Kyle Nelson

Kyle Nelson

Postdoctoral Fellow


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I am an urban sociologist and ethnographer studying the institutional lives of social problems.

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 the historical determinants of eviction case processing in the Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) system. Austerity measures from above and social movement pressures from below created the LASC system’s socio-spatial organization, which has enabled and constrained tenants’ access to the civil justice system over time. Second, based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in tenants’ rights clinics, I show how the bureaucratic transformation of housing trouble into an eviction lawsuit puts tenants at risk of default as they troubleshoot eviction cases. Third, based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork observing eviction courtrooms, I show how institutional configurations shape the strategies eviction defense lawyers use in negotiating settlements for tenant-defendants. Finally, drawing on interview data with landlords’ and tenants’ lawyers, I explain how the growth of the eviction defense industry has both drastically changed the social meanings of trial 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. With Michael C. Lens, Ashley Gromis, and Yiwen Kuai I quantitatively analyzed eviction’s neighborhood-level correlates and spatial patterning in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. With Eva Rosen, Brian J. McCabe, and Philip M.E. Garboden, I explore how aspects of eviction vary across different jurisdictions in ways that both enable and constrain 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 ProblemsCity and Community, and Housing Policy Debate and covered in the Los Angeles TimesCal MattersLos Angeles Daily NewsBoom CaliforniaDeseret Newsthe 19th, and 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 support housing justice campaigns throughout California.


  • 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

Fields of Study

Urban Sociology, 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.” Housing Policy Debate. 31(3-5):696-716. Link.
  • Kyle Nelson, Ashley Gromis, Yiwen Kuai, and Michael C. Lens. 2021. “Spatial Concetration and Spillover: Eviction Dynamics in Los Angeles Neighborhoods, 2005-2015.” Housing Policy Debate. 31(3-5):670-695 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 CountyLink.
  • 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 ReviewDiscussion: Law Meets WorldLink.
  • [Please contact me at kylenelson (at) ucla (dot) edu if you are unable to access my publications and would like to take a look!]

Awards & Grants

  • UCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2021-2022
  • 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, Regular Session. Ethnography/Ethnographic Studies. “Negotiating the Housing Crisis: Legal Expertise and Case Outcomes in Eviction Settlements.” August 7, 2021. [Virtual]
  • 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, 2020. [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
  • Michael C. Lens


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