Corey M. Abramson
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CV+Research Agenda

You can find my CV here.


My research examines how inequality structures everyday life in diverse contexts and how it is
reproduced over time. I am particularly interested in understanding the relationship between inequality, culture and health over the life course. I take a broad re-combinatory approach to methodology and theory that draws upon a diverse array of quantitative and qualitative methodsranging from zero-inflated negative binomial regression models of nationally representative health survey data to deep ethnographic immersion in urban communitiesin addition to developing new hybrid methodologies and formal theory when necessary.  My selection of topics, methods and contexts is grounded in the belief that social scientific innovation requires the deployment, reconfiguration and testing of ideas and research techniques across diverse (and often seemingly discrete) domains.

My goal is to forge analytical and methodological tools to illuminate (1) how and why inequalities structure so many facets of social life; (2) how culture and health are shaped by and shape these inequalities; and (3) how we might address the human consequences of social inequality.


My first book, The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years, begins at the end of the life course. The End Game (Harvard University Press, 2015/2017) draws on two-and-a-half years of intensive participant-observation in four ethnically diverse urban neighborhoods (upwards of 2,000 hours of observation), along with sixty in-depth interviews to show how intertwined but analytically distinct mechanisms of social stratification— health disparities, neighborhood effects, wealth gaps, culture, and social networks—converge to create an unequal “end game” that structures the lives of older Americans. I use these original data to show why and how durable racial and socioeconomic inequalities continue to profoundly shape life for those who survive long enough to grow old, even after the introduction of the potential “leveling” forces of selective mortality and government entitlements.  By tracing how subjects from very different backgrounds respond to “similarly shaped problems” of social action— concrete challenges most people face as they grow older (e.g. falls, the deaths of friends and loved ones, the challenges of being recognized as an “old person”)I reveal the micro-dynamics through which mechanisms of inequality structure and stratify everyday life. It is broadly representative of my approach to comparative participant observation, which uses multi-level comparative-analytical designs, and relies on extended periods of in-situ data collection to systematically chart how social mechanisms connect explanatory factors to outcomes in everyday life.
My new book project uses a combination of traditional ethnographic and computational techniques to analyze a unique data set containing 7 years of distributed field observation in 10 cancer clinics, over 250 in-depth interviews, and a survey of terminal cancer patients to better understand how culture structures and stratifies both objective outcomes and subjective experiences of terminal illness in the context of American inequality. 


Although my primary intellectual focus is on publishing scholarly books that reach a broad sociological and interdisciplinary audience, articles and other peer reviewed scholarly papers form a key component of my intellectual project.  Each of these papers contributes to my research agenda by enabling me (1) to use diverse methods to examine and connect a broader spectrum of empirical cases than would be possible in a hyper-specialized model of academic production; (2) to reach disciplinary, policy and clinical audiences that are less familiar with the scientific research monographs central to sociology; and (3) to develop methodological and theoretical tools that are less-suited for book length works. At present, my scholarly articles have been published in sociological and interdisciplinary journals such as Sociological Methodology, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Ethnography, Health Affairs, Qualitative Sociology, Preventative Medicine Reports, Public Policy and Aging Reports, and the Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior. These articles examine a wide spectrum of empirical cases related stratification, culture and health. I have written on topics ranging from charting intra-race differences in perceived discrimination in healthcare, to showing how “adult day care” organizations deploy an infantilizing cultural logic to maintain and justify control over dementia patients, to explaining middle-class cagefighters’ participation in an activity that carried both physical risk and social stigma.


Advancing both theory and methodology is a central component of my intellectual project.  On the theoretical front, I have published work synthesizing  formally “competing” theories of how culture shapes action in unequal contexts. I later empirically elaborated these models—which draw on insights from diverse disciplines including sociology, cognitive science, and biology—in The End Game. My new book project book examining cancer patients extends these insights to produce a cultural-materialist theory of health and illness that connects biological, cognitive, social psychological, organizational, and macro-sociological phenomena.

My recent methodological works—published in Sociological Methodology and Ethnography and supported by a Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) granthave focused on integrating computational techniques typically associated with “big data” and biostatistics into large multi-site ethnographic projects. My recent articles and book chapters elaborate how a computer assisted approach to scaled field observations can be used to address longstanding social scientific concerns about ecological validity, transparency, data sharing, and replication in behavioral research. Given the unique challenges of conducting field work in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, I have most recently co-authored two pieces with Gary Alan Fine on the challenges and possibilities of conducting ethnography in the COVID-era.

 My new scholarly volume (co-edited with former student Neil Gong), Beyond the Case: The Logics and Practices of Comparative Ethnography, was published by Oxford University Press this year. The volume features the contributions of prominent ethnographers from a wide range of traditions to articulate how and why they use comparison. Further, the volume argues against recent moves to reify the historically diverse ethnographic field and provides an illustration of the utility of a form of "ethnographic pluralism" that embraces (rather than excludes) diverse approaches ranging from behavioralism to phenomenological approaches.  

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