Erin York Cornwell

Associate Professor


My research is driven by concerns about how social status and social contexts shape social action, social networks, and individual outcomes. I have expertise in designing, fielding, and analyzing social surveys, including smartphone-based ecological momentary assessments that allow the examination of social life in real-time.

Research Focus

I am pursuing research in three interrelated areas, which are described below.

Residential and Neighborhood Contexts

My research explores how the social contexts of everyday life, including one’s household, residential neighborhood, and other contexts of daily life, shape access to resources, social connectedness, and individual outcomes. One strand of my work in this area considers how conditions of the physical household context, such as the presence of household disorder, reflects and shapes social networks. Another recent study explores how the residential neighborhood context shapes individuals’ abilities to form and maintain personal network ties.

In ongoing research, I am using smartphones to track where older adults spend their daily lives, rather than presuming that the residential neighborhood context is the onlyimportant — or the most important — environment. Real-time exposure to social contexts may have profound consequences for individuals. For example, in a recent study I find that people who suffer medical emergencies in more socioeconomically disadvantaged areas are less likely to receive help or support from a bystander. Importantly, Black individuals are about half as likely as Whites to receive help from a bystander, regardless of their location. Findings from this study were featured in the Washington PostBoston GlobeHuffington PostReutersDaily MailYahoo, and other media outlets.

Sociology of Law

My research on the sociology of law focuses on the social structure of urban courts and inequalities in the criminal justice process. One strand of this work explores how social status structures jury deliberations — leading to disparities in jurors’ participation and influence. I am also concerned with the processes through which individuals access different types of legal representation, legal expertise, and legal assistance. In recent work, I consider legal expertise as a form of social capital that can be accessed through social network ties with family and friends who are lawyers. Such “informal” access to legal expertise may be an underexplored source of inequalities in legal outcomes.

In related research, I am exploring how criminal defendants attain legal representation, whether defendants who rely on the public defender are disadvantaged in jury trials, and how informal aspects of courts — such as networks among public defenders, prosecutors, and judges — shape case outcomes.

Health, Aging, and Social Networks

My research in this area is primarily focused around specifying the mechanisms through which social networks affect health. For this, I utilize survey data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). This longitudinal, population-based study of older adults is innovative in its collection of data on neighborhood context and social (dis)connectedness, along with biomeasures (e.g., blood and saliva for lab analysis, blood pressure, sensory function, mobility).

A key goal of my work is distinguishing between network characteristics and social support (which are often conflated), and exploring how social disconnectedness (e.g., small network size, infrequent network contact) and perceived isolation (e.g., loneliness) separately affect health and disease management. In other research, I am considering how real-time social interactions — and the contexts within which they take place — shape aspects of health and well-being such as symptoms of distress (e.g., pain, fatigue).

For more information about my research, please see my profiles on Google Scholar and Research Gate.

Recent Courses Taught

SOC 2560     Sociology of Law
SOC 3120     Urban Sociology
SOC 3160     Social Context and Health
SOC 5180     Social Inequality: Contemporary Theories and Debates
SOC 6160     Survey Methods
SOC 6440     Urban Structure and Process


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