Robert Werth

Dr. Werth obtained a B.A., specialized in Sociology, from the University of Iowa. He attended graduate school at the University of California - Irvine, where he obtained a M.A. in Social Ecology and a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary Criminology, Law and Society program. Prior to coming to Rice, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Quinnipiac University. Broadly, his research focuses on (a) punishment, (b) the ways in which penal subjects are imagined, evaluated and represented, and (c) the ways in which penal practices impact conceptions of personhood and social inclusion. His current research project entails two overlapping foci. First, it ethnographically explores how individuals on parole navigate state efforts to regulate their conduct, desires and subjectivities. Second, it examines how parole personnel understand agency missions (e.g., to promote ‘offender change’), engage with agency mandates (e.g., to utilize actuarial risk tools), and deploy technical, moral and affective knowledges in supervising individuals. His work has been published in academic journals, including Social & Legal Studies, Punishment & Society, Theoretical Criminology, and the British Journal of Criminology, and in Ruth Armstrong and Ioan Durnescu (eds.), Parole and Beyond: International Experiences of Life after Prison (London: Palgrave MacMillan). He is beginning a research project that explores how ‘specialty courts’ (e.g., drug court, veterans’ court) understand and utilize conceptions of trauma, addiction, and ‘antisocial’ cognitions when attempting to intervene in individuals’ lives. In 2018, Dr. Werth was awarded the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching, Rice’s most prestigious teaching award.


2020 - George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching (honors Rice instructors as determined by votes of recent alumni)

2018 - George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching (The university’s most prestigious teaching award - awarded by the office of the President and the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Teaching)


2019 - “Risk and punishment: The recent history and uncertain future of actuarial, algorithmic, and “evidence-based” penal techniques.” Sociology Compass. First published January 10. DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12659

2018 - “Theorizing the performative effects of penal risk technologies: (Re)producing the subject who must be dangerous.” Social and Legal Studies. DOI:

2017 - “Editor’s introduction” to special issue: “Ethnographic explorations of punishment and the governance of security.” Social Justice. 44(1): 1-9.

2017 - Robert Werth and Andrea Ballestero. “Ethnography and governance of il/legality: Some methodological and analytic reflections” Social Justice. 44(1): 10-26.

2017 - “Individualizing risk: Moral judgment, professional knowledge and affect in parole evaluations.” British Journal of Criminology. 57(4): 808-827.

2017 - “Breaking the rules the right way: Resisting parole logics and asserting autonomy in the USA.” Invited chapter in Parole and beyond: International experiences of life after prison, Ruth Armstrong and Ioan Durnescu, editors. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Research Areas

Punishment and society; socio-legal studies; penal regulation, governance and power; parole and community corrections; social theory; qualitative methods; ethnography