top of page

Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in Liberal Arts

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities


952 Social Sciences Building

267 19th Ave S 
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Research Interests

My Ph.D. is in sociology with an emphasis in race relations, criminology, and socio-legal studies from the University of California-Riverside. The bulk of my research concerns American jails. My new book, Indefinite: Doing Time in Jail, is distinctive because I conducted the ethnography while incarcerated in a Southern California county jail system, and over forty years have passed since the last major study of American jails from the inside out. Moreover, American jails are often an afterthought in studies of punishment, crime control, and corrections, where much of the research activity concerns prisons, so Indefinite serves as a reminder to the public and to scholars that American jails deserve our attention.

Indefinite explores mental health treatment, a sociology of time and of dreams, the nature of care, how emotional expression is zoned in different places within a jail, philosophies one might adopt to endure the vagaries of jail time, violence, and race relations.

My book builds upon my 2016 award-winning article published in the American Journal of Sociology: "Race Making in a Penal Institution." In that article, I explore how jail custodial administrators used racial classifications to marshal some penal residents (prisoners) to control the behaviors of others with the larger consequence of reducing the overall workload for deputies. 

Much of Indefinite signals my other research interests: emotions, stratification, social control, and race relations. These are broad areas of study, and I prefer it that way because I tend to see how social phenomena are alike. Matters of social life tend to be alike in kind while differing in degree, and that's because social circumstances tend to shape how we feel and what we do into recognizable patterns. 

Thus, my study of uncertainty is set in a jail, but we find different degrees of uncertainty across a wide variety of social arenas with similar outcomes. My interest in the temporal organization of identities begins with the problem of how jails breakdown that organization before expanding outward to contexts very different from corrections. Such is my general approach in all my research endeavors: try to discover what is unique to the context of interest that also bridges to contexts that might, at first glance, be surprising. 

bottom of page