Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, Political Science, 1984
B.A./M.A., Northwestern University, Political Science, 1979
A.M. (honorary), Amherst College, 2001
Kristin Bumiller, George Daniel Olds Professor of Economic and Social Institutions, studies legal reforms and regulations targeted at protecting women, racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities. Her empirical scholarship examines the gap between law’s promise to promote equality and the consequences of legal regulations on organizations and individuals affected by these policies
“My diverse research agenda follows from a strong interest in poverty, and enormous concern about factors that generate the marginalization of groups in today's society,” she says. “Being labeled as disabled, for example, substantially increases your risk of being in poverty and the likelihood of social exclusion. Women who experience domestic violence often define their primary challenge in terms of economic sustainability. And for ex-prisoners, involvement with the criminal justice system sets in place a lifelong process of being subjected to more policing and exclusion from educational opportunities and jobs.”
Her projects focus on three areas.
- Anti-discrimination law—Her first book, The Civil Rights Society, demonstrated that efforts of individuals to employ antidiscrimination law can have the effect of reinforcing their victimization and disempowerment. She also has investigated how the declining work opportunities and the quality of jobs hinders former prisoners’ prospects for employment.
- Legal responses to rape and domestic violence—For her book, In An Abusive State, Bumiller studied how the feminist campaign against sexual violence became an unwitting partner in fostering a criminalized society, subjecting not only minority and immigrant men but also women to greater scrutiny within the welfare state and the criminal justice system.
- Disability—She is interested in the convergence of forces that promote our current understanding of autism as a disability. Her research examines how this understanding of autism emerges from cultural discourse, creates scientific puzzles, raises questions about our vulnerability to toxic environments, and intersects with evolving notions about the role of medicine in improving the human condition.
Bumiller brings these questions and concerns into her courses, such as the research seminars "Rights” and “Work”. These courses provide opportunities to think rigorously about the connections between state policy, legal regulation, and strategies for social change.
“In my courses I provide opportunities for creative thinking about how we might redesign social policies and institutions to be more responsive to the needs and interests of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Bumiller serves on the Executive Committee for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. She has teaches a political science course, “Regulating Citizenship”, inside the Hampshire County House of Corrections with equal numbers of Amherst students and incarcerated students.