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Celeste Watkins-Hayes

Ad Hoc Professor of Sociology and African American Studies

Area(s) of Interest

Urban Poverty, HIV/AIDS, Formal Organizations (non-profit and government), Qualitative Methods

Relevant Links

African American Studies

Remaking a Life, Reversing an Epidemic: HIV/AIDS and the Politics of Transformation

Institute for Policy Research


Celeste Watkins-Hayes received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University in June 2003. She also holds an M.A. in Sociology from Harvard and a B.A. from Spelman College, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1996. Celeste is Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and former Chair of the Department of African American Studies. In addition to her faculty appointments, Watkins-Hayes is a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health.

Watkins-Hayes has published numerous articles in the areas of sociology, African American Studies, and public policy studies.  Her book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform (University of Chicago Press, 2009) is an examination of how welfare officers navigate the increasingly tangled political and emotional terrain of their jobs. The book was a finalist for the 2009 C. Wright Mills Book Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the 2011 Max Weber Book Award from the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Watkins-Hayes is also principal investigator of The Health, Hardship and Renewal Study, which explores the economic and social survival strategies of women living with HIV/AIDS in the Chicago area. Results from that study will be presented in the book, Remaking a Life, Reversing an Epidemic: HIV/AIDS and the Politics of Transformation (under contract at the University of California Press). In 2009, she received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Investigator Award and a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award to conduct this research.

Watkins-Hayes has published numerous articles in journals and edited volumes including, The Annual Review of Sociology, Social Problems, and The DuBois Review. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College and the Board of Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Dr. Watkins-Hayes has been profiled in ESSENCE, USA Today Weekend, Chicago Magazine, and the Chicago Sun-Times.


Remaking a Life, Reversing an Epidemic: HIV/AIDS and the Politics of Transformation

How do women remake, not simply rebuild, their lives after traumas associated with social and economic disadvantage? Drawing upon data from Watkins-Hayes’ Health, Hardship, and Renewal Study, a large-scale investigation of the social and economic lives of women living with HIV/AIDS, this project explores the process through which individuals fundamentally shift how they conceptualize, strategize around, and tactically address struggles related to complex inequalities that affect their everyday lives. It entails the adoption of a radically different set of approaches to negotiate questions of physical, social, economic, and political survival in moments of crisis and extreme distress. Watkins-Hayes traces the unique safety net that has been critical for the abilities of HIV-positive women to launch successful transformative projects and argues that the AIDS service and health care infrastructure offers important lessons for how we might think about assisting more socially and economically marginalized populations, not just those who are living with HIV. As such, Remaking a Life traces the process by which radical improvements in social well-being occur and seeks to explain those instances in which the efforts fail. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform.

This is an ethnographic analysis of the implementation of welfare reform on the front lines of service delivery. It investigates how the professional, racial, class, and community identities of welfare caseworkers and supervisors shape the implementation of policy and other organizational dynamics. Study findings indicate that while welfare reform changed the job descriptions of front-line staff members (from eligibility-compliance claims processors to welfare-to-work caseworkers), these agencies were largely unable to undertake the steps necessary to change employees' professional identities. As a result, welfare reform did not unfold as many policy makers had imagined it, and a piecemeal system of service-delivery is now underway. While we have witnessed caseload reductions and increased work among low-income mothers, inequalities abound in how clients receive the services most likely to influence their abilities to sustain economic self-sufficiency. This incomplete revolution has also solidified many of the long-standing tensions around race, class, and community belonging in these offices in ways that have direct and indirect effects on service-delivery and other organizational dynamics. The book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform, was released in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press. In order to complete this project, Dr. Watkins-Hayes received support from The National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0512018), The Brookings Institution, and the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

Courses Taught

SOCIOL 201: Social Inequality

SOCIOL 376: Special Topics: The Sociology of HIV/AIDS

SOCIOL 400: Stratification: Race, Class, and Gender

SOCIOL 476: Special Topics: Interview Methods Syllabus


The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform
University of Chicago Press, 2009

Selected Publications

Watkins-Hayes, C. and E. Kovalsky. 2016. “The Discourse of Deservingness: Morality and the Dilemmas of Poverty Relief in Debate and Practice.” Pp 193-220 in The Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Society. David Brady and Linda Burton (Editors). New York: Oxford University Press.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2014.  “Intersectionality and the Sociology of HIV/AIDS: Past, Present, and Future Research Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 40: 431–57.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2013. "The Micro-Dynamics of Support Seeking: The Social and Economic Utility of Institutional Ties for HIV-Positive Women," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 647: 83-101

Watkins-Hayes, C., Pittman-Gay, L., and Beaman, J., 2012. "'Dying from' to 'living with': Framing Institutions and the Coping Processes of African American Women Living with HIV/AIDS," Social Science and Medicine 74: 2028-2036

Watkins-Hayes, C., C. Patterson, and A. Armour, 2011. "Precious: Black Women, Neighborhood HIV/AIDS Risk, and Institutional Buffers,"  The DuBois Review 8(1): 229-40.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2011. “Race, Respect, and Red Tape: Inside the Black Box of Racially Representative Bureaucracies.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21: i233-51.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2009. “Race-ing the Bootstrap Climb: Black and Latino Bureaucrats in Post-reform Welfare Offices.” Social Problems 56(2): 285-310.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2009. “Human Services as ‘Race Work’? Historical Lessons and Contemporary Challenges of Black Providers." In Human Services as Complex Organizations, 2nd ed., ed. Y. Hasenfeld. Sage Publications.

Watkins-Hayes, C. 2008. “The Social and Economic Context of Black Women Living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.: Implications for Research.” In Sex, Power, and Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond, eds. R. Reddock, S. Reid, D. Douglas, and D. Roberts. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers.

Domínguez, S., and C. Watkins 2003. “Creating Networks for Survival and Mobility: Social Capital among African-American and Latin-American Low-income Mothers.” Social Problems 50(1): 111-35.

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