Grad Students

Kyle Nelson

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I am an ethnographer studying the legal and organizational dimensions of eviction defense in Los Angeles.

In my dissertation "Litigating the Housing Crisis: Legal Assistance and the Institutional Life of Eviction in Los Angeles," I use ethnographic, interviewing, and historical methods to analyze eviction's interactional and institutional determinants in the Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) system

"Litigating the Housing Crisis" consists of four interrelated studies: First, I analyze historical data to show how austerity measures from above and social movement pressures from below created a contemporary social organization of the LASC system that has expanded and contracted litigants' access to justice over time. Second, based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in tenants' rights clinics, I show how the legal process puts tenants at risk of default as everyday housing troubles become legal eviction lawsuits. Third, based on eight months of ethnographic fieldwork observing eviction settlement negotiations, I show how eviction defense lawyers use their expertise to transform the law into a "weapon of the weak" for tenant-defendants in negotiation settings. Finally, drawing on interview data with landlords' and tenants' lawyers, I explain how the growth of the eviction defense industry has drastically changed the social meanings of due process for tenants facing eviction and ultimately reduced the number of cases filed in the LASC system.

In addition to my dissertation research, I have also analyzed eviction as part of three collaborative teams. First, in research with Michael Lens, Ashley Gromis, and Xavier Kuai I quantitatively analyzed eviction's neighborhood-level correlates and spatial dimensions in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Second, in forthcoming research with Eva Rosen, Brian McCabe, and Philip Garboden I explore how aspects of eviction vary across different jurisdictions within the United States in ways that both enables and constrains comparative analysis. Third, with Michael Lens I am writing about the past, present, and future of an emerging field: "the sociology of eviction."

My research has been published in Social Problems, City and Community, and Housing Policy Debate and covered in the Los Angeles Times, Cal Matters, Los Angeles Daily News, Boom Californiaand KCBS News Radio San Francisco.

When I am not writing my dissertation and hanging out with my dog Goose, I am a member of the LA Renters' Right to Counsel Coalition's steering committee and participate in housing justice campaigns throughout California.

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Fields of Study

Urban Sociology, Housing and Housing Policy, Law and Society, Organizations and Institutions, Race and Ethnicity, and Ethnographic Methods.


Kyle Nelson, Philip Garboden, Brian J. McCabe, and Eva Rosen. 2021. "Evictions: The Comparative Analysis Problem." Forthcoming in Housing Policy Debate. Link.

Kyle Nelson, Ashley Gromis, Yiwen Kuai, and Michael C. Lens. 2021. "Spatial Concetration and Spillover: Eviction Dynamics in Los Angeles Neighborhoods, 2005-2015." Forthcoming in Housing Policy Debate. Link.

Kyle Nelson. 2021. "The Microfoundations of Bureaucratic Outcomes: Causes and Consequences of Interpretive Disjuncture in Eviction Cases." Social Problems. 68(1):152-167. Link.

Michael C. Lens, Kyle Nelson, Ashley Gromis, and Yiwen Kuai. 2020. "The Neighborhood Context of Eviction in Southern California." City & Community. 19(4):912-932. Link.

Gregory Bonett, Katie McKeon, Tate Harshbarger, Brenda Martin Moya, Cara McGraw, and Kyle Nelson. 2019. Priced Out, Pushed Out, Locked Out: How Permanent Tenant Protections Can Help Communities Prevent Homelessness and Resist Displacement in Los Angeles County. Link.

Tyler Anderson, Terra Graziani, and Kyle Nelson. 2018. "We Shall Not Be Moved: Practitioners' Perspectives on Law and Organizing in Response to California's Housing Crisis." UCLA Law Review. Discussion: Law Meets World. Link.

[Please contact me at kylenelson (at) ucla (dot) edu if you are unable to access my publications and would like to take a look!]

Grants and Awards

Haynes Lindley Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2020-2021

UC Consortium on Social Science and Law Summer Fellowship, 2017

Marvin Hoffenberg Research Fellow at the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy, 2016-2017

UCLA Graduate Research Mentorship, 2015-2016

UCLA Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, 2014 and 2015

UCLA Sociology Department Fellowship, 2013-2014 and 2017-2018

Conference Presentations

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Roundtable. Comparative and Historical Sociology. "Legal Exogeneity: How Politics and Social Movements Shaped Access to Justice in Los Angeles County Eviction Courts." San Francisco, CA. August 10, 2019. [Virtual]

The Chicago Ethnography Conference. “Institutionalized Informality: Why Landlords and Tenants Settle Eviction Cases in Los Angeles.” Chicago, Illinois; April 25, 2020. [Canceled]

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Regular Session. Urban Sociology. "Theaters of Neighborhood Life: A Case Study in Systematically Comparing the Social Character of Urban Areas" (with Peter R. Ibarra). New York, NY. August 13, 2019.

Law and Society Association Annual Meeting, Paper Session. The Adoption of Civil Jury Trials Across Global Jurisdictions. "The Social Meaning of Jury Trials in Los Angeles County Eviction Cases." Washington, D.C. May 31, 2019.

Annual Urban Affairs Association Conference, Paper Session. Race, Housing, and Inequality. "Neighborhood Context of Eviction in Southern California." Los Angeles, CA. April 25, 2019.

Yale University Urban Ethnography Conference. "The Policy Question in Urban Ethnography." New Haven, CT. November 2, 2018. (Invited Presentation)

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Regular Session. Sociological Perspectives on the Affordable Housing Crisis. "Spatial Concentration and Neighborhood Correlates of Eviction in Southern California" (with Ashley Gromis). Philadelphia, PA. August 13, 2018.

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Regular Session. Ethnography/Ethnographic Studies. "What Does It Mean for Ethnographer's To Do Policy?" Philadelphia, PA. August 12, 2018.

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Regular Session. Ethnography/Ethnographic Studies 2. "Everyday Interpretive Flexibity and Institutional Acceleration: Accounting for Default in Los Angeles County Eviction Cases. Chicago, IL. August 23, 2015.

The New School for Social Research Sociology Conference. Session on Contentious Legality. "The Politics and Practice of 'Doing Nothing': Accounting for Default in Los Angeles Eviction Cases." New York, NY; April 4, 2015.

The Chicago Ethnography Conference, Session on Housing and Urban Inequality. “The Politics and Practice of 'Doing Nothing': Accounting for Default in Los Angeles Eviction Cases.” Chicago, Illinois; March 14, 2015.


Stefan Timmermans and Rebecca Jean Emigh (co-chairs), Marcus Anthony Hunter, and Michael C. Lens


Tyler Anderson, Merlin Chowkwanyun, Philip Garboden, Terra Graziani, Ashley Gromis, Peter R. Ibarra, Jack Katz, Margarethe Kusenbach, Brian J. McCabe, Yiwen Kuai, Michael C. Lens, and Eva Rosen


M.A. Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles 2015

M.A. Sociology, The New School for Social Research 2013

B.A. Africana Studies and English, Vassar College 2009