JENNIFER BAIR                            DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY

Assistant Professor, Sociology

Faculty Research Associate, Institutions Program,

Institute for Behavioral Science(IBS)

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Research Interests

As a comparative sociologist and political economist of globalization, my work is motivated by two main questions: 1) how is economic globalization changing the geography of production and the organization of work across time and space, and 2) how do these processes affect the well-being of workers and their communities, particularly in the global South.

Much of my research to date has focused on the study of global commodity chains in the contemporary manufacturing sector, especially in the global textile and apparel industry. I am a member of the Capturing the Gains (CtG) research network, which is an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars studying the relationship between economic upgrading and social upgrading for developing-country suppliers in four global industries, or global value chains: apparel, fresh fruits and vegetables, mobile telecommunications devices, and tourism. The CtG team is examining how the dynamics of these chains affect the firms and farms that are connected to them, and the workers that these enterprises employ. In 2010 and 2011, I conducted fieldwork in Nicaragua and Honduras for the CtG project, examining the implications of the Central American Free Trade Agreement for apparel firms and garment workers in these countries. Preliminary results of this research were presented at a conference on the ILO/IFC Better Work initiative in Washington in fall 2011 [link to Better Work presentation].

I am also studying the development of commodity chains in historical perspective through ongoing fieldwork in La Laguna, Mexico—a region that experienced a dramatic boom and subsequent bust in its exports, particularly of blue jeans, to the U.S market in the decade following the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In collaborative work with Marion Werner (SUNY Buffalo, geography), I have shown how the surge in labor-intensive, export sector employment in this region during the 1990s was connected to the market-led restructuring of the region’s rural economy in the 1980s. Largely on the basis of my work in La Laguna and Marion’s research on export-processing in the Dominican Republic, we are developing a research agenda around the concept of “disarticulations,” which refers to the ways in which commodity chains unevenly incorporate regions into circuits of capital accumulation and the consequences of this process for geographies of development.

La Laguna’s rural economy is also the focus of an ongoing, comparative-historical research project with Phil Hough (FAU, sociology) in which we examine the legacy of agrarian unrest and class formation in two major commodity-producing regions of Latin America: the cotton-growing region of La Laguna and the coffee-producing region of Viejo Caldas, Colombia. In 1936, historic expropriations were carried out in both La Laguna and Viejo Caldas in response to rural unrest, and we are tracing how the clientelist political economies that were consolidated in the aftermath of these reforms shaped the response of local producers to the collapse of state-led developmentalism and the subsequent neoliberal turn fifty years later.

Finally, I am currently working on a number of research projects focused on labor and labor movements in the global economy. I am conducting research on the role of organized labor in stabilizing inter-firm relationships in the domestic apparel industry, and together with Mark Anner (Penn State, employment and labor relations) and Jeremy Blasi (Georgetown Law), exploring the implications of this history for the protection of labor standards and workers’ rights in today’s global apparel industry. I am also conducting a comparative analysis of the anti-sweatshop movement with Florence Palpacuer (University of Montpellier, management). We are studying how and why the origins and development of labor rights activism in Canada, the United States, and Europe differ, and what these differences imply for the development of collaborative, multi-stakeholder efforts to address labor abuses in global supply chains.

I am an active member, as well as a past chair, of the Political Economy of the World-System Section of the American Sociological Association and the current book review editor for the Journal of World-Systems Research, so please send me recommendations of books you would like to see reviewed in JWSR!

Jennifer Bair


Contact information                           

Email: jennifer.bair [at] colorado.edu

Phone: (303) 735-2389

Office: Ketchum Hall 214


Mailing Address:

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado at Boulder

UCB 327

Boulder, CO 80309