Gretchen Purser

Associate Professor, Sociology

Gretchen Purser

Contact Information

400H Eggers Hall
(315) 443-5848
Curriculum Vitae
Gretchen Purser CV

Research Director on Activism and Advocacy, PARCC


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


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


Fall 2020:

SOC 406 Sociological Theory & SOC 800: Urban Poverty

Spring 2021:

On Research Leave


Gretchen Purser is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She also serves as the Research Director on Activism and Advocacy at PARCC, where she coordinates the Labor Studies working group. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and her 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, MA and the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM.

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, including the 2020 Publication Award from the ASA Section on Public Sociology, the 2020 Distinguished Scholarly Article Award from the ASA Section on Labor and Labor Movements, the 2018 Best Scholarly Article Award from the ASA Section on Marxist Sociology, and the 2013 John Russo and Sherry Linkon Award for Best Published Article from the Working Class Studies Association. She is a commissioning editor for the public sociology blog Work In Progress and a member of the editorial boards for Research in the Sociology of Work and the Journal for the Anthropology of North America

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). For 2020-2021, she is 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


Hamlin, Madeleine and Gretchen Purser. 2021. “A Program, Not the Projects: Reentry in the Post-Public Housing Era.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography [Online First: May 26, 2021].

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. [Online First: October 14, 2020] 

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.

Research Grants and Awards

Selected Grants


SU Affiliations


Labor Studies Working Group