Tom Wooten is a PhD candidate in sociology. He is an ethnographer who studies educational attainment, gun violence, and the transition to adulthood.
In his dissertation project, Tom draws on two years of full-time fieldwork in New Orleans, during which he followed eight young men through their senior year of high school and attempted freshman year of college. All but one of his participants left college before graduating. Tom saw what it looked and felt like for participants to navigate their high schools, colleges, jobs, relationships and neighborhoods as they worked to build their desired lives. By carefully and vividly narrating these stories, he captures insights about the interplay of social structure and personal agency that can only come from up-close access. Specifically, he shows how structured challenges manifested for participants in vexing ways not neatly captured by existing theory, using these instances to identify previously unrecognized mechanisms of social reproduction.
Tom is the author of two books about the social origins and social consequences of disasters. No One Had a Tongue to Speak, cowritten with Utpal Sandesara, is a history of the deadly 1979 Machhu Dam-II disaster in India. We Shall Not Be Moved is an account of grassroots recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.