After several years of political/educational work in Central America in the 1980s, I sought deeper intellectual formation and was attracted to Berkeley by the work of faculty members Bellah, Swidler, and Burawoy. Theoretical training under these three, along with more empirical studies with Cole, Voss, Evans, Hout, and Fischer, gradually focused my interests on the cultural and institutional bases of democracy. Meanwhile, my political praxis and faith commitments drew my empirical attention to grassroots forms of democratic engagement.
Dr. Laura Schmidt is a sociologist with Masters degrees in public health and social welfare. She is currently Principal Investigator for the Welfare Client Longitudinal Study funded through the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Study. Implementing Welfare Reform, and collaborates on other studies examining access to care, managed care and stigma in health care organizations. Dr. Schmidt has an extensive publications record in health services research focusing on organizational responses to substance abuse problems, access and utilization.
The reasons for my fascination with authoritarian states and the ways that people manage to live in them are probably better left unexplored. In any case, they have led me to research on rhetorical strategies, cultural conflicts and strategies of everyday life in dictatorial environments like 1970's Argentina and 1990's Serbia. On some level, this has put me in the company of area-studies researchers, which is only partly consistent with my motivation.
I feel fortunate that my professional life to date has built on the ethnographic work on poverty I did in the department. I had a pair of post-doc's in Berkeley (thru the school of public health) that moved me into health policy--something I'd studied as an undergrad. The transition included some extremely painful professional moments and miscues that taught me a lot about academic politics. Thanks to Laura Schmidt, a cohort-mate in the dept, I ended up doing ethnographic work on how welfare reform is affecting recipients with substance use problems.