Category Archives: Working Papers

Working Paper 2016-04

The Shelf Life of a Socio-Technical Disaster: Post Fukushima Policy Change in the United States, France and Germany

Steve G. Hoffman, University of Toronto

Paul Durlak, University of Buffalo, SUNY

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-04

September 2016

Keywords: disaster, Fukushima, nuclear energy, policy change, risk, technology

Full Article


How can large-scale socio-technical disasters prompt policy shifts beyond their local environment? We compare the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster of March 11, 2011, on subsequent American, French, and German nuclear energy policies. This paper introduces the sensitizing concept of a “shelf life” to identify mechanisms that limited the impact of this disaster in the US and France but that enabled it to travel to Germany. American and French policymakers placed symbolic distance between their nation’s nuclear infrastructure and Fukushima by framing the disaster as a contingent and technical problem to be resolved with superior safety preparation. While this technicist orientation can be found in the initial German response, its distancing effects are offset by a conjunction of three mechanisms that moved Fukushima to the center of German society and politics and ultimately created the conditions for a complete phase out of all of Germany’s nuclear power generation. This included 1) a renewables energy industry eager to move into the void left from nuclear power reduction, 2) deep cultural and socio-political affinities across the two nations that were expertly mobilized by German anti-nuclear protest organizations, and 3) the unequivocal ethical messaging produced by a high-profile national committee. Taken together, these mechanisms collapsed interpretive and cultural distance between Japanese and German nuclear infrastructures, enabling the shock of Fukushima to ripple powerfully through the German energy grid for generations to come.

University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-04

Working Paper 2016-03

Sex and the Single Worker: Who’s Cynical about Work-Life Balance?

John Kervin, University of Toronto

Mark Easton, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-03

June 2016

Keywords: work-life balance, gender, household structure

Full Article


Increasing numbers of employers are instituting policies and practices to address the problems of employees’ work-life balance (WLB), particularly employees with children. At the same time, some workplaces are seeing a backlash against those initiatives. In particular, single employees and those in couples without children may feel discriminated against by policies that favour parents. This paper explores attitudes towards employers’ work-life balance policies and practices, using data from a national survey of Canadian employees. It also asks whether female employees who are now single or in non-parent couples (but who might have children in the future) are more accepting of WLB initiatives. The results show that in general women are not more favourable to WLB, but that attitudes depend on household structure.

University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-03

Working Paper 2016-02

Overlapping Ecologies: Professions and Development in the Rise of Legal Services in China

Sida Liu, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-02

July 2016

Keywords: profession, development, ecology, lawyer, China

Full Article


The sociology of professions has derived most of its theories from the cases of professions in the Global North. Despite the growing number of empirical studies on professionals in developing countries, the intersection between professions and development has rarely been theorized. This paper uses the case of legal service professionals in China to outline an ecological theory of professions and development. It argues that, in the Global South, professions and development are overlapping ecologies that share some common actors and transform by similar social processes. Professionals serve as agents of development in at least four ways: (1) as facilitators of global institutional diffusion; (2) as delegates of the nation-state; (3) as brokers between global and national market interests; and (4) as activists of local social resistance. In the process of development, the four roles are constantly in conflict and the ecology of professions differentiates through social interactions among professionals performing these conflicting roles in issue areas such as economic growth, access to justice, and human rights.


University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-02

Working Paper 2016-01

Does School Poverty Mediate the Effects of Neighborhood Context on Academic Achievement during Childhood?

Geoff T. Wodtke, University of Toronto

Matthew Parbst, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-01

July 2016

Keywords: neighbourhoods, schools, academic achievement, poverty, mediation, childhood

Full Article


Theory suggests that the school environment is an important pathway through which the effects of neighborhood poverty on educational outcomes are transmitted, especially earlier in the life course when young children are thought to be most sensitive to neighborhood institutional resources. Using data from the PSID, counterfactual methods, and a value-added estimation strategy, we investigate whether primary school poverty mediates the effects of neighborhood context on academic achievement during childhood. Contrary to expectations, results indicate that school poverty is not a significant mediator of neighborhood effects during this developmental period. Although moving from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood during childhood is estimated to substantially reduce subsequent exposure to school poverty and improve academic achievement, school poverty does not play an important mediating role because even the large differences in school composition linked to differences in neighborhood context have no appreciable effect on achievement. A battery of formal sensitivity analyses suggests that these results are highly robust to the presence of unobserved confounding, to the use of alternative model specifications, and to the use of alternative measures of school context.

University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-01