Wendy Espeland



  • Advisor
  • Successful Societies


  • Northwestern University
Department of Sociology


  • United States


PhD (Sociology), University of Chicago
MA (Sociology), Arizona State University
BSc (Sociology), Arizona State University


Sociologist Wendy Espeland studies organizations, culture and law.

Her 1998 book, The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest, told the story of a proposed dam in central Arizona that threatened wildlife and ancestral Aboriginal land. Espeland used this case study to explore rationality within a cultural and political context. She is currently writing a book about the effects of commensuration, the process of translating qualities into quantities. In it she investigates how media rankings have influenced higher education, how efforts to measure homosexuality have shaped gay and lesbian politics, and the commensurative practices necessary in order to transform air pollution into a commodity that is traded on futures markets.


Clifford Geertz Award for Best Article, 2009

Philip D. Shelton Prize for Outstanding Legal Education Research, 2009

Distinguished Book Prize, American Sociological Association, 1999

Louis Brownlow Book Award, National Academy of Public Administration, 1999

Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, 2013–14

Relevant Publications

Espeland, W., and M. Sauder. Fear of Falling: How Media Rankings Changed Legal Education in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2015.

Espeland, W. The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.