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Wendy Espeland


  • Advisor
  • Successful Societies


Sociologist Wendy Espeland studies organizations, culture and law.

Her 1998 book, The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest, told the story of a proposed dam in central Arizona that threatened wildlife and ancestral Aboriginal land. Espeland used this case study to explore rationality within a cultural and political context. She is currently writing a book about the effects of commensuration, the process of translating qualities into quantities. In it she investigates how media rankings have influenced higher education, how efforts to measure homosexuality have shaped gay and lesbian politics, and the commensurative practices necessary in order to transform air pollution into a commodity that is traded on futures markets.


  • Clifford Geertz Award for Best Article, 2009
  • Philip D. Shelton Prize for Outstanding Legal Education Research, 2009
  • Distinguished Book Prize, American Sociological Association, 1999
  • Louis Brownlow Book Award, National Academy of Public Administration, 1999
  • Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, 2013–14

Relevant Publications

  • Espeland, W., and M. Sauder. Fear of Falling: How Media Rankings Changed Legal Education in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2015.
  • Espeland, W. The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

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