Ashley Mears

Professor Ashley Mears

Associate Professor

PhD, New York University (2009)

Sociology 265 | 617.358.0637 |

Curriculum Vitae

People at BU webpage


Dr. Mears studies the intersections of culture and markets.  After receiving her B.A. in sociology from the University of Georgia in 2002, she went to graduate school at New York University for her Ph.D. in sociology and graduated in 2009.  In her teaching and research, she explores generally how people assign value to things, and focuses on how gender, race, and class inequalities inform the production and change of culture.

Her first book, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, examines the production of value in fashion modeling markets. Through ethnography and interviews, she traced the backstage work and collaboration behind the fashion “look” in modeling markets in New York and London. She discovered an organized production process that goes into producing something most people take for granted as a natural state: beauty. These production processes are structured along racial and gendered lines, such that markets in cultural production like fashion ultimately become sites for the reproduction of cultural inequalities.

Building from this work, she has been researching the global context of culture and beauty, based on the case of the global fashion model scouting industry.  As global gatekeepers, model scouts play a crucial role in identifying and promoting ideas of beauty around the world.

Currently she’s working on a book project that examines how women produce status distinctions for men in the global VIP leisure and party scene.  Based on multi-sited ethnographic observations over 18-months from New York to the French Riviera, I use the global circuit of VIP leisure scenes as a case to examine the values, roles, and repertoires of symbols that this segment of the elite uses to signal status to each other.  This research fills gaps in knowledge on contemporary elites with rare ethnographic insights to analyze culture and stratification dynamics among the global “one percent,” and shows the uses of women’s bodies in men’s mobility projects to climb up elite hierarchies.


See my last Op-Ed in the New York Times on gender and social ties in the VIP party scene

2016    “The Paradoxical Value of Deviant Cases:  Toward a Gendered Theory of Display Work.”  (with Catherine Connell)  Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 41(2), Winter.

2015    “Working for Free in the VIP: Relational Work and the Production of Consent.”  American Sociological Review 80(6): 10991122.

2014    “Aesthetic Labor for the Sociologies of Work, Gender, and Beauty.”  Sociology Compass 8(12): 1330–1343.

2012  “Free to Those Who Can Afford It: The Everyday Affordance of Privilege.” (with Noah McClain)  Poetics 40(2): 133-149.

2011  Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

2010 “Size Zero High-End Ethnic: Cultural Production and the Reproduction of Culture in Fashion Modeling” Poetics 38: 21-46.

2009 with Frèderic C. Godart. “How Do Cultural Producers Make Creative Decisions: Lessons from the Catwalk.” Social Forces 88(2): 671-692..