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Gretchen Purser

Gretchen Purser

Contact Information:


400H Eggers Hall

Gretchen Purser

Associate Professor, Sociology Department

Research Co-Director, Advocacy and Activism

Senior Research Associate, Center for Qualitative and Multi-Method Inquiry

Senior Research Associate, Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration

Director of the Law, Society and Policy Integrated Learning Major


SOC 300 Work and Labor

SOC 334 Criminal Justice 

SOC 351 Urban Poverty

SOC 406 Sociological Theory

SOC 816 Ethnography

MAX 302 Civic Engagement Research Seminar

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2009


Gretchen Purser is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is also the research director on advocacy and activism for PARCC, where she coordinates the Labor Studies Working Group

She received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.A. in sociology from Smith College. Prior to joining the faculty at Syracuse, she was a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at University of California at Davis. Purser has held fellowships at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently a fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program.

Purser’s scholarship focuses broadly on precarious work and the low-wage labor market as well as the reproduction and lived experience of urban poverty in the U.S. She uses ethnographic and/or community-based research methods to explore the changing nature of work and workers’ movements, the housing struggles of the poor and the ground-level practices of neoliberal poverty management.

Her work has been recognized with a wide variety of publication awards from the American Sociological Association’s sections on Labor and Labor Movements, Marxist Sociology, Sociology of Human Rights, and Public Sociology. She is also a two-time recipient of the John Russo and Sherry Linkon Award for Best Published Article from the Working Class Studies Association. Purser is an Associate Editor for both Critical Sociology and Research in the Sociology of Work. She is a Commissioning Editor for both the Marxist Sociology Blog and Work In Progress, public sociology blogs of the American Sociological Association.

Purser teaches undergraduate and doctoral-level courses on sociological theory, urban poverty, work and labor, and ethnographic research methods. She also teaches a course on social movement organizing as part of the PARCC summer institute on creative collaboration and conflict resolution.

She is the recipient of numerous teaching awards, including the Meredith Teaching Recognition Award (2013), the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and Research (2016), and the Excellence in Graduate Education Award (2020). In 2020-2021, Purser was the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Ralph E. Montonna Endowed Professorship for the Teaching and Education of Undergraduates.

Purser is deeply involved in community struggles for social and economic justice. Since 2012, she has served as chair of the board of the Workers’ Center of Central New York. She is also involved with the Syracuse Tenants Union

Areas of Expertise

Work and labor, urban poverty, law and punishment, housing and homelessness, precarity, social theory, ethnography, community-based action research

Research Grant Awards and Projects



Purser, Gretchen. Forthcoming. “More than a slight ache: On the ethnographic sensibility and enduring relevance of Studs Terkel’s Working.” Research in the Sociology of Work. 

Purser, Gretchen and Madeleine Hamlin. 2022. “Bodies in the Building: Incarceration’s Afterlife in a Reentry Housing Facility.” Social Service Review 96(2): 169-195 (Special issue on the “Afterlife of Incarceration”).

Hamlin, Madeleine and Gretchen Purser. 2021. “A Program, Not the Projects: Reentry in the Post-Public Housing Era.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 50(6): 806-834.

Purser, Gretchen. 2021. “‘You put up with anything’: On the vulnerability and exploitability of formerly-incarcerated workers” in Labor and Punishment: Work In and Out of Prison, edited by Erin Hatton. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Hennigan, Brian and Gretchen Purser. 2021. “Both Sides of the Paycheck: Recommending Thrift to the Poor in Job-Readiness Programs.” Critical Sociology 47(3): 389-406.
★ Winner of the 2022 John Russo and Sherry Linkon Award for Best Published Article, Working Class Studies Association

Purser, Gretchen, Ortiz-Valdez, Fabiola, Sexsmith, Kathy. 2020. “Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State: Milking Research for Social Change” in Collaborating for Change: A Casebook of Participatory Action Research, edited by Susan Greenbaum, Glenn Jacobs, and Prentice Zinn. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Purser, Gretchen. 2019. “Day Labor Agencies, Backdoor Hires, and the Spread of Unfree Labor.” Anthropology of Work Review 40(1): 5-14.
★ Winner of the 2020 Distinguished Scholarly Article Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on Labor and Labor Movements

Purser, Gretchen and Brian Hennigan. 2018. “Disciples vs. Dreamers: Job-Readiness and the Making of the Working Class.” Dialectical Anthropology 42: 149-161. (Special issue on “The Making of the U.S. Working Class”). 

Hennigan, Brian and Gretchen Purser. 2018. “Jobless and Godless: Religious Neoliberalism and the Project of Evangelizing Employability.” Ethnography 19(1): 84-104. [Online First: July 11, 2017] 

Purser, Gretchen and Brian Hennigan. 2017. “Work as Unto the Lord: Enhancing Employability in an Evangelical Job Readiness Program.” Qualitative Sociology 40(1): 111-133 [Online First: December 29, 2016]

Purser, Gretchen. 2017. “Day Labor Agencies and the Logic and Landscape of Neoliberal Poverty Management” in The City is the Factory: New Solidarities and Spatial Strategies in an Urban Age edited by Miriam Greenberg and Penny Lewis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Purser, Gretchen. 2016. “The Circle of Dispossession: Evicting the Urban Poor in Baltimore.” Critical Sociology 42(3): 393-415. [Online First: May 27, 2014] 
★ Winner of the 2018 Best Scholarly Article Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on Marxist Sociology
★ Honorable Mention for the 2018 Best Scholarly Article Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on Human Rights

Purser, Gretchen. 2012. “The Labour of Liminality.” Labour, Capital & Society 45(1): 10-35.
★ Winner of the 2013 John Russo and Sherry Linkon Award for Best Published Article, Working Class Studies Association

Purser, Gretchen. 2012. “‘Still Doin’ Time:’ Clamoring for Work in the Day Labor Industry.” WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society 15: 397-415.

Purser, Gretchen. 2009. “The Dignity of Job-Seeking Men: Boundary Work among Immigrant Day Laborers.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38(1): 117-39.