William Sites, a male-presenting person, smiles towards the camera in a library.

William Sites, PhD

Associate Professor

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Office Location: E-17

Areas of Expertise
UChicago Affiliations
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality

William Sites’s scholarship focuses on different modes of community self-organization in response to historical contexts marked by deep urban inequality. Drawing from the fields of sociology, political science, urban studies and social welfare, one strand of this work addresses how economic and political structures, policymakers, and community-level actors shape the ways in which cities develop and change, along with the implications of those changes for the power and social welfare of urban residents. Centered on whether and how urban politics matters for working-class groups and communities of color, this research has examined such issues as conflicts over neighborhood gentrification, the evolution of urban development policy, and the impacts of the U.S. response to neoliberal globalization on social equity and community change in American cities.  His book-length study of these issues, focused on the transformation of New York City during the final quarter of the twentieth century, is titled Remaking New York: Primitive Globalization and the Politics of Urban Community (University of Minnesota Press). Other research in this area has examined the multiple traditions of community organizational practice in the United States, the politics of African American wage inequality, the “rescaling” of the U.S. immigrant rights movement, and the relation between urban justice movements and institutional politics in Chicago.  This research has been published in such journals as Sociological Theory, Urban Affairs Review, Politics & Society, Journal of Urban Affairs, Environment and Planning A, and Ethnic and Racial Studies.

A second strand of Professor Sites’s scholarship addresses “critical-utopian” conceptions of African American urban community as well as certain unconventional cultural activists who developed these ideas. Focusing on post-World War II Black Chicago as a site of musical and communal experimentation, his recent archival research explores how the Afrofuturist musician Sun Ra elaborated imaginative conceptions of cultural emancipation in response to city-within-the-city ideals of Black urban life – dreams of freedom as collective autonomy and self-determination that were inspired by early twentieth-century communities such as Black Birmingham and Chicago’s Bronzeville.  Drawing on insights from African American studies, musicology, urban geography and religious studies, this historical research traces the musical and social activities of Sun Ra and his colleagues as a form of community-based utopian activism in which cultural production becomes a way of reimagining the city and of enlisting audiences to entertain an open, transformative, Black-centered future.  Much of this research is presented in the book-length study, Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City (University of Chicago Press, 2020), and in articles published in the Journal of Urban History , Urban Geography, and American Studies.

Current research continues to focus on key issues in both these areas, including new elite strategies of urban redevelopment and fiscal governance as well as the challenges of re-historicizing U.S. community practices in relation to urban racial projects. The common thread in all this work is how various community actors attempt to (re)define themselves and their activism under changing conditions, along with the implications of these efforts for community practice, urban politics and expansive visions of social change.

Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City
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William Pollak Award for Excellence in Teaching
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  • Sites, William. 2021. "Beyond the 'futureless future': Edward O. Bland, Afro-modernism, and The Cry of Jazz.American Studies 60 (1): 33-57.
  • Sites, William. 2020. Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Vonderlack-Navarro, Rebecca, and William Sites. 2016. “The bi-national road to immigrant rights mobilization: States, social movements, and Chicago’s Mexican hometown associations.” Reprinted in Cities, diversity and ethnicity: Politics, governance and participation, edited by Martin Bulmer and John Solomos. New York: Routledge.
  • Vonderlack-Navarro, Rebecca, and William Sites. 2015. "The bi-national road to immigrant rights mobilization: States, social movements, and Chicago’s Mexican hometown associations." Ethnic and Racial Studies 38(1): 141-57.
  • Parker, Simon, and William Sites. 2012. "New directions in urban theory: Introduction." Urban Geography 33(4): 469-73.
  • Parker, Simon, and William Sites, eds. 2012. "Special issue on new directions in urban theory." Urban Geography 33(4).
  • Sites, William. 2012. "God from the machine? Urban movements meet machine politics in neoliberal Chicago." Environment and Planning A 44(11): 2574-90.
  • Sites, William. 2012. "Is this black music? Sounding out race and the city." Journal of Urban History 38(2): 385-95.
  • Sites, William. 2012. "Radical culture in black necropolis: Sun Ra, Alton Abraham, and postwar Chicago." Journal of Urban History 38(4): 687-719.
  • Sites, William. 2012. "'We travel the spaceways': Urban utopianism and the imagined spaces of black experimental music." Urban Geography 33(40): 566-92.
  • Sites, William, Robert J. Chaskin, and Virginia Parks. 2012. "Reframing community practice for the 21st century: Multiple traditions, multiple challenges." Reprinted in The Community Development Reader, 2nd ed., edited by James DeFilippis and Susan Saegert. New York: Routledge.
  • Sites, William, and Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro. 2012. "Tipping the scale: State rescaling and the strange odyssey of Chicago’s Mexican hometown associations." In Remaking Urban Citizenship: Organizations, Institutions, and the Right to the City, edited by Michael P. Smith and Michael McQuarrie.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions Publishers.
  • Parks, Virginia, Jack Metzgar, Ron Baiman, and William Sites. 2011. Cost-Benefit Analysis of Chicago’s Proposed Stable Jobs, Stable Airports Ordinance. November. Chicago.
  • Sites, William, and Virginia Parks. 2011. "What do we really know about racial inequality? Labor markets, politics, and the historical basis of black economic fortunes." Politics and Society 39(1): 40-73.
  • Sites, William. 2010. "Progressive city." In Encyclopedia of Urban Studies, Ray Hutchison, ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Sites, William, Robert J. Chaskin, and Virginia Parks. 2007. "Reframing community practice for the 21st century: Multiple traditions, multiple challenges." Journal of Urban Affairs 29(5): 519-41.
  • Sites, William. 2007. "Beyond trenches and grassroots? Reflections on urban mobilization, fragmentation, and the anti-Wal-Mart campaign in Chicago." Environment and Planning A 39(11): 2632-51.
  • Sites, William. 2007. "Contesting the neoliberal city? Theories of neoliberalism and urban strategies of contention." In Contesting Neoliberalism: The Urban Frontier, edited by Helga Leitner, Jamie Peck, and Eric Sheppard.  New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Sites, William. 2004. "Progressive regionalism: A ‘deliberative’ movement?"  Antipode 36(4): 766-78. 
  • Sites, William. 2003. "Global city, American city: Theories of globalization and ap­proaches to urban history."  Journal of Urban History 29(3): 333-46. 
  • Sites, William. 2003. Remaking New York: Primitive Globalization and the Politics of Urban Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Sites, William. 2001. "The Limits of Urban Regime Theory: New York under Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani." Reprinted in The Politics of Urban America, 3rd ed., edited by Dennis R. Judd and Paul P. Kantor. New York: Longman.
  • Sites, William. 2000. "City and Region: Reinventing Spatial Community." Social Service Review 74, 4: 654-668.
  • Sites, William. 2000. "Primitive Globalization? State and Locale in Neoliberal Global Engagement." Sociological Theory 18, 1: 121-144.
  • Sites, William. 1998. "Communitarian Theory and Community Development in the United States." Community Development Journal 33, 1: 57-65.

William Sites is Associate Professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago. His fields of interest include urban and community studies, political economy, social movements, immigration, race, culture, social theory, and historical methods.

At the Crown Family School, Professor Sites teaches courses in urban political economy, social movements, political processes, community organization, and the role of theory in research.

Professor Sites received an I.B. (International Baccalaureate) from Pearson College, a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.