Jordan Brensinger

Columbia University

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I am a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Columbia University and anticipate graduating in May 2022. I draw on qualitative and quantitative methods ranging from ethnography to computational approaches. My scholarship primarily explores how organizations uniquely identify people and the implications of those processes for organizations, consumers, and inequality. My dissertation—funded by the National Science Foundation—investigates identification processes by studying how actors respond to and make sense of a case where those processes break down: financial identity theft. Drawing on a multi-site multi-method study—including 1) over a hundred interviews with victims and professionals, 2) observations at industry events, a nonprofit call center, and the fraud department of a large credit union, and 3) documentary analysis—I show how unique consumer “identities” actually constitute the outcome of complex and sometimes fraught negotiations between algorithms, expert judgment, and consumer perceptions. By attending to these negotiations, I show the considerable work that goes into producing consumer identities as well as how organizations can better manage situations when things go wrong. I also draw attention to how organizational reliance on personal data generates new forms of unpaid labor and insecurity for consumers, particularly low-income people and people of color. Together, I use these findings to propose policies and practices for how to better promote human dignity, equality, and flourishing in the digital age.