Robin Bartram

Area(s) of Interest:  Urban sociology, housing, inequality, cultural sociology, public policy and urban regulation, welfare and legal studies, organizations, work, and occupations, environmental sociology, gender and sexualities, mixed methods


My research engages a pressing concern within and beyond sociology: how housing reproduces stratification.  I concentrate on the ways that material forms, organizational structures, occupational cultures, legal imperatives, and cultural narratives shape existing patterns in class and race-based inequality.  I take up this topic in my dissertation, Picking Battles with Buildings – a mixed-methods study of the impact of building inspections and code violations in Chicago.  Picking Battles with Buildings combines ride-alongs with building inspectors, interviews, courtroom observations, neighborhood ethnography, and statistical and geospatial analysis of unique datasets to reveal surprising links between on-the-ground interpretive decisions and city-wide patterns in inequality.  

I demonstrate how inspectors use their discretion in unexpected ways: to go easy on low-income homeowners, go after professional landlords and property companies, and rail against the kinds of urban development projects that cities tend to prioritize.  These findings correct a longstanding assumption in sociology about the coherence of state workers in urban economic development and policy.  However, my research also uncovers unintended consequences of inspectors’ actions that threaten to reinforce existing patterns of inequality.  At its heart, this research disentangles the tension between the need to regulate housing conditions and protect vulnerable populations, and the potential for such regulation to negatively affect those it is designed to protect.

Peer-reviewed Publications:

Robin Bartram. Forthcoming.Emplacing Risks in the City: Class, Politics, Risk and the Built Environment of Women’s Residential Clubs, 1896-1917.” The Journal of Urban History.

Robin Bartram. 2017. "Housing Historic Role Models and the American Dream: Domestic Rhetoric and Institutional Decision-Making at the Tenement Museum.” Qualitative Sociology 40(1):1-22.

Robin Bartram. 2016. "Housing and Social and Material Vulnerabilities." Housing, Theory and Society 33(4): 469-483. 

Robin Bartram. 2016.  Review of “What Buildings Do” Gieryn, Thomas. 2002.  Theory and Society 31(1): 35-74.  Invited contribution to “A Field Guide to Materiality for Cultural Sociologists” ASA Sociology of Culture Newsletter 22 (2).

Robin Bartram. 2015. "Infrastructures of Epistemic Moments: Buildings, Blackboxes, "Improvement," and Neighborhood Change," in Architecture, Materiality and Society: Connecting Sociology of Architecture with Science and Technology Studies, edited by Anna-Lisa Müller and Werner Reichmann. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


2016-2018 Northwestern Presidential Fellowship, Northwestern University

2017 Winch Award for the Best Paper Presented or Published by a Northwestern Graduate Student, Honorable Mention

2016 Winch Award for the Best Paper Presented or Published by a Northwestern Graduate Student, Honorable Mention, for

2015 Winch Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Lecturer in Sociology, Northwestern University

2015 Winch Award for Outstanding Teaching Assistant in Sociology, Northwestern University, Honorable Mention