Matthew Marr

Matthew Marr

Assistant Professor of Sociology


BA, University of Notre Dame, Government and Japanese, 1993
MA, Howard University, Sociology, 1997
PhD, UCLA, Sociology, 2007


Office: Modesto A. Maidique Campus, SIPA 323
Tel: 305.348.4004 |

My research focuses on how experiences of inequality in contemporary urban America and Japan are shaped by contexts at different levels, from the global to the individual. While scholars note that globalization erodes opportunities for living wage employment, welfare and social services, and affordable housing in global cities, they often neglect how more local conditions interact with these trends to shape individual experiences of inequality. This overlooks the question, “In what ways do differing cultures, labor and housing markets, welfare policies, and patterns of social service delivery affect experiences of inequality?” To address this question, I look comparatively at strategic research sites including housing programs for the homeless, “neighborhoods of despair,” and day labor markets. I combine street-level qualitative research with comparative, macro-sociological analysis to contribute to debates on inequality in the US and Japan about the effects of globalization, the welfare state, culture, organizations, neighborhoods, families, and individual agency.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses that overlap both the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies and Asian Studies. My course, “Japanese Society in Global Perspective,” explores Japanese society as it fits in a broader global society. We look at how trends associated with globalization like economic transformation, heightened immigration, and the spread of particular ideas and cultural trends affect social relations within Japan. At the same time, we examine Japan’s influence on global society in terms of its economic presence, migration, and more recent surge in influence in the realm of popular culture. I also teach a graduate course entitled, “Advanced Social Science Approaches to Contemporary Japan,” in which we consider similar issues in a more sophisticated and in-depth fashion. In particular, Asian Studies graduate students are encouraged to use the class to develop MA projects on contemporary Japan.

I also teach a graduate course in Global and Sociocultural Studies entitled, “Urban Sociology in Global Perspective.” The course covers the major subtopics and debates in urban sociology, including how cities develop and evolve; the social, cultural, and subjective experiences of living in a city; how trends associated with economic, demographic, and cultural globalization affect city life; mechanisms and effects of social exclusion in cities including residential segregation and concentrated poverty; dynamics of gentrification; the effects of welfare reform and mass imprisonment; and how urban communities mobilize to address their concerns. Although, the majority of the readings focus on American cities, a considerable portion consider dynamics in cities outside of the US, including those in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Graduate students are encouraged use the class to develop and advance research projects on urban issues that meet the requirements for degrees in the GSS graduate program.

“Better Must Come: Escaping Homelessness in Two Global Cities”

Globalization is described as driving growing inequality and social polarization in the world’s leading cities. However, rates and characteristics of income inequality, poverty, and homelessness show wide local variation. I use a combination of qualitative research strategies to examine how an understudied form of social mobility, the process of exiting homelessness, is shaped by conditions at various social levels. I find that conditions at the global, national, local, institutional, micro-social, and individual levels in Los Angeles and Tokyo combine and interact to shape the process of exiting homelessness. In Los Angeles, greater economic restructuring, immigration, and retraction of welfare services interact with a cultural context characterized by high rates of substance abuse and systemic racial exclusion to more strongly impede exits through mainstream labor and housing markets. Individuals using transitional housing programs exit by using ties with housed family, friends, and program staff, as well as subsidized SRO (single room occupancy) housing. These exits are stable since housing is long-term subsidized. In Tokyo, social capital and beneficial relationships with staff are scarce, due to a stronger stigma of homelessness and a more restrictive organizational culture. Individuals exit by obtaining low wage, non-standard employment and cheap, simple apartments. But these exits are unstable, given their employment conditions.

I develop a multilevel theory and research approach of social mobility and role transition at the margins of global urban society. While globalization constrains efforts to exit homelessness, particularly by limiting opportunities for living wage employment, welfare benefits, and affordable housing, local contextual conditions such as cultural attitudes towards homelessness, public policy, structural racism, and organizational culture intervene to mitigate or exacerbate these constraints. My findings challenge both explanations of homelessness that reduce causality to within the individual, as well as deterministic depictions of globalization that neglect more local contexts. My findings also provide support for the use of long-term, service-rich, subsidized housing to end mass homelessness: it addresses the problems of unstable low wage employment and high rents and allows for the development of social ties with welfare organization staff.

Fall 2012 Courses (see Home page Courses & Syllabi)

  • Japanese Society and Global Perspective (SYD 4451-U01)
  • Graduate Seminar in Urban Society (SYD-6418-U01)

Curriculum Vitae