Research

Dissertation

My dissertation, “The Walls of Wynwood: Art and Change in the Global Neighborhood,” analyzes the way in which currents of global cultural consumption shape small neighborhoods.  The main question of the project, in its simplest form, is: how do the arts contribute to neighborhood change?  My dissertation, however, shapes this question around recent trends in global wealth inequality—especially the increase in the number and wealth of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs)—and current writings on cultural consumption in cities—particularly the emphasis that cities place on arts and culture for economic investment.  In a world where the new global elites increasingly, and relatively easily, span the globe for their cultural consumption, how are particular neighborhoods shaped?  How do cultural institutions, both formal and informal, simultaneously participate in these changes and are changed in this process?  And what do the place-making strategies in these neighborhoods indicate for the future of cities?

Through a long-term (2 year) ethnography of Wynwood, the former Puerto Rican Barrio of Miami that has turned into a global arts destination, I address the theoretical and practical implications of place and place construction through the arts.  In particular, I demonstrate the ways in which the cultural institutions in the neighborhood both shape the place of Wynwood and are shaped in the process by the rapid transition of the political economy of the area, such as the formation of a Business Improvement District and the international notoriety Wynwood has gained.

A chapel constructed to house 18th- and 19th- century Colonial art of the Americas, the newest project of the Catholic parish that includes Wynwood.

One of the many murals that cover the walls of Wynwood.  From murals to stencils, wheatpastes to stickers, there is art everywhere.

The Dorothy Quintana Community Center, a longstanding institution in the heart of Wynwood’s “Little San Juan.”

Other Research

My recent publications address questions that I began early in my graduate student career that focus on the rising number of individuals in the United States who identify as having no religious preference.  In one paper, my fellow graduate student Heather Kugelmass and I drew from the National Comorbidity Study, the gold standard for mental health research in the United States, to analyze the rates of mental illness among nonreligious adolescents.  Our main finding demonstrated that the highest rates of mental illness are among nonreligious adolescents with highly religious parents: thus indicating that the mental health benefits of being raised in a religious household may not extend to nonreligious youth.  This article, “Mental Disorders Among Nonreligious Adolescents,” has been published by the journal Mental Health, Religion & Culture.

In a second paper, I joined my fellow graduate student, Joe Blankholm, to analyze the nonbeliever organizations that some nonbelievers join.  Since no dataset or census of nonbeliever organizations exists, we built a first-of-its-kind dataset that included more than 1,400 local nonbeliever groups in the United States.  It remains, to our knowledge, the only collection of the population of these groups in the United States.  We plotted these groups across the country and joined them with county-level variables from six other nationally-representative datasets on religion, demographics, and institutions.  Using logistic regression and negative binomial models, we found that it is actually the percent of evangelical protestants—not the percent of seculars, as one would expect—that predicts both the presence and number of nonbeliever groups at the county level.  As the percent of evangelical protestants in a county increases, so do the odds of finding a nonbeliever organization.  This article, “The Social Context of Organized Nonbelief: County-Level Predictors of Nonbeliever Organizations in the United States,” is forthcoming in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

In a third article, I focused instead on joining my research in the sociology of religion with my interests in economic sociology.  In a sole-authored article in Sociology Compass, “Relational Work in Economic Sociology: A Review and Extension,” I gave a review of the literature on relational work in economic sociology and then apply this lens to the phenomenon of tithing in Word of Faith churches.  Known for emphasizing tithing and monetary donations, Word of Faith churches present a puzzle: most of the parishioners of these churches are financially struggling, so why would those who have the least opt into giving so much to the church?  I argue that in order to understand this phenomenon one must view tithing as a relational package between the practitioner and their God, the practitioner and their pastor, and between practitioners themselves.

 

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