Scholars in disparate fields have studied discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language status, and more, often by focusing on one group’s experiences of inequality and efforts to obtain full human and citizenship rights, equity, and justice. These treatments contribute to specific literatures, but do not coalesce into systematic study of discrimination per se. Discrimination Studies (DS) leverages existing research while pushing our understanding forward by analyzing discrimination as a general social phenomenon.

Discrimination Studies as a research field addresses four key questions:

  • What is the definition of discrimination?  DS scholars explore, elaborate, and critique the multiple, possibly conflicting definitions of discrimination different disciplines employ.  Notably, in their analyses DS scholars critically draw on explicit legal, social, scientific, and philosophical perspectives. In so doing, DS scholars provide coherent grounding for the empirical investigation of discrimination;
  • Does discrimination toward a particular social category exist? DS asks whether discrimination toward a particular social category exists.  This question follows from a key contention of the field: some injustices and harmful arrangements are not discrimination. Thus, DS scholars distinguish discrimination from other harmful social arrangements while also documenting the existence of discrimination.  
  • What causes discrimination?  Discrimination Studies, asserting that understanding discrimination requires an exploration of its causes, excavates those causes. 
  • What are the effects of discrimination?  DS examines the wide ranging effects of discrimination on societies.  Notably, the field does not presuppose that these effects are: a) confined to the individual level, b) limited to targets of discrimination, or c) positive for non targets.

Throughout these research efforts, DS scholars consider the subtle ways that audience might shape research on discrimination and its reception.

We invite applications from students interested in conducting empirical investigations of the causes, operation, or effects of discrimination, and committed to grounding claims in coherent philosophical positions.  We seek scholars from diverse fields  including (but not limited to) history, sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology, political science, law, philosophy, and literature  who collectively bring a range of interests and experiences to bear on the phenomenon.  Reflecting the larger field, the workshop seeks participants engaged in a wide range of methodological approaches, including (but not limited to) archival investigation, in depth interviewing, ethnographic investigation, survey research, experiments and quasi experiments, econometric modeling, and close textual readings.  The social categories for study in the field are wide ranging.  Successful applicants may address the phenomenon for any historical period and any geographic area.


  • Melissa A. Adler

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Information Studies

    For SEXUAL PERVERSION see PARAPHILIAS: The Social Construction and Regulation of Sexual Deviance in the Library of Congress Catalog, 1910-2010
    The Library of Congress is a federal institution that occupies a critical space where medical, social science, political, literary, and other discourses are collected, arranged, and disseminated to Congress and the public. Through the lens of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), this dissertation will examine the role of the Library in the social construction of sexual deviance and its consequences for discrimination based on sexual orientation and practices. Using historical methods and textual analysis of library catalog records, cataloging policies, and published works regarding sexual deviance from 1910 to the present, I will apprehend the role of the Library of Congress in the organization and distribution of knowledge within the context of wider discourses regarding sexual deviance. An intertextual reading of relationships between LCSH and the works to which they afford access will reveal and problematize LCSH as an interface where the prevailing attitudes and assumptions in scholarship emerge in and produce universalized and authorized terms. Viewing LCSH and the library catalog as apparatuses that produce and regulate texts about sexuality, this project seeks to understand the effects of knowledge production on access to information, reproduction of discriminatory ideas about sexual orientation and behavior, and public policy decisions.
  • Rengin Bahar Firat

    University of Iowa, Sociology

    The role of moral emotions in discrimination
    This study seeks to uncover subtle and covert mechanisms underlying discrimination by focusing on the relationship between discrimination and moral emotions, linking two separate disciplines: sociology and neuropsychology. Sociological research suggests that morality (shared sets of social norms distinguishing between right and wrong behavior) plays an important role in the maintenance of social inequality by reinforcing discrimination through the creation of symbolic boundaries. However, this research rarely explicates the mechanisms through which morality is linked to discrimination. My hypothesis is moral emotions (such as pride, shame and guilt) that motivate moral behavior or respond to moral violations, play a central role in this relationship by evoking rapid, automatic and non-conscious cognitive appraisals of interpersonal events. In my study I will focus on the role of moral emotions in evaluations of interpersonal events regarding people from different races or genders. This study contributes to our understanding of social inequality and discrimination in two ways: First, it sheds light on one of the unexplored mechanisms leading to discrimination. Second, it represents one of the first studies incorporating brain imaging experiments using advanced functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology into the more common sociological vignette survey methods.
  • Rachel Elizabeth Fish

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Sociology

    Testing Racial Bias in Referral of Students to Special Education Testing
  • Stephanie D. Hinnershitz

    University of Maryland, History

    "Building the Cultural Bridge": Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Student Responses to Discrimination in America and Abroad, 1910-1945.
    During the early twentieth century, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino college students were more than just foreign scholars in America; they were activists committed to ending the global problem of discrimination. These students formed the largest foreign student organizations on university campuses across the United States and cooperated with one another to combat what they termed “cultural misunderstanding,” the root cause of discrimination against various races and ethnicities in America and around the world. Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino students contended in their organizations’ monthly newspapers that building solidarity and understanding among all college students would create knowledgeable and culturally-enlightened future world leaders. While historians have traditionally studied foreign students as part of a larger movement of “cosmopolitanism” in America during the early twentieth century, I argue in this proposed dissertation that these student organizations were foundations for social and political activism against discrimination in the United States and beyond between 1910 and World War II. Through the use of archival materials, oral histories, and the literary works of the students, I will also examine the ways in which Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino students interacted with other student groups and how issues of labor, imperialism, and civil rights shaped their ideologies of anti-discrimination.
  • Trevor Hoppe

    University of Michigan, Sociology

    Public Health, Surveillance and Criminalized Sex in the Era of HIV
    In the state of Michigan, people infected with HIV are required by law to disclose their HIV-positive status to their sexual partners. Failure to do so is a felony and subject to prosecution, sentencing for which varies widely but has included jail time. As part of their HIV surveillance efforts, local health departments are tasked with identifying individuals who may be breaking the law and dealing with these so-called “imminent health threats” – but not all cases are identified, nor are all cases pursued for prosecution. Indeed, although no state agency keeps centralized records of such prosecutions, local reports suggest a very small minority of such cases are pursued criminally. Through an independent analysis of the relevant data and qualitative interviews with key Public Health department officials, I will explore in this project how Public Health officials tasked with dealing with so-called “imminent health threat” cases respond to and manage cases deemed potentially dangerous to public health. In particular, I am interested in what factors lead officials to deem certain cases as suitable for criminal intervention by way of prosecution, while others are deemed suitable for public health intervention through various rehabilitation strategies (such as substance abuse counseling, drug abuse treatment, etc.).
  • Katrina Nancy Jirik

    University of Minnesota / Twin Cities, History of Science and Medicine

    Through the Eyes of Women: cultural aspects of discrimination against people with cognitive impairments in the United States 1876-1930
    This project focuses on a little-studied topic, how discriminatory practices developed in institutions for people with cognitive impairments at the turn of the 20th century. This work is important for two reasons. First, it plugs a hole in the historiography. Secondly, it forces a re-interpretation of the top-down methodology used by historians in which they focus on the superintendents of these institutions in their roles as either a father figure or a tyrant. I seek to broaden the range of explanations for discriminatory practices by analyzing information on women engaged in the work of the institutions for people with cognitive impairments from 1875 to 1930 in order to explain the impact of cultural values on institutional policies. What makes this project unique is that it is using information on a group, women, who were discriminated against during this time period, in order to analyze the development of institutional discrimination of another group. I plan to look at three different aspects of women’s participation in the work of the institutions: the role of women in the establishment of these institutions, the superintendencies of women in the institutions and the roles of women employed by the institutions.
  • Angela Ju

    University of California / Los Angeles, Political Science

    Left Behind?: Effects of Cuban Immigration into the United States on Domestic Racial Politics in Cuba
    Many studies have been conducted on the experience of Cuban immigrants in the United States, including studies on the role that race plays on these immigrants’ wages and assimilation (e.g., Zavodny 2003; Pedraza 1996). Some studies have been conducted on the effects of Cuban immigration into the United States on the Cuban economy and economic policy, especially in regard to remittances (e.g., Domínguez 2004; Blue 2007); and some studies have been conducted on racial differences in the decision to stay in or leave Cuba (e.g., Aguirre 1976; Pedraza 2007). There has been, however, a lack of scholarly attention on how Cuban immigration into the United States affects domestic racial politics in Cuba. Thus, in this project, I explore the effects of Cuban immigration into the United States on racial politics in Cuba, particularly for the family members of those who have emigrated and with special attention to Afro-Cubans and Chinese-Cubans. My theoretical framework for this project intersects with three literatures: Marginalization (Cohen 1999), Quotidian Politics (Hanchard 2006), and Inclusionary Discrimination (Sawyer 2006). Following from my theoretical framework, the methods that I engage for this project include qualitative interviews and textual analysis of popular Cuban songs dealing with emigration or immigration.
  • Anna Koch

    New York University (NYU), Hebrew and Judaic Studies

    Reconstructing Jewish Life in Italy and Germany
    In the aftermath of the Holocaust the majority of the Jewish community considered life in Europe impossible. Some European Jews, however, decided to stay in Europe or to return to their home countries. In my dissertation I will explore the reconstruction of Jewish Life in Italy and Germany, and compare how the Jewish minority in these two countries coped with the trauma and rebuilt their homes, their identity, and their lives. Both Italy and Germany persecuted, although to different degrees, “their” Jewish minority. Yet the starting point from which Italian and German Jews set out to reconstruct their identities appear very different. While the 1948 World Jewish Congress had voiced the opinion that Jews should never again live on the “blood-soaked German soil,” the myth of the “good Italian” dominated the postwar perception of Italy. How these contrasting postwar narratives exacerbated or facilitated Italian and German Jews’ reconstruction of their identities and influenced their relations with the majority population will be a crucial part of my research. Such a comparative analysis not only addresses larger questions of minority identity, memory and myth building, but also sheds light on the postwar Italian and German societies at large.
  • Anna L. Krome-Lukens

    University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill, History

    Caring for "Defective Humanity": Women and Eugenics Ideology in North Carolina, 1903-1944
    I propose to explore the ways in which white middle-class women in early twentieth-century North Carolina drew on eugenics ideology as part of broad social reform efforts. I will assess women’s eugenics activism within the context of their social welfare work, which led them to take unprecedented positions of responsibility as public officials. Clubwomen, female state welfare officials, and female social workers had divergent goals in their appropriation of eugenics principles, but nevertheless cooperated to create state-run custodial institutions and a sterilization program. Emphasizing the diversity of viewpoints among women reformers in North Carolina, I ask how various ideologies and gender difference shaped reformers’ political stances and forays into eugenics and progressivism. An understanding of how various groups of women interpreted and employed eugenics principles is critical to analyses of the eugenics movement generally, as it provides a nuanced view of the impact of eugenics on the lives of both reformers and the citizens targeted by eugenics programs. My research provides an opportunity to analyze the meaning and function of ideology in shaping social movements. I will explore the importance of ideology to individuals, as well as the transformation of ideology even as it informs individual actions and state policies.
  • Aniuska Luna

    Nova Southeastern University, Conflict Analysis and Resolution

    Historical discriminations of "the other" in war iconography: Implications for conflict analysis and resolution
    A comparative analysis of the actions portrayed in war iconography might reveal that war across time has - in essence – not changed, even if the means (e.g. weapons), the geographies, rationales used to justify them, and the fashions (i.e. hair styles and clothing) from image to image have. The proposed study on visual imagery produced by individuals who witnessed or were indirectly affected by war is further aimed at exploring the dehumanization of “the other” as a necessary act of war. Discrimination against another group, deemed “the enemy,” enables the violations of the human rights of that group; it legitimizes them because it reinforces the violator’s identity as the right or powerful side; and creates the emotional distance from the object of violation necessary to kill and abuse in violent times. Because art and visual production have been a part of human society for thousands of years, serving different functions of expression, they represent a useful medium to compare and reflect on the various components of discrimination and war historically and what the implications of these are for conflict analysts and resolutionists.
  • Michael S. North

    Princeton University, Psychology

    An Intergenerational, Prescriptive Approach to Ageism: Succession, Identity, and Consumption
    My research introduces a novel model of ageism, based on intergenerational tensions over social status. To date, research has depicted the predominant perception of older people as one of ambivalent pity—that is, comprising attributes both positive (warmth) and negative (incompetence). However, this perception may not always apply, particularly among younger people—who, as aspirants to middle-aged high status in a curvilinear power hierarchy, suffer the most from elders’ obstruction of societal resources. Three prescriptive dimensions describe how younger people stereotype their elders to keep them at bay: active Succession of wealth and power, age-appropriate Identity, and passive Consumption of shared resources (SIC). Older people’s compliance with SIC dimensions signifies “knowing their place,” and fosters positive regard and even pride among younger people. However, failing to step aside (e.g., waiting too long to retire) constitutes violations that likely invoke resentful emotions and corresponding behaviors. Thus, this SIC-based polarization introduces new non-ambivalent elderly sub-types, provides a foundation for more hostile forms of ageism, and has profound implications for intergenerational relations and policies.
  • Shomon Shamsuddin

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Urban Studies and Planning

    Choosing Class: The Impact of Community College Coursework on Earnings and Employment
    Nearly one-half of all Black and Hispanic college students in the United States attend two-year institutions but less than one-third complete a degree and little evidence exists on the determinants of labor market outcomes. Previous studies focus on prior education and find that total high school math credits are associated with earnings, but they do not explore course content. This research contributes to the literature by examining how the specific level of coursework taken in community colleges predicts future wages and unemployment spells. Over 30% of all entering college students are required to take remedial classes, which disproportionately include students of color. I analyze the discriminatory consequences of remedial coursework based on disparate impact theory grounded in the legal tradition. Using differences in state education policy as a quasi-experiment, I compare the effects of remedial classes on degree attainment and employment for minorities, immigrants, and whites. The quantitative analyses are combined with interviews to explore how discrimination, a) operates through administrative discretion in remedial placement, and b) benefits students by fostering job networks. The results have important policy implications for improving the link between coursework and employment outcomes for minority and immigrant community college students.