hero image
Daniel Cornfield - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

Daniel Cornfield Daniel Cornfield

Professor of Sociology | Vanderbilt University


Expert in the American labor movement, the creative class, and work and occupation issues generally.



Daniel Cornfield Publication Daniel Cornfield Publication Daniel Cornfield Publication




Ask an Expert: How has COVID-19 changed the workforce?



Dan Cornfield is Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, Editor-in-Chief of Work and Occupations, and a Fellow of the Labor and Employment Relations Association. His work on artist careers, labor, civil rights, and immigration addresses the formation of inclusive and expressive occupational communities and their impact on cultural pluralism. During his Fellowship year at the Curb Center, Cornfield and a team of sociology graduate students will examine the role of local arts agencies in promoting cultural equity and community engagement in the arts in the U.S.

His Beyond the Beat: Musicians Building Community in Nashville (Princeton University Press) addresses how indie musicians strengthen their inclusive and diversifying peer community of artists in the contemporary era of the gig economy and heightened identity politics, based on his in-depth interviews with 75 Nashville popular-music musicians. Dan’s work has been widely published in social science journals, including the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, and the ILR Review. Among his books are Becoming a Mighty Voice (Russell Sage Foundation) and Worlds of Work (Springer), co-edited with Randy Hodson. He has chaired the Metropolitan Nashville Human Relations Commission, advised WNPT (Nashville public television) in the production of its Emmy Award-winning documentary series on Nashville immigrants “Next Door Neighbors,” and presently advises the Future of Music Coalition on its artist revenue streams project and the National Endowment of the Arts on its research lab initiative, “The Arts, Creativity, Cognition and Learning.”

Cornfield earned his BA (1974), MA (1977), and PhD (1980) all in sociology from the University of Chicago.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Labor & Employment

Creative Class


Labor Unions


Accomplishments (4)

2008-09 Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award (professional)

Vanderbilt University

Award for Affirmative Action and Diversity Initiatives (professional)

Vanderbilt University, 2000

Excellence in Education Award (professional)

Labor and Employment Relations Association (formerly, the Industrial Relations Research Association), 2000, for outstanding teaching in the academic area of sociology (inaugural year of this award)

Outstanding Graduate Teacher Award (professional)

College of Arts and Science, Vanderbilt University, 1993

Education (3)

University of Chicago: Ph.D., Sociology 1980

University of Chicago: M.A., Sociology 1977

University of Chicago: B.A., Sociology 1974

With honors

Affiliations (7)

  • Sociological Research Association : Member
  • WNPT (formerly WDCN) Public Television Corporation : Chair, Community Advisory Board
  • American Sociological Association : Member
  • Asociación Latinoamericana de Sociología del Trabajo : Member
  • Southern Sociological Society : Member
  • Labor and Employment Relations Association : Member
  • Society for the Study of Social Problems : Member

Selected Media Appearances (10)

Gen Z battles to bring back unions, one Starbucks at a time

BBC  online


Many Republican states have since brought in "right to work" laws that weaken unions, while increasingly large corporations use their "vast resources" to quell organising efforts, says Dan Cornfield, an expert in unionism at Vanderbilt University.

view more

Why the Teamsters union drive at Amazon could succeed where Bessemer faltered

Yahoo! Finance  online


“It makes sense that this union in particular, which happens to be a very large one, would want to organize Amazon warehouses," says Dan Cornfield, a professor and labor sociologist at Vanderbilt University. "It’s a very powerful union in the economic sector in which Amazon operates."

view more

Unionizing Amazon warehouses was never going to be easy

The Verge  


“It’s a blow to the labor movement, but it’s part of a pattern that’s been going on in corporate America for a long time,” says Professor Dan Cornfield, a labor sociologist at Vanderbilt University.

view more

Tensions and tempers rise on the picket lines as General Motors strike enters day three

NBC News  online


“For many workers, the pay gap between Barra and the workers symbolizes the actual gap between the haves’ and the have nots’ in the U.S. and the disappearance of many career ladders that have made the American dream an increasingly unattainable dream for millions of working families,” Vanderbilt University sociology professor Dan Cornfield, who studies the plight of U.S. workers in the changing economy, wrote in response to questions from NBC News.

view more

GM strike update

Politico  online


The strike comes at a time when other worker movements have gained momentum in the past year and a half, Dan Cornfield, a labor expert and professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, told Morning Shift. “That usually happens when the economy improves and workers feel more secure about making demands and not fearing unemployment so much.”

view more

Tennessee Workers Reject Union At Volkswagen Plant — Again

NPR  radio


"It's not unusual for governors and U.S. Senators to vociferously oppose unions in private companies," Daniel Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University, told NPR. "What is unusual is this governor went inside the plant and directly talked to the workers."

view more

Auto workers' union rolls the dice at Nissan's Mississippi plant

Reuters  online


“If the union wins, it will encourage other in the South to unionize,” Vanderbilt University labor analyst Daniel Cornfield said. “If the company wins, it will make it more difficult for the UAW to organize elsewhere in the South.”

view more

UAW, Nissan pressing high-stakes campaign for worker votes

The Tennessean  online


"It is often very tense," said Vanderbilt University sociologist Dan Cornfield, who has studied unions. "It's tense because both sides feel a lot is riding on it for them."

view more

U.A.W. Says Nissan Workers Seek a Union Vote in Mississippi

New York Times  online


“Some of the issues I gather in the Nissan plant are similar to the issues in Chattanooga and elsewhere,” said Daniel Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University. “But in the case of Mississippi, they are being framed in terms of respect and disrespect for workers, and linking that to a civil rights orientation.”

view more

Alabama Vote Is Rare Win in the South for the U.A.W.

New York Times  online


When the results of a vote to join the United Automobile Workers union was announced late Wednesday at the Commercial Vehicle Group (C.V.G.) in Piedmont, Ala., the “hollering and whooping” echoed throughout the plant, said Alan Amos, a welder there.

view more

Selected Articles (4)

Occupational Activism and Racial Desegregation at Work: Activist Careers after the Nonviolent Nashville Civil Rights Movement

Race, Identity and Work

Daniel B. Cornfield, Jonathan S. Coley, Larry W. Isaac, Dennis C. Dickerson

2018 As a site of contestation among job seekers, workers, and managers, the bureaucratic workplace both reproduces and erodes occupational race segregation and racial status hierarchies. Much sociological research has examined the reproduction of racial inequality at work; however, little research has examined how desegregationist forces, including civil rights movement values, enter and permeate bureaucratic workplaces into the broader polity.

view more

Randy Hodson, Agent of a New Sociology of Work: Remembrance, Reflection, and Celebration

A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity

Daniel B. Cornfield

2016 In eulogizing Randy Hodson, I reflect on and celebrate the development and deepening of Randy’s intellectual legacy as I have seen it unfold and intersected with it at different points over the years. Our careers commenced in 1980 as labor sociologists were turning their attention toward worker agency in an emerging post-bureaucratic era of neo-liberalism.

view more

Preparation Pathways and Movement Participation: Insurgent Schooling and Nonviolent Direct Action in the Nashville Civil Rights Movement

Mobilization: An International Quarterly

Larry W. Isaac, Jonathan S. Coley, Daniel B. Cornfield, and Dennis C. Dickerson

2016 Employing a unique sample of participants in the early Nashville civil rights movement, we extend the micromobilization literature by conceptualizing “preparation pathways” (or schooling channels) through which activists acquire insurgent consciousness and capital so crucial for committed, effective, high-risk activism. We identify two key pathways in which activists were “schooled” in nonviolent praxis—experience in nonviolent direct action prior to the Nashville movement and training through intensive, highly organized, and disciplined workshops on nonviolence praxis.

view more

“Movement Schools” and Dialogical Diffusion of Nonviolent Praxis: Nashville Workshops in the Southern Civil Rights Movement

Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance

Larry W. Isaac, Daniel B. Cornfield, Dennis C. Dickerson, James M. Lawson, Jonathan S. Coley

2012 While it is generally well known that nonviolent collective action was widely deployed in the US southern civil rights movement, there is still much that we do not know about how that came to be. Drawing on primary data that consist of detailed semistructured interviews with members of the Nashville nonviolent movement during the late 1950s and 1960s, we contribute unique insights about how the nonviolent repertoire was diffused into one movement current that became integral to moving the wider southern movement.

view more