Patricia Fernández-Kelly

Associate Director, Program in American Studies
Professor of Sociology
Office Phone
255 Wallace Hall

Patricia Fernandez-Kelly is the Director of the Center for Migration and Development and professor of Sociology.  Fernández-Kelly is a social anthropologist with an interest in international economic development, gender, class and ethnicity, and urban ethnography.  As part of her dissertation research in the late 1970s, she conducted the first global ethnography focusing on export-processing zones in Asia and Latin America.  Her book on Mexico’s maquiladora program, For We Are Sold, I and My People: Women and Industry in Mexico's Frontier (1983) was featured by Contemporary Sociology as one of twenty-five favorite books in the last decade of the 20th century.  With Lorraine Gray, she co-produced the Emmy-award winning documentary “The Global Assembly Line.”  She has written extensively on migration, economic restructuring, women in the labor force, and race and ethnicity.   With Paul DiMaggio, she produced Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States (2010). With Alejandro Portes she is the editor of The State and the Grassroots: Immigrant Transnational Organization in Four Continents (Berghahn Books, 2016). Her book, The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State (2016) received a C. Wright Mills Finalist Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. She is currently working on a book entitled Hialeah Dreams: The Making of the Cuban-American Working Class in South Florida. 

How does the state shape poverty in America?

There are more than 40 million people living in poverty in the world’s richest country--14 percent of its total population. A disproportionate number of impoverished Americans are Black and Hispanic.  Although much has been written about vulnerable populations in the U.S. not much attention has been paid to the relationship between government institutions and the urban poor.  In The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State (2016), a finalist for the C.Wright Mills Award, Fernández-Kelly argues that a unique trait of American poverty derives from continued interaction with government institutions which are charged with ostensible goals reflecting ‘ambivalent benevolence’ but whose practices seek surveillance, containment and penalization.  Such liminal institutions are different from mainstream government institutions which interact with individuals as citizens and consumers.  In other words, the character of government agencies plays an important role in shaping the lives of impoverished people.


Ph.D. Sociology
Rutgers University, 1981