Sofya Aptekar

Sofya Aptekar

Associate Professor of Urban Studies, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
Chapter Leader: New York City SSN
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About Sofya

Aptekar conducts research on immigration, race and ethnicity, and urban communities. She teaches classes on sociology, race and ethnic relations, sociological research methods, and social theory. Aptekar is knowledgeable about citizenship acquisition by immigrants in the United States and beyond, as well as how the naturalization process and the meaning of citizenship have changed over time. Her most recent work examines how people get along in diverse and changing urban neighborhoods. In recent years, Aptekar has served on an advisory board of a neighborhood-based youth enrichment organization, taught adult English learners, and volunteered as an instructor at a youth correctional facility.

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In the News

Opinion: "Must Immigrants Sacrifice Themselves to COVID-19 for Basic Rights?," Sofya Aptekar (with Miriam Ticktin), Open Democracy, February 6, 2021.
Opinion: "All Undocumented Immigrants Deserve Citizenship—Not Just “Essential Workers," Sofya Aptekar (with Shannon Gleeson), In These Times, July 20, 2020.
Guest on NPR Morning Edition, March 30, 2015.
Quoted by Amy Kuperinsky in "Indian New Jersey: More than Oak Tree Road," Star Ledger, November 6, 2011.


"The Violence of Asylum: The Case of Undocumented Chinese Migration to the US" (with Amy Hsin). Social Forces (2021).

Contributes to the literature on migrant illegality in sociology that is primarily based on the experiences of Latinx migrants by highlighting the continuities and unique features of legal violence experienced by undocumented Chinese.

"The Tale of Two Community Gardens: Green Aesthetics Versus Food Justice in the Big Apple" (with Justin S. Myers). Agriculture and Human Values 37, no. 3 (2020): 779-792.

Findings show why some community gardens in food insecure communities adopt a food justice vision, while others do not, and how gentrification can amplify racial and class tensions within community gardens and between gardeners and nongardeners.

"Doctors As Migration Brokers in the Mandatory Medical Screenings of Immigrants to the United States" Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46, no. 9 (2020): 1865-1885 .

Presents quantitative analysis of a random survey of civil surgeons, identifying features of this migration industry and constructing at typology of profit seekers, immigrant advocates, and screeners. Explains that civil surgeons are in the private sector, dominated by immigrant doctors who tend to pass most applicants and charge higher fees.

"Capitalism and the Immigrant Rights Movement in the United States" (with Sofya Aptekar and Marcel Paret). Socialism and Democracy 33, no. 3 (2020): 1-25.

Discusses how social movements are full of contradictions, and an inherent tension often emerges between reformist and radical flanks. Mentions how this becomes especially true as activists attempt to draw connections between varied aims such as opposition to globalization and support for immigrants. Considers the implication of this critical omission.

"The Unbearable Lightness of the Cosmopolitan Canopy: Accomplishment of Diversity at an Urban Farmers Market" City and Community 18, no. 1 (2019): 71-87.

Provides a critique of work on urban public space that touts its potential as a haven from racial and class conflicts and inequalities. Argues that social structures and hierarchies embedded in the capitalist system and the state's social control over the racialized poor are not suspended even in places that appear governed by civility and tolerance, such as those under Anderson's “cosmopolitan canopy.

"Super-Diversity as a Methodological Approach: Re-Centering Power and Inequality" Ethnic and Racial Studies 42, no. 1 (2019): 53-70 .

Illustrates through the analysis of two public spaces in a super-diverse New York neighbourhood. Concludes by raising questions about the use of super-diversity discourse in the public and policy spheres.

"The Public Library as Resistive Space in the Neoliberal City" City and Community 18, no. 4 (2019): 1203-1219.

Draws on ethnographic research of a small public library in a diverse, mostly working class neighborhood in Queens, New York. Shows that in addition to providing an alternative to the capitalist market by distributing resources according to people's needs, the library serves as a moral underground space, where middle-class people bend rules to help struggling city residents. A

"Looking Forward, Looking Back: Collective Memory and Neighborhood Identity in Two Urban Parks" Symbolic Interaction 40, no. 1 (2017): 101-121.

Shows that multi-vocal and fragmented contexts of collective memory help explain the uneven nature of gentrification processes, with one park serving as its cultural fulcrum while the other is left at the sidelines.

"Gifts Among Strangers: The Social Organization of Freecycle Giving" Social Problems 63, no. 2 (2016): 266–283.

Investigates motivations for giving and the social norms that guide it.  Finds that while members of other internet-based groups have been found to exhibit altruism and solidarity, altruism and solidarity in Freecycle appear to be secondary

"Making Sense of Naturalization: What Citizenship Means to Naturalizing Immigrants in Canada and the USA" Journal of International Migration and Integration 17, no. 4 (2015): 1143-1161.

Reports on an interview-based study in suburban Toronto and New Jersey that investigated how immigrants explain their decisions to acquire citizenship. Analyzes respondents’ understandings of naturalization in light of different theories of citizenship and different dimensions of the concept.

"Visions of Public Space: Reproducing and Resisting Social Hierarchies in a Diverse Community Garden" Sociological Forum 30, no. 1 (2015).

Argues that different ideas about the same small urban public space can lead to conflict that reinforces inequality in the neighborhood, while diversity provides opportunities for people with less power to get what they want.

"The Road to Citizenship: What Naturalization Means for Immigrants and the United States" (Rutgers University Press, 2015).
Examines citizenship acquisition from the perspective of immigrants and the American nation, demonstrates how naturalization exacerbates American inequality, and introduces policy alternatives.
"Citizenship Status and Patterns of Inequality in the United States and Canada" Social Science Quarterly 95, no. 2 (2014): 343-359.
Demonstrates a growing inequality in the distribution of citizenship among immigrants in the United States and no such growth in Canada. Argues that the most disadvantaged unskilled immigrants are becoming ever more unlikely to gain access to the benefits of citizenship, including the right to vote, job opportunities, and security from deportation.
"Naturalization Ceremonies and the Role of Immigrants in the American Nation" Citizenship Studies 16, no. 7 (2012): 937-952.

Shows how the stories told to and about recent American citizens have changed between mid-20th century and today. Discusses the implications of these stories for immigration policy and immigrant incorporation.

"Organizational Life and Political Incorporation of Two Asian Immigrant Groups: A Case Study" Ethnic and Racial Studies 32, no. 9 (2009): 1511-1533.

Investigates participation in civil society among Asian Indian and Chinese immigrants in Edison, New Jersey, showing the role of race in political incorporation of Asian Indians and marginalization of Chinese immigrants.