Research

My research has examined the social history of privacy during the 20th century; historical patterns of segregation and infectious disease mortality in the United States; dynamics of contemporary European populism; and participation in decentralized social movements. I use a combination of archival research, statistical analysis of survey data and US Census microdata, computational and qualitative text analyses, and network analysis to answer questions about the links between individuals, (in)formal organizations, and the social environments into which they are embedded.

The bulk of my work focuses on meso-social phenomena: How do recurring interactions contribute to the development of hierarchies and the diffusion of ideas within social movements? How — and with what consequences — do bureaucratic and juridical institutions incorporate new ideas about the role of the state and the limits of state power into their daily practices? How do privacy debates contribute to the transformation of urban space? Situated somewhere between the macrosocial domain of societal change and microsocial shifts in individual behavior, these middle-range environments are often teeming with meaning and significance and help to explain the complex connections between self and society, the stability of the social order, and the possibility of social change.

Privacy in the United States, 1870-1930

This project investigates the rising salience of the logic of privacy in American governance and jurisprudence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the course of several decades, privacy evolved from a theme that largely appeared in novels and that primarily invoked to describe spatial and gender relations within the household into a “grand dichotomy”, in Norberto Bobbio’s words, that structured the relationship between individuals, states, and markets and subsumed a number of other important distinctions that commonly structure the social order. I show that this shift led to the articulation of new standards of legal-rational legitimacy as state organizations attempted to make the expansion of the federal state compatible with demands for greater privacy vis-à-vis the state; that the “right to privacy” in American jurisprudence began as an attempt to reign in the power of private companies but shifted towards a state-centric approach as legal constitutionalism and beliefs in the self-regulating power of markets took hold; and that municipal regulation baked privacy norms into the built environment and the organization of urban space as the United States evolved into an increasingly urbanized society.

Patterns of Urban Segregation, 1900-1950

This ongoing project uses recently digitized census microdata to construct segregation indices for 200+ cities across the United States. It makes it possible to track evolving patterns of segregation over multiple decades at municipal and regional scales, and it allows for a comparative assessment of multiple prevalent segregation indices in different demographic settings.

Racial Mortality Gaps During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

What explains racial gaps in mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic in the United States? This ongoing collaborative project draws on a combination of historical newspaper records, digitized city-level death records, and historical census data to assess the relative impact of pre-pandemic conditions (health, poverty, age structure, racial composition) and non-pharmaceutical interventions during the deadly influenza wave in the fall of 1918.

Social Movement Networks and Trajectories of Participation

I use a unique combination of email metadata, email content, and meeting records to examine the link between organizational structures and trajectories of participation in a decentralized social movement during the 2010s. I show that the gradual disengagement of highly connected participants during the waning phase of the movement’s life cycle resulted not primarily from increasing structural isolation but was primarily driven by repeated exposure to intra-movement conflict as a result of network integration. This suggests that collectives which are unable to resolve episodic conflict and contain its spread are vulnerable to tie decay among structurally important participants as activists’ commitment declines.

Varieties of European Populism

Populists are frequently theorized as having anti-institutional, anti-democratic, and ethno-nationalist inclinations. But because their pervasiveness is rarely tested, important differences are obscured if diverse political phenomena are lumped into a single category. To close the empirical gap, this study examines attitudinal differences among supporters of thirty populist parties. It identifies three patterns. Populists in Western Europe tend to be ideological outliers, while Eastern European have often become indistinguishable from the political mainstream. Left populists tend to be critical of social and political institutions, but Right populists display a greater hostility towards democratic norms and a greater sympathy for ethno-nationalist values. And populists in countries with high levels of democratic development are more critical of socio-political institutions than populists in recently democratized countries. The results support the claim that the thin ideology of populism attaches itself to different political agendas, but cast doubt on binary distinctions between populists and the mainstream.

Causal Conversations

Over the last four decades social scientists’ approaches to causality have greatly expanded. Notably, however, most sociological research on causal questions is pursued firmly within a specific methodological tradition, often chosen more for familiarity than for reasoned consideration. Conceived and executed in collaboration with Samuel Lucas and Santiago Molina, this book project seeks to orchestrate a conversation that extends across methodological boundaries while lowering the barriers to entry. Instead of treating different causal traditions as ships that are too often passing in the night, we explore their convergences and incommensurabilities. And instead of assuming the specialized knowledge that a scholar working in any single tradition will have naturally acquired, we proceed through a careful exploration of the basic tenets and assumptions of each tradition. The book combines a series of interviews with prominent scholars about theories and methods of causal explanation with short chapters that tease out key themes in contemporary sociological debates about causal analysis.