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Catherine Sirois

Postdoctoral Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
B.A., Sociology, Harvard University, 2010
M.A., Sociology, Stanford University, 2017
Ph.D., Sociology, Stanford University, 2023
Graduation Year
Dissertation Title
Governing at the Margins: How the State Manages Children at the Junction of Dependent and Delinquent
Postdoctoral Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University


My research agenda seeks to answer a fundamental question: how do the processes of state governance—from population-level policies to everyday institutional interactions—intersect to shape the life chances of marginalized groups, particularly low-income Black and Brown families? Empirically, I have sought to answer this question by studying the effects of state policy, from mass incarceration to restrictive immigration laws, on women’s and infant health; how the state governs children at the junction of child welfare and juvenile justice institutions; and how the process of leaving prison influences social integration and mental health. In these projects, I have deployed a range of qualitative and quantitative methods, including ethnographic observation, in-depth interviews, and analyses of survey and administrative data that leverage causal inference techniques. Taken together, my research contributes to the fields of health disparities; poverty and inequality; punishment and society; race, class, and gender; and methods for studying hard-to-reach populations. My work has appeared in American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Social Forces, American Journal of Epidemiology, Sociological Forum, and Social Science and Medicine.   

My dissertation investigates how marginalized groups are governed given that the complexity of people's lives defies institutional boundaries. How does the state construct and classify people, for example, as patients or prisoners, healthy or disabled, legal or illegal? To answer this question, I study a case that spans bureaucratic borders: crossover youth, children at the junction of child welfare and juvenile justice institutions. Because crossover youth—perceived as both dependent and delinquent—challenge the legal, administrative, and moral boundaries of these two institutions, they present an ideal case for illuminating interlocking processes of state governance. To analyze how crossover youth are governed, I conducted over 300 hours of ethnographic observation within a California juvenile court and 40 interviews with court actors. This project has received support from the National Science Foundation, Josephine de Karman Foundation, and several funding sources at Stanford University. A journal manuscript based on this project was recently published at American Sociological Review.


Sociology offers the unique and transformative opportunity to develop tools that help us better understand the relationship between our lived experience and broader society. My pedagogical approach is driven by a belief in the importance of building bridges for intellectual growth: between personal experience and academic inquiry; between empirical questions and varied data sources; and between students, both within and beyond the classroom. As a teacher and mentor, I seek to guide students in this process by fostering their natural curiosity about the social world, helping them develop critical thinking skills, and building collaborative learning communities.

As a Ph.D. student, I held three primary teaching roles: teaching assistant for "Theoretical Analysis and Research Design," “The Social Determinants of Health,” and “America’s Poverty Course;” co-coordinator of the Sociology Department’s Qualitative Methods Workshop for four years; and co-facilitator of a course I developed with fellow Stanford Ph.D. students—“What is a Good Life?”—for students incarcerated at a San Francisco County jail. As a project coordinator at Harvard Kennedy School and as a graduate student, I have also mentored over a dozen undergraduate research assistants, many of whom are now pursuing their own academic careers. My experiences as a student, teacher, and mentor have motivated me to build a supportive and intellectually stimulating community for my own undergraduate and graduate students moving forward.


Research Interests

Field of Interest
Poverty and Inequality
Punishment and Society
Health Disparities
Race, Class, and Gender
Qualitative and Mixed Methods