Celeste Watkins-Hayes Associate Professor of Sociology and African American Studies

Area(s) of Interest:  Urban Poverty, HIV/AIDS, Formal Organizations (non-profit and government), Qualitative Methods

Relevant Links

African American Studies

Health, Hardship, and Renewal: A Research Study of the Economic Strategies of Women Living with HIV/AIDS

Institute for Policy Research


Celeste Watkins-Hayes received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University in June 2003. She also holds an M.A. in Sociology from Harvard and a B.A. from Spelman College, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1996. Celeste is Associate Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and former Chair of the Department of African American Studies. In addition to her faculty appointments, Watkins-Hayes is a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health.

Watkins-Hayes has published numerous articles in the areas of sociology, African American Studies, and public policy studies.  Her book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform (University of Chicago Press, 2009) is an examination of how welfare officers navigate the increasingly tangled political and emotional terrain of their jobs. The book was a finalist for the 2009 C. Wright Mills Book Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the 2011 Max Weber Book Award from the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Watkins-Hayes is also principal investigator of The Health, Hardship and Renewal Study, which explores the economic and social survival strategies of women living with HIV/AIDS in the Chicago area (www.hhrstrategies.org). In 2009, she received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Investigator Award and a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award to conduct this research.
Watkins-Hayes has published numerous articles in journals and edited volumes including, The Annual Review of Sociology, Social Problems, and The DuBois Review. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College and the Advisory Board of the Spelman College Women’s Research and Resource Center and has been profiled in Essence, USA Today Weekend, Chicago Magazine, and the Chicago Sun-Times.


Health, Hardship, and Renewal: A Study of the Economic Strategies of Women Living with HIV/AIDS

This study explores the economic and social experiences of a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse group of Chicago-area women living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). By exploring the acquisition and utilization of economic resources, the study seeks to specify some of the ways in which HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) impacts women's daily living, health management strategies, and social well-being. The research also includes an examination of local AIDS Service Providers to determine how these organizations are responding to the financial challenges of women living with HIV/AIDS. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Data collection for this project is currently underway.

Sister to Sister: An Ethnographic Study of the Social Consequences of HIV/AIDS for African-American Women

This ethnographic study explores the social experiences and processes of Chicago-area African-American women infected with HIV/AIDS. By exploring a range of domains in the women's lives, the study seeks to specify some of the ways in which HIV/AIDS impacts their daily living, life chances, and social outcomes. Areas of focus include women’s labor force participation, social network formation and maintenance, intimate relationship dynamics, and child rearing practices following an HIV diagnosis. The ultimate goal of the study is to highlight some of the social consequences of HIV/AIDS for this population by exploring the short- and long-term effects of the disease on the economic and social well-being of the women and their families. This project has received support from the National Institutes of Health (through the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California – San Francisco) and the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0512018). Data collection is complete and analysis and write-up are currently underway.


The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform.

This is an ethnographic analysis of the implementation of welfare reform on the front lines of service delivery. It investigates how the professional, racial, class, and community identities of welfare caseworkers and supervisors shape the implementation of policy and other organizational dynamics. Study findings indicate that while welfare reform changed the job descriptions of front-line staff members (from eligibility-compliance claims processors to welfare-to-work caseworkers), these agencies were largely unable to undertake the steps necessary to change employees' professional identities. As a result, welfare reform did not unfold as many policy makers had imagined it, and a piecemeal system of service-delivery is now underway. While we have witnessed caseload reductions and increased work among low-income mothers, inequalities abound in how clients receive the services most likely to influence their abilities to sustain economic self-sufficiency. This incomplete revolution has also solidified many of the long-standing tensions around race, class, and community belonging in these offices in ways that have direct and indirect effects on service-delivery and other organizational dynamics. The book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform, was released in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press. In order to complete this project, Dr. Watkins-Hayes received support from The National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0512018), The Brookings Institution, and the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

Courses Taught

SOCIOL 201: Social Inequality

SOCIOL 400: Stratification: Race, Class, and Gender

SOCIOL 476: Special Topics: Interview Methods Syllabus


The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform
University of Chicago Press, 2009

Selected Publications

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2013. "The Micro-Dynamics of Support Seeking: The Social and Economic Utility of Institutional Ties for HIV-Positive Women," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 647: 83-101

Watkins-Hayes, C., Pittman-Gay, L., and Beaman, J., 2012. "'Dying from' to 'living with': Framing Institutions and the Coping Processes of African American Women Living with HIV/AIDS," Social Science and Medicine 74: 2028-2036

Watkins-Hayes, C., C. Patterson, and A. Armour, 2011. "Precious: Black Women, Neighborhood HIV/AIDS Risk, and Institutional Buffers,"  The DuBois Review 8(1): 229-40.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2011. “Race, Respect, and Red Tape: Inside the Black Box of Racially Representative Bureaucracies.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21: i233-51.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2009. “Race-ing the Bootstrap Climb: Black and Latino Bureaucrats in Post-reform Welfare Offices.” Social Problems 56(2): 285-310.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2009. “Human Services as ‘Race Work’? Historical Lessons and Contemporary Challenges of Black Providers." In Human Services as Complex Organizations, 2nd ed., ed. Y. Hasenfeld. Sage Publications.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2008. “The Social and Economic Context of Black Women Living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.: Implications for Research.” In Sex, Power, and Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond, eds. R. Reddock, S. Reid, D. Douglas, and D. Roberts. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers.

Domínguez, S., and C. Watkins 2003. “Creating Networks for Survival and Mobility: Social Capital among African-American and Latin-American Low-income Mothers.” Social Problems 50(1): 111-35.