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Helen Beckler Marrow Award Statement

The ASA Dissertation Award Committee is pleased to give the 2008 Dissertation Award to Helen B. Marrow, who received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2007 and is currently a Robert Wood Johnson Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Health Policy at UC-Berkeley/UC-San Francisco.Marrow’s dissertation, “Southern Becoming: Immigrant Incorporation and Race Relations in the Rural U.S. South” was written under the direction of Prof. Mary Waters in the Harvard program in Sociology and Social Policy. Her other dissertation committee members were Prof. Jennifer Hochschild and Prof. William Julius Wilson.Marrow’s dissertation is a study of the incorporation of Hispanic/Latino immigrants in two different counties in rural North Carolina. Marrow examines how both white and African Americans react to a rapid demographic transformation in counties that had not in the recent past experienced significant immigration.

Based on observations, interviews and archival research, Marrow’s dissertation is a local-level comparative study of the economic, socio-cultural, political and racial incorporation of new Latin American immigrants and US-born Latinos in the rural, small town South.Her central finding is that rural context matters in several interesting ways, including reducing the distance newcomers must travel to join the local economic mainstream, while simultaneously increasing the social and cultural distance that must be traversed to achieve full incorporation.

Marrow documents how immigrants experience and understand their interactions with both white and black local residents and shows how negative reactions from African Americans lead to a crystallization of racial attitudes among immigrants.She also does a masterful job of examining how undocumented immigrants live day by day.Much of the research on immigrant incorporation has centered on urban centers or ethnic enclaves.However, Marrow is at the forefront of a group of forward looking scholars who are now studying incorporation in rural and suburban settings.

The dissertation is broad and ambitious in that it examines many different spheres of incorporation and assimilation.For example, Marrow examines political incorporation, social/cultural incorporation and racialization processes, all within the context of the two-county comparison. So, for example, Marrow details the economic incorporation of newcomers in the food processing and routine manufacturing/textile industries of the rural South, she studies intergroup relations as the newcomers confront the binary racial hierarchy long in place in rural Southern towns, and she describes the newcomers’ incorporation into institutions such as local schools, court systems, and political movements.Notably, she finds that Hispanic newcomers’ incorporation into rural life differs across institutional spheres and the differing levels of incorporation are affected by state policies as well as bureaucratic norms and missions.Finally, she concludes that exclusion based on non-citizenship is perhaps more important to newcomers’ lives than exclusion based on race.

As a new immigrant destination, the rural South is becoming an increasingly important site for understanding these processes and Marrow finds great payoff from her extensive fieldwork and interviews and the end result is a provocative dissertation with many interesting findings. Helen Marrow’s interests include immigration, race and ethnicity, qualitative methods, and inequality and social policy.All of these interests are reflected in this rich and rewarding dissertation.