Ellen Berrey

Ellen Berrey

Associate Professor

Dr. Ellen Berrey’s research engages multiple sociological subfields: law, race and racism, culture, organizations, and social movements. Her work is centrally focused on the politics and paradoxes of solving social and environmental problems. She has a particular interest in how cultural ideals—such as diversity, fairness, anti-racism, and sustainability—get mobilized, institutionalized, and contested. Her projects to date have examined the organizational and legal push for diversity, affirmative action policy and politics, employment discrimination law, corporate social responsibility, higher education protest, and sustainability politics. In addition to her appointment at University of Toronto, she is an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation.

Dr. Berrey’s first book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press 2015) is a multi-case ethnographic and historical analysis. In it, she argues that the popular public commitment to “diversity” in the U.S. represents the taming of radical demands for racial justice. The book was awarded the 2016 Herbert Jacob Book Prize of the Law & Society Association, the 2016 Distinguished Book Award of the Sociology of Law section of the American Sociological Association, and the 2016 Mary Douglas Book Prize Honorable Mention of the Sociology of Culture section of the American Sociological Association. It was profiled in The New Yorker, as well.

Her second book, with Robert Nelson and Laura Beth Nielsen, Rights on Trial: How Employment Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality (University of Chicago Press 2017) documents the dynamics of employment discrimination legal cases in the U.S. and the various parties’ experiences of litigation. Based on a novel mixed methods design, this book reveals the mechanisms by which law reinscribes social hierarchies of race, gender, (dis)ability, and age. It was awarded the 2018 Distinguished Book Award Honorable Mention of the Sociology of Law section of the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Berrey’s new projects explore 1) higher education protest and university and police responses to those protests in the U.S. and Canada (with Dr. Alex Hanna) and 2) a right-wing movement against sustainability planning that was motivated by a conspiracy theory.


Ph.D. (Northwestern University)


Singh Kehal, Prabhdeep, Daniel Hirschman, and Ellen Berrey. 2021. “When Affirmative Action Disappears: Unexpected Patterns in Student Enrollments at Selective U.S. Institutions, 1990-2016.” Sociology of Race & Ethnicity 7(4):543-560. https://doi.org/10.1177/23326492211008640

Berrey, Ellen. 2020. “When Liberal States Bite Back: Cultural Politics and the Far Right American Movement against U.N. Agenda 21.” Pp. 159-181 in Cultural Diversity and the International Order, edited by Christian Reus-Smit and Andrew Phillips. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Berrey, Ellen. 2018. “Is Diversity Racial Justice? Affirmative Action in Admissions and the Promises and Perils of Law.” Pp. 41-70 in Challenging the Status Quo: Diversity, Democracy, and Equality in the 21st Century, edited by David G. Embrick, Sharon Collins and Michelle S. Dodson. Boston, MA: Brill.

Berrey, Ellen. 2018. “Social Enterprise Law in Action: The Organizational Characteristics of U.S. Benefit Corporations.” Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law. 20(1):21-114. (ABRDIGED VERSION: 2020. “The Organizational Characteristics of U.S. Benefit Corporations.” Sustainability Matters. The Conference Board.)

Nielsen, Laura Beth, Ellen Berrey, and Robert L. Nelson. 2018. “Dignity and Discrimination: Employment Civil Rights in the Workplace and in Courts.” Chicago-Kent Law Review 92(3):1185-1202.

Berrey, Ellen, Robert L. Nelson, and Laura Beth Nielsen. 2017. Rights on Trial: How Employment Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Hirschman, Daniel and Ellen Berrey. 2017. "The Partial Deinstitutionalization of Affirmative Action in U.S. Higher Education, 1988 to 2014.” Sociological Science 4:449-468. http://doi.org/10.15195/v4.a18

Hirschman, Dan, Ellen Berrey, and Fiona Rose Greenland. 2016. “Dequantifying Diversity: Affirmative Action and Admissions at the University of Michigan.” Theory & Society 45(3):265-301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-016-9270-2

Berrey, Ellen. 2015. The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial JusticeChicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 

Berrey, Ellen. 2015. “Making a Civil Rights Claim for Affirmative Action: BAMN’s Legal Mobilization and the Legacy of Race-Conscious Policies.” Du Bois Review 12(2):375-405. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X15000156

Berrey, Ellen. 2014. “Breaking Glass Ceilings, Ignoring Dirty Floors: The Culture and Class Bias of Corporate Diversity Management.” American Behavioral Scientist 59(2):347-370. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764213503333

Berrey, Ellen, Steve G. Hoffman, and Laura Beth Nielsen. 2012. “Situated Justice: A Contextual Analysis of Fairness and Inequality in Employment Discrimination Litigation.” Law & Society Review 46(1):1-36. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5893.2012.00471.x


Socio-legal Studies; Race and Racism; Cultural Sociology; Social Movements; Organizations; Environmental Sociology
Current Courses
SOC216H5, SOC312H5, SOC475H5