A tribal tent assembled in urban interstitial space for National Day, 2009. Photograph by Kristin Giordano.

First, during my two years teaching at Qatar University (2008-2010), I became good friends with sociologist Ali Al-Shawi. Ali and I recently published a collaborative paper entitled “Tribalism, Identity and Citizenship in Contemporary Qatar” in the journal Anthropology of the Middle East. The paper combines Dr. Al-Shawi’s quantitative exploration of tribalism in Qatar with my qualitative ethnographic assessment. We certainly agree that tribes and tribalism are amidst a resurgence in the region, and our paper points to how this form of belonging — one that’s unfamiliar to most of us in the world today — is very much in cadence with the political/economic structure of the contemporary Qatari state. Our analysis is reinforced by the fact that Dr. Al-Shawi is a member of the Al-Murrah tribe, Qatar’s largest bedouin tribe (and the tribe that anthropologist Donald Cole referred to as the “nomads of the nomads“). Both Ali and I are excited about our publication.

Skyscrapers under construction everywhere in Doha, Qatar. Photograph by Kristin Giordano, 2009.

Skyscrapers under construction everywhere in Doha, Qatar. Photograph by Kristin Giordano, 2009.

Second, I also published a book chapter entitled “How the City Grows: Urban Growth and Challenges to Sustainable Development in Doha, Qatar.” That chapter is one of many in the new book Sustainable Development: An Appraisal from the Gulf Region, edited by my friend and former colleague Paul Sillitoe (Durham University). In that chapter, I assess the role and impact of the idea of ‘sustainable development’ on urbanization and urban growth in Doha, Qatar. More specifically, I point to several challenging problems for the implementation of a more sustainable form of development on the Qatari peninsula. First, I sketch the political economy of urban development in Doha, and contend that urban development is an essential feature in the transfer of state-controlled hydrocarbon wealth to the Qatari citizenry. Second, I briefly interrogate how sustainable development might work in a tribal-authoritarian society like Qatar. And finally, I note that efforts at sustainable development in Qatar fall into the predominant spatial discourse of urban development there. In that spatial discourse, sustainability is something consigned to particular zones, tracts, and developments in the urban landscape. Collectively, these three points comprise a fairly critical assessment of sustainability’s implementation in Qatar.

I have a few other publications in the pipeline, but I’ll announce them here when the time is appropriate. In addition to these projects, however, I also worked closely with two undergraduate research assistants over the summer. Elena Becker, a sophomore at the University of Puget Sound, helped me immensely with the first draft of another article I’m working on. She was also essential in helping me finish an encyclopedia entry I was asked to pen about Qatar’s Sheikha Moza. Carolynn Hammen, a junior in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, helped me with another project. Looking at all of seven of the Gulf States, she assembled a list of the zones, spaces, and developments that result from the urban spatial discourse of development that my recent work delineates. It’s been great working with both of these students, and I’m excited to see their own ideas blossom in the coming years of coursework and study abroad.

So those were a couple of the things I worked on during my summer “off.”



Congratulations Professor Monica DeHart!

photoKnown on campus for the ingenuity of his speeches, University President Ron Thomas’ words during the Fall Faculty Dinner are no different.  Each year, he introduces the recipient of the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and taking his time, he is careful not to give away the recipient’s name too quickly.  Established in 1998, the award recognizes faculty members who inspire and challenge students through their passion for teaching.  Toward the beginning of his speech, President Thomas purposefully uses non-gendered pronouns to veil the identity of the recipient, but gradually becomes more clear.  When he announced that this year’s recipient “went to Costa Rica and found Chinatown,” it was over, and heads turned toward our very own Professor Monica Dehart, recipient of the 2014 President’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Professor DeHart the first week of the semester, and asked her some questions regarding her recent award, her research, and her passion for teaching.  I hadn’t visited Professor DeHart’s office since the fall of 2013, when I was a student in her Ethnographic Methods class, so we briefly caught up before talking about her award.

As an undergraduate, Professor DeHart studied at the University of California-Davis, and then received her Masters and Ph.D at Stanford in 2001.  While many of her colleagues from graduate school found positions at other large universities, Professor DeHart began teaching at UPS in 2004.  A decade later, when I ask her what differences she sees between a research university and teaching at a smaller liberal arts school, she brings up classroom sizes.  At her alma maters, lecture halls could easily number in the hundreds.  This semester, her Introduction to Latin American Studies class has 28 students, which is actually more than most other courses (which usually total about 15-20 students) that she has offered in the past. This makes it really easy to get to know her students, and the experience of teaching becomes more about their relationship in the classroom, rather than simply talking at them.  “All of the classes on this campus are interactive,” Professor DeHart explains.

In her own classroom, the intention is to offer “the relationship between complex theories and their real-world stakes,” and when I asked Professor DeHart what the intersection was between her research and teaching material, her response made it clear that the subject matter and problems which she posed to students were directly related to her own experiences in the field. In 2010, she published her book Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Identity and Development Politics in Latin America, examining ethno-development and how indigenous and migrant communities had become seen as valuable development agents in the 1990s.  At UPS, we especially see this research agenda reflected in the Latin American Studies program, which she currently directs. Last spring, she co-taught a class with IPE professor Emelie Peine on the strengthening developmental ties between China and parts of Latin America, merging both of the professors’ specializations into a single course.

Students who have had Professor DeHart as a professor comment on her logical approach to problems, and her ability to challenge students in creative ways.  “Because she pushes me so hard, and because of that personal connection, I don’t want to let her down,” senior Elise Zeidman said, adding that “I think a lot of students feel that way.” Although her classes are challenging, Professor DeHart strives to make them irreverent and fun, even with the more difficult material.  Although her classes allow her to explore her own research interests, helping students make connections through her work in three different academic programs, and training young ethnographers, there is an ultimate reason why Professor DeHart is in the classroom.  “I just really like to teach,” she noted — “that makes it pretty easy.”

Congratulations to Professor DeHart!

Edward Jones
SOAN Senior, Class of 2015