1. Gillian Slee
    Social Service Review, Oct 2023


    Research shows that street-level bureaucrats rely on notions of deservingness to manage their caseloads. Accounts traditionally identify how workers use mainstream cues to categorize clients, but a growing literature calls for situated accounts of discretion. This study draws on fieldwork with public defenders to describe how institutional position and professional knowledge condition discretion. I analyze how the dynamics of representation inform defenders’ understandings of and advocacy for clients with varying criminal-legal backgrounds and needs. In this case study, defenders’ perceived strategic options penetrate their estimations of clients’ deservingness and drive their advocacy. Tailored representation elevates the needs of individuals without records and those with unremitting criminal-legal contact, helping attorneys manage their caseloads and advance their aspirations, but it produces uneven defense. I develop a role concept, “structural antagonist,” to signify and describe a uniquely situated street-level bureaucrat whose mandate includes both serving and straining the institution.

  2. Gillian Slee and Matthew Desmond
    Theory and Society, Feb 2023


    Sociologists have long studied the ways people resist oppression but have devoted far less empirical attention to the ways people resign to it. As a result, researchers have neglected the mechanisms of resignation and how people narrate their lived experiences. Drawing on 81 interviews with parents with past child protective services cases, this article provides an empirical account of resignation in an institutional setting, documenting how parents understand relinquishing their rights as a process of personalization, calculation, or socialization. Phenomenologically, parents typically confronted multiple barriers and setbacks simultaneously, the combined weight of which pressured them to “give up,” interpreting structural and institutional pressures as individual choice. This article accordingly identifies resignation as a crucial feature of democratic governance.


  1. Gillian Slee and Matthew Desmond
    Politics & Society, Nov 2021
    Published in print Mar 2023


    In recent years, housing costs have outpaced incomes in the United States, resulting in millions of eviction filings each year. Yet no study has examined the link between eviction and voting. Drawing on a novel data set that combines tens of millions of eviction and voting records, this article finds that residential eviction rates negatively impacted voter turnout during the 2016 presidential election. Results from a generalized additive model show eviction’s effect on voter turnout to be strongest in neighborhoods with relatively low rates of displacement. To address endogeneity bias and estimate the causal effect of eviction on voting, the analysis treats commercial evictions as an instrument for residential evictions, finding that increases in neighborhood eviction rates led to substantial declines in voter turnout. This study demonstrates that the impact of eviction reverberates far beyond housing loss, affecting democratic participation.