Robin Stryker

Robin Stryker

Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: Sociology

Competition: US & Canada

University of Minnesota

When I was a child growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, I was a competitive age-group swimmer — a good thing, because I never met a food I didn’t like.  Similarly, I never met a scholarly field in which I lacked interest. Happily, I found I was much better at learning new fields than I was at competitive swimming! I also found I was a bit of a chameleon.  As a faculty brat, I lived in Verona, Italy, when I was 13, because my father had a research Fulbright at the University of Trento.  The summer after my junior year of high school, I participated in an Indiana University language program for high school students and lived with a family in St. Brieuc, France.  I spent a Smith College junior year abroad studying social science in Paris and Geneva.  There is a common denominator between my interest in learning the parameters of as many fields as possible and my love of travel and cross-cultural experiences.  I am never happier than when crossing–and translating across–some kind of socially contructed boundary, whether it is language, culture, or a scholarly field.

The Guggenheim Fellowship supports research that is the culmination of multiple kinds of scholarly training and research experiences I have had in and outside the academy.  As a sociology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I trained in survey research, econometric analyses of labor markets, and psychometrics.  After attending law school at Yale, I turned to comparative-historical methods, writing a dissertation explaining how the U.S. Congress ended up prohibiting the foremost government agency charged with regulating economic relations between labor and management from. . . employing economists!  Twenty years later and after much research on national and international law, politics, and inequality, with funding from the National Science Foundation, I began my current project.  It examines how economic, psychological, sociological, and statistical expertise have been used to help interpret and enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, and national origin, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, prohibiting unequal pay for men and women doing equal work.

To do this research, I’ve immersed myself in thousands of documents, both public and private.  I’ve met and interviewed remarkable persons of very diverse backgrounds, professional training, and policy views who are part of the interdisciplinary expertise networks that combined to shape U.S. equal employment opportunity law in the last forty-five years.  We have histories, legal and political analyses of Title VII’s development.  But,  to my knowledge, my in-progress book is the first to describe and explain systematically the nature, conditions under which, and consequences of the use of social science in equal employment law.  I am able to show the dynamic tensions and innovations forged when lawyers and social scientists, trained to see the world in different ways, collaborate in a usually adversarial legal and policy arena.  Last (definitely least, but still of interest to me), I can see what my work life might have been like, had I, thirty years ago, taken a job at one of any number of nonacademic research and policy organizations that have turned out to be key actors at particular times in an analytic story of law and social science that it is my great privilege to tell.

Robin Stryker is a Professor of Sociology and Affiliated Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. For more information about her work see these links: and

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