Alisson Rowland, fourth year political science Ph.D. candidate, is the recipient of the UCI School of Social Sciences Outstanding Service Award. The faculty-nominated award recognizes her contributions to the social sciences community, including the intellectual growth of others. Below, Rowland, who earned her undergraduate degree in political science from UCI and is the first in her family to attend a research university, shares why she pursues work on social precarity, global governance, and community organizing and what’s next on her pathway to a Ph.D.
What factors or life experiences influenced your decision to study political science, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?
I remember visiting my father in prison and feeling the shift in the air from being there. Now I can look back on those experiences and recognize the invisible operations of power at play. The field of political science, at its core, seeks to understand how power operates in society. From growing up in the South, to becoming more involved in organizing in California, my life experiences continue to highlight how central politics are to our everyday lives. It was during my undergraduate studies at UCI that I realized how nourishing studying politics and power was to me. I was drawn to UCI’s political science department due to all the amazing work people are doing to understand power and everyday life. I also have found a very supportive community outside of UCI that motivated my decision. I love that I get to continuously learn and grow, build knowledge, and work with others to build a more just world.
Tell us about your research. What problem will your findings help solve?
My research centers on issues of social precarity, global governance, and community organizing. Broadly, I hope my work can help identify methods to improve social and economic conditions for people. My dissertation focuses on the competing discursive frames that shape the global governance of sex work, and how these frames affect the advocacy and activism of marginalized workers globally. I believe the way we speak about issues impacts how we regulate them, and vice versa. In my dissertation I ask, how do different regulatory systems impact sex worker mobilizations? Understanding how sex worker organizations resist, navigate, or otherwise respond to hostile regulations sheds insight on strategies other marginalized groups can use to overcome socio-economic and legal barriers.
Where can your work be found if someone wanted to learn more?
I have an article forthcoming with Review of International Political Economy on the blindspots embedded in the International Labor Organization’s approach to “decent work.” I have another article on the relationship between colonial legacies and sex work regulation under review with International Feminist Journal of Politics. I’ll also be contributing a book chapter to the Routledge International Handbook of Critical Policing (forthcoming 2024) where I assess the strategies utilized by criminalized workers to advocate for their rights, fight for systemic change, and imagine alternatives to state-centric forms of governance.
Additionally, Professor Davin Phoenix, along with other excellent scholars, edited a volume called Strategies for Navigating Graduate School and Beyond, which can be found here. My own struggles to understand academia informed the chapters I contributed to, which cover topics such as financial precarity and gendered experiences in higher education, as well as other hidden curriculum issues. Many of my excellent colleagues also contributed to this book, so check out their work too!
Rowland, A., Informality as Deviancy: The Problem of Difference in the Decent Work
Agenda, “revise and resubmit” with Review of International Political Economy.
Rowland, A. Moral Framing and Postcoloniality: Regulating Sex Work in the Philippines
Rowland, A. (2024). Sex Workers, Work! AntiCarceral Practices as Worldbuilding. Routledge International Handbook of Critical Policing Studies. (under contract).
Cantwell, D., & Rowland, A. (2022). Hidden Expenses in Graduate School: Navigating Financial Precarity and Elitism. APSA Preprints. doi:10.33774/apsa-2022-frjqb
Novak-Herzog, M., Rowland, A., Saks McManaway, K., & Bonilla, T. (2022). Gender and the Political Science Graduate Experience: When Leaning In Isn't Enough. APSA Preprints. doi:10.33774/apsa-2022-ttcd4
Macaulay, C., McThomas, M., & Rowland, A. (2022). Selecting an Advisor: Professional and Personal Considerations. APSA Preprints. doi:10.33774/apsa-2022-9c1fq
Hyder, M., El Kurd, D., Gray, F., Cantwell-Chavez, D., & Rowland, A. (2022). Things that Can Go “Wrong”: Finding Our Own Way in Graduate School. APSA Preprints. doi:10.33774/apsa-2022-m1g8c
What organizations, foundations, etc. have funded your research while you’ve been at UCI?
I’ve been fortunate to receive support from UCI’s Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the International Studies Association.
In addition to the Service Award, tell us about other campus activities you’ve been involved in and accolades earned.
Womxn’s Center Graduate Student In-Residency
Inaugural CHC graduate fellow, and current CHC Senior Graduate Fellow
DTEI Pedagogical Fellow
Global Political Economy Project-Qualitative Fellow, Georgetown University
Outstanding Service Award, School of Social Sciences
Associate Dean’s Fellowship
David Easton Award for Best Research Paper
Graduate Student Representative, Department of Political Science (former)
Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?
As the first in my family to attend a research university, my mentors have been critical in supporting my professional development. My advisor, Erin Lockwood (political science), has been extremely supportive and patient with me as I navigate academia. Thanks to her mentorship, I’ve been able to identify sources of support I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. I’m also grateful to the other members of my committee, Cecelia Lynch and Heidi Hardt (political science), and Eileen Boris (feminist studies), for their thoughtful engagements with my research.
When do you plan to complete your Ph.D.? What are your plans thereafter? How has UCI prepared you well for this role?
I’ll complete my Ph.D. in June 2025 - which is both so far and so close! Afterwards, I hope to pursue tenure-track faculty positions in the humanistic social sciences. As a community college transfer student, I never saw myself as a producer of knowledge. Being a researcher seemed like an unrealistic goal, as I never knew anyone in my personal life doing this type of work. After coming to UCI, the possibilities before me seemed endless and I felt empowered to make the most of what this campus has to offer.
Any unique life experiences that have guided your educational journey? Give us some background.
I believe our experiences are integral to how we navigate life. My mom’s educational journey was a huge inspiration for me. I watched her strive so much with online schooling while balancing full-time work and full-time caregiving. This motivated my goal to be a life-long learner. As a system-impacted student, seeing the effects of policing on my family influenced my desire to study politics and criminalization. I moved around a lot growing up, and creating a supportive community has been difficult for me. Being at UCI, I’ve met so many others who have similar, and different, experiences that have provided invaluable community during my journey.
Any other tidbits you’d like to share?
The further along in academia I’ve progressed, the more important rest has become. Professors Willoughby-Herard (African American studies) and Millward (African American studies and history) shared this resource in one of their graduate seminars which really shifted my perspective: Rest is Resistance. I think a lot of us feel like we need to overcommit for fear of not being good enough, or not being secure enough, or having so much we want to change in the world. But everything - even rest - is political, and we have to continuously practice more sustainable ways of living!