Student Highlight: Amy Schoenecker

Amy Schoenecker

Amy Schoenecker – Status:  ABD 

Amy is a graduate student in UIC’s Department of Political Science.  Her dissertation entitled
Governing the ungovernable? Street vending in Chicago and Mumbai recently won her, the American Political Science Association’s Norton Long Young Scholar Award.  While she is still in the revision stages of her writing, I asked her to share a few thoughts about her Graduate School journey.

1. Why you chose UIC?

I was set to attend the University of Chicago’s Master of Public Policy program before I received UIC’s acceptance letter. UIC’s graduate advisors introduced me to the strengths of the program and made me realize that UIC has a strong tradition of taking the city seriously and would offer an ideal environment to delve into urban issues. I decided upon UIC and it was the best choice I could have made. I benefitted from my mentors’ commitment to students, individual attention, and encouragement of unique and interesting research topics. They allowed me space and freedom to cultivate my own research agendas, but also have given me the support and tools I need to achieve my research goals.

2. Why you chose your research topic?

I have always been interested in studying economic development, the role of marginalized groups, and their political practices. My coursework which spanned different departments and Chicago’s urban environment helped me select my dissertation topic-a comparative study of informal economies, specifically street vending. Many people are surprised to hear that I research street vendors. Yet street vendors are critical economic and politics agents– not only do they constitute an important segment of their cities’ respective economies but also their treatments and responses offer an excellent platform to understand how politics works. My exposure to the courses beyond my department made me realize that the informal economy and street vendors are under-researched topics in political science. My research in Chicago’s neighborhoods made me notice the lack of cross-cultural understandings of both urban politics and informal economies. With the excitement of my advisors, I was encouraged to research the topic by incorporating the tenets of various research fields from economic development, local governance to citizen activism, political contestations, and democracy. Given that informal economies and street vending are often seen as the third world, developing country problem, in my dissertation I use cases from the global north and the global south, namely Chicago and Mumbai to show that informality and citizen involvement have more in common than people realize.

What you’ve learned that you may/may not have expected to learn about your research?

My field research in India has been a very rewarding and challenging experience, which substantiated the importance of my project.  I was amazed by the well- regulated chaos in India which is captured in my dissertation title, Governing the ungovernable? Street vending in Chicago and Mumbai. At the beginning of an interview with one of Mumbai’s top officials on street vending, he read the title of my project aloud. “Governing the ungovernable?” I wrote this title to question the supposed unregulated and ungoverned nature of informal economies. As a recent policy change in India, now the Mumbai municipal corporation was tasked with creating vending zones and licensing vendors. Given these changes, the official quipped, after reading my title, “Only now we are governing them!” This perception substantiated my drive to dispel the myth that informality is only regulated when it is officially and legally allowed. Another set of experiences further cemented the importance of this project. In conversation with interview subjects in Mumbai, the topic of street vending in Chicago often came up. A common reaction by Mumbai officials and vendors was amazement that Chicago had street vendors and that most vendors were working unauthorized—just like in Mumbai. This created unique bonding moments when the ‘subject’ realized that, despite living in cities thousands of miles apart, we shared some common urban experiences.

Can you talk about some of the influences on your research?  Teaching, waivers, support?

My research, but more importantly, my development as a graduate student and emerging scholar, would not have been possible without the support from my advisors, UIC’s support and the research support of several national institutions. I was able to benefit from many departmental awards including Milton Rakove Memorial research and paper awards, and the Lynn Ragsdale Fellowship, which helped support my study of Hindi in Jaipur, India. I was able to learn Hindi and complete my initial research in India with the support of awards, like UIC’s Dean’s Scholar Award, and National-level awards, such as the Critical Language Scholarship, and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship. Not only did my advisors encourage and support me to pursue many research opportunities, but also we celebrated together as I found success in these awards. Probably the defining moment was at this past American Political Science Association conference (2015) where I received the Norton Long Young Scholar award in front of my main three advisors-Dr. Sultan Tepe, Dr. Dennis Judd, and Dr. Yue Zhang as well as a friend, former student, and now assistant professor, Dr. Annika Hinze. I’ve benefited immensely from the intellectually stimulating supportive environment that Chicago and UIC have provided.