Summer Centered: Stephen Niesobecki ’18 Brings Sociology to Law
With his Summer Research Assistantship, the rising senior is bridging disciplines as he prepares to write his sociology thesis about unconscionability in contract law.
Contracts are a part of everyday life for most people—they can be a part of transactions from taking out student loans to agreeing to work for someone. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, a court will void a contract, deeming it “unconscionable.” Stephen Niesobecki ’18, with his John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH)-funded Summer Research Assistantship, seeks to use sociology to explain what such a phenomenon says about contracts in a society.
Alongside Professor of Sociology Mark Gould, Niesobecki will begin his senior thesis research on the doctrine of unconscionability, the practice of throwing out a legally sound contract on the grounds of its unreasonable or unjust components. As a sociology major and philosophy minor, Niesobecki looks forward to reading legal literature outside of his normal coursework, and comparing different perspectives on contract law from his own sociological lense.
“I think contracts are interesting because they are sort of like the atom of social relationships in a capitalist commercial society,” said the rising senior, a native of Middlebury, Conn., and co-head of the Student Political Network on campus. “Not only that, but the evolution of the way people have thought about contracts over the years, first as a way of expanding personal freedom… and then more recently, especially in a more mixed economy, understanding it as a means of upholding social responsibility and social justice in certain scenarios, especially with unconscionability.”
Most of Niesobecki’s day-to-day work over the roughly 10-weeks of summer research will be reviewing literature in a relatively new discipline and assembling a bibliography. In Fall 2015, he took Gould’s “Law and Sociology” course and found himself drawn to the intersections of the two academic areas. More generally, Niesobecki appreciates Gould’s interdisciplinary approach to his work.
“I think that’s one of his big strengths,” said Niesobecki of his research mentor. “He draws from the relevant literature in a lot of different fields, specifically microeconomics, religious studies… He knows a lot about the things I care about—philosophy, history, political science—but does it from a particular academic angle that I think is really fruitful.”
Though the Hurford Center generally supports student work in the humanities, Niesobecki is utilizing their support for text-based social science research, allowing him to spend a summer conducting research that interests him. Hoping to apply to law school in the fall, Niesobecki is excited about writing such a substantive body of work before he graduates. Receiving counsel about long-form research and quantitative sociology from Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Elise Herrala and Professor of Sociology Matt McKeever, he will be ready to dive into his thesis project with a summer’s worth of experience under his belt.
“It’ll be my thesis,” he said. “It’ll be the one major thing I put my name on coming out of Haverford, my one big piece of written work, and that’s a cool opportunity to do that.”
-Michael Weber '19
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.