Recipient Spotlight – John Mohr Dissertation Improvement Grant

Maia Behrendt is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where her scholarship has earned her the University’s Presidential Fellowship. She uses qualitative methods to study various topics lying at the intersection of race, gender, and colonialism. In addition to the sociology of culture, Maia’s work engages the subfields of Indigenous people and cultures, the sociology of art or visual studies, and social movements.  Her dissertation, which received the John A. Mohr Dissertation Improvement Grant Award, focuses on Indigenous women artists and their art. Prior to her dissertation work, she studied the experiences of alcoholics, focusing on how the process of substance use recovery produces a shift in their epistemological frameworks, “enabling and encouraging changes in their drinking behaviors.”

For her dissertation, Maia is interested in the ways “minority communities use art as vehicles for social change” and the way that people perceive their art and relate to it. She conceives of these artists as responding to current political, social, and environmental landscapes. Her work currently focuses primarily on Indigenous women artists in the United States, and she would like to expand his research by examining how transnational ties, alliance building, and coalition building impact the work of Indigenous artists.

Maia grew up in Nebraska, which enabled an early exposure to a wealth of Indigenous art in her formative years. She also served as an undergraduate curatorial assistant in the Nebraska State Museum Anthropology Department, which she credits for cultivating her interest in studying material culture and developing her commitment to ethical partnership with Indigenous communities. For Maia, it is incredibly important that her dissertation work engages with Indigenous people as equitable stakeholders in material culture and the knowledge being produced from her dissertation. She firmly believes that Indigenous women artists or other communities are not subjects of study who are removed from the process of producing shared knowledge. Prior to the onset of her project, Maia worked with Indigenous and non-Indigenous consultants to interrogate what it means to engage in an Indigenous axiology. To this end, she ensured adequate compensation of the artists who participated in her research and allowed them to review the interview transcript and make revisions if they would like. Maia plans to open a curated virtual exhibit showcasing the work indigenous women artists listed as most personally important to them.

Edwin Grimsley is a PhD candidate in sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and his research aligns with the subfields of criminology, race and racism, public policy, and inequality. Edwin’s work has earned him a variety of fellowships and awards, including the Vera Institute of Justice/CUNY Fellowship, the Graduate Center Fellowship, and the SAGE Publishing Keith Roberts Teaching Innovations Award among others. His research has been published in City & Community, Journal of Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society,and the Sociological Forum.

His dissertation titled, “The Marijuana Effect: The (Uneven) Historical Development of National and State Laws and the Cumulative Disadvantage on Communities of Color,” received the John A. Mohr Dissertation improvement Grant. In it, he looks at the development of marijuana laws in the United States, with particular emphasis on these laws in New York state. He traces this back to the National Commission of Marijuana in 1972. He is particularly interested in how these marijuana laws were proposed and contested by various interest groups and stakeholders. Edwin uses his historical analysis of archival material to enhance the discipline’s understanding of how these laws came to disproportionately punish and incarcerate people in Black neighborhoods. He also explores how discourse around the “right to be left alone” and the right to privacy is applied unequally in public policy. Edwin came to this topic after working at the Misdemeanor Justice Project in the Data for Collaborative Justice. Edwin is interested in how laws come into being, and the Dissertation Improvement Grant enabled him to visit the National Archives in Washington, DC and analyze the myriad documents needed for his research.

With more states legalizing marijuana, Edwin recognizes there is a lot of ongoing and future research work to be done. He is particularly interested in exploring how recent and future bills for legislating the sale and distribution of marijuana products can be used to advance racial and social equity goals. Edwin approaches his work with a critical eye for understanding systems of oppression and inequality, emphasizing the relational aspects of oppression. For example, he understands whiteness and Blackness to be symbiotic.