Kelsey D. Meagher

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Sociology, UC Davis

Kelsey Meagher is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Davis. Her areas of specialization include environmental sociology, organizations and the economy, risk and disasters, health and social welfare, and food and agriculture systems.

Kelsey’s dissertation research seeks to explain cross-national differences in food safety management and outbreak response. She combines qualitative and quantitative methods to examine organizational responses to two of the largest E. coli outbreaks in recent history (California, 2006; and Germany, 2011).

Kelsey contributes to the economic sociology website Systems of Exchange. You can reach her at

Curriculum Vitae

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Dissertation: After the Outbreak: Organizing Food Safety in the U.S. and Europe

Abstract: Large-scale foodborne illness outbreaks over the past two decades have prompted growing public concerns over food safety. However, responses to these outbreaks have varied substantially across institutional and national contexts. My study investigates cross-national dif- ferences in risk perception and governance in the context of two major E. coli outbreaks in the last decade (California, 2006; and Germany, 2011). I employ mixed methods (including inter- views, archival media, and nationally representative surveys) to trace how growers, regulators, and consumers in the U.S. and Germany defined and pursued food safety following the out- breaks. I argue that food safety is a “boundary object,” spanning the social worlds of agricultural and health experts, and that to understand the dynamics of outbreak response we must account for how power and authority are distributed across these professionalized spheres and the pat- terned relations between them. Food safety governance involves limited public participation in both cases, so foodborne outbreaks rarely disrupt the established dynamics of technocratic gov- ernance unless accompanied by sizable economic or political shocks.

Manuscripts in Progress

Public Perceptions of Food-Related Risks: A Cross-National Investigation of Individual and Contextual Influences (Under review)

I use survey data from the Eurobarometer (2010) to evaluate cross-national differences in European consumers' concerns about chemical and biological food risks. I show that consumers in most (but not all) of the 26 countries in the study worry more about chemical risks than biological ones, and that the effect of institutional trust on risk concerns varies significantly across countries. I also show that several contextual factors -- including media coverage, grocery retail concentration, and aggregate perceptions of "unnaturalness" -- contribute to national variations in risk concern.

Contamination, Crisis, and Food Safety Culture: Evaluating an Industry- led Response to the Problem of Foodborne Risk. (In preparation)

This paper draws on qualitative interviews with stakeholders in the 2006 U.S. E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach to explain how they evaluate the impact of a novel industry-led program for food safety controls. I trace how challenges in measuring the program's material impacts have led stakeholders to "de-couple" their evaluations of success from the objective risk of contamination, focusing instead on the program's impact on "food safety culture" and national policies.

Trade-Offs between Meeting Utility and Housing Expenses in the United States. (With Ryan Finnigan; under review)

We estimate the extent and distribution of trade-offs between utility and housing expenses for low-income households in the United States using two nationally representative surveys: the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the American Housing Survey (AHS). This paper was presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the Population Association of America and is currently under review.

Beyond the Stalled Gender Revolution: Historical and Cohort Dynamics in Gender Attitudes from 1977-2014. (With Xiaoling Shu; revise & resubmit)

We test three structural explanations for historical dynamics in American gender attitudes in order to explain the mid-1990s “stalled revolution” in egalitarian gender attitudes. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Mapping Gender Ideologies Globally: Gender Attitudes in 47 Countries (With Xiaoling Shu; in preparation)

We develop a typology for gender ideologies, distinguishing between attitudes about women's paid employment and status achievement. We use the typology to trace how global trends in gender egalitarianism have manifested differently across societies.

Natural Resource Meanings and Water Allocation: Social Welfare and the Systems of Exchange Typology. (With Nicole Woolsey Biggart; in preparation)

We develop an analytical approach to understanding the social foundations of contestations over natural resource allocation and highlight several case studies on water governance. This paper was presented at the 2014 conference for the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR) and the 2016 Colloquium for the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS).


Associate Instructor (Instructor of Record)

Introduction to Social Research (Summer 2015 and Summer 2016). Syllabus.

This course aims to provide students with a fundamental understanding of how social science is designed and conducted. Students are exposed to a variety of research methods, including experimental design, survey research, qualitative field research, and unobtrusive research. By the end of the course, students understand the logics of social inquiry and the benefits and challenges of different research methods. Even if students don’t plan to pursue careers in research, they will still consume a great deal of research over their lifetimes. This course helps students become critical consumers of research studies published in popular media and academic literature. Course activities help students develop widely applicable skills in critical thinking, project design, and writing.

Teaching Assistant

Political Sociology (Spring 2016)

Environmental Sociology (Winter 2012, Spring 2014)

Intermediate Social Statistics (Spring 2012, Fall 2012)

Introduction to Social Research (Fall 2011)