Sandra Susan Smith: Want, Need, Fit: The Logics Underlying Job Contacts' Assistance


Monday, October 19, 2015, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Sandra Susan Smith, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley.

Despite the central role job contacts play during the job-matching process, we still know little about the logics that underlie the decisions job contacts make about whom to help, when to help, how best to help, or whether to help at all.

Drawing from a unique dataset based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a nonrandom sample of 145 ethnoracially diverse, blue- and white-collar workers at one large public sector employer, I uncover three distinct logics of assistance—defensive individualism, particularism, and matchmaking--explain the contexts within each emerge, and illustrate through these logics how social capital mobilization for job-finding operates on the levels of structure, culture, and social psychology.

About the speaker

Sandra Susan Smith joined the UC Berkeley Sociology faculty in 2004. Her research interests include urban poverty, joblessness, race and ethnicity, social networks and social capital, trust, and culture and social structure. 

Smith has published a number of articles on these topics in such journals as the American Journal of Sociology, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, the Annual Review of Sociology, Racial and Ethnic Studies, Social Science Research, and The Sociological Quarterly.

In her first book, Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor (Russell Sage Foundation), she advances current and enduring debates about black joblessness, highlighting the role of interpersonal distrust dynamics between low-income black jobholders and their job-seeking relations that make cooperation during the process of finding work a problematic affair.

In her current project, tentatively titled Logics of Assistance, Smith further interrogates the job search process from the perspective of the job contact by examining racial and ethnic differences in trust dynamics and exploring the social psychological, cultural, and structural factors that generate these differences.

Smith received a B.A. in History-Sociology from Columbia University in 1992 and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1998. 

Smith was a recipient of the Hellman Family Faculty Fund in 2007, which supports the research of promising assistant professors who show capacity for great distinction in their fields.  She has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City and a Fellow at Stanford's Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences (CASBS).

See also: Fall 2015