Success Stories

Sociologist earns Fulbright

Joel Stillerman

A Grand Valley State University associate professor of sociology, Joel Stillerman, who is also the Latin American Studies Program director, has accepted a U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hayes Faculty Research Abroad grant for a research project, “Middle Class Consumption and Social Inequality in Santiago, Chile.”

Stillerman will combine the grant with a Grand Valley sabbatical to spend 12 months in Santiago, beginning in mid-July, and plans to write a book about his upcoming findings, with the tentative title, Refinement, Rivalry, and Reciprocity: Competing Logics of Middle Class Consumption in Chile.

“Since the 1990s, many sociologists and journalists have noticed and been concerned about changes in Chilean communities and values following the significant rise of free market policies that promoted the increasing availability of diverse consumer goods,” said Stillerman. “Some are worried that the influx of non-essential products and greater availability of credit has created status-conscious consumers who are putting themselves and their families at risk by amassing unmanageable credit card debt.”

Stillerman says that while most evidence supporting these claims is anecdotal, and is not based on systematic research, his approach to the topic will be multi-faceted. He also plans to focus on the middle class, who now have more discretionary income than in the past and their purchases have sparked hostility from the upper class.

“There is a general consensus that the middle class has become more self-centered with increased luxuries,” said Stillerman. “I’ve done research that suggests the lower and middle classes have maintained their values and even enhanced their strong family and community connections through their continued patronage of traditional neighborhood street markets and second-hand flea markets.”

His qualitative study will draw on interviews, observations, and other methods, will include 60 middle-class families in three Santiago communities, and challenge the view of consumers as individuals by studying them in family, neighborhood and group contexts. He will also explore how consumption promotes new forms of politics and examine the distinct elements of desire, purchase, use, display, exchange and divestment. The study’s unique multi-method approach used across social groups will enhance understanding of Chilean culture and society.

by Mary Isca Pirkola

This story was filed with the tags: Academic Excellence, First-Rate Faculty, Fulbright, Grants