Research Projects

Conservative Politics in the United States:

My dissertation investigates how conservative politics becomes meaningful to people. Based on four years of ethnographic research among five sites in San Diego and Orange County, California, my work explains how participating in political organizations leads to conservatism being both experientially real and consequential for the members’ future prospects, self-conceptions, and relationships to others. Locating my work at the intersection of politics and knowledge production, I argue that different types of conservative political organizations, that are defined by their relationships to a broader party apparatus, structure the knowledge making process differently. Organizations that are directly affiliated with the Republican Party or that serve as auxiliary organizations such as The Young Republicans organize participants into strict hierarchical structures with overlaying status orders that anchor knowledge production in concerns for career promotion (or future prospects). Organizations that have a weak relationship to the Republican Party yet serve as, using Everett Hughes concept, “bastard institutions” for the GOP such as the Libertarian Party, anchor knowledge production in practices that prioritize members’ ability to realize a particular self-conception. Lastly, conservative organizations that have little or no relation to the Republican Party such as The Natural Rights Coalition, a group of libertarian anarchists in unincorporated San Diego County, anchor their knowledge making practices in their sustained friendships to each other. In each instance, participants in these organizations habituate epistemic practices that are subordinated to another primary concern, whether it relates to career advancement, self-gratification, or friendship.

My work has significant applications that can help us understand conservative politics  in the wake of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. To name a few, [1] how practical differences such as epistemic practices maintain fragmentation among conservatives in the same local political scene; [2] how conservatives come to see particular types of information as being true in an era defined by excessive amounts of contradictory and often non-factual information; and [3] how political knowledge becomes subordinated to other primary concerns such as career advancement, self-affirmation, or maintaining friendships.

I am currently working on three manuscripts from this project. The first details the epistemic practices in each type of organization relating to how participants establish participatory statuses and construct evidential boundaries. I seek to demonstrate how the incommensurate aspects of various conservative epistemic styles helps shape local political networks. The second is a social psychology piece that investigates how attributes of different types of conservative organizations structure the context in which participants validate particular forms of information. Lastly, the third presents a processual theory of political knowledge inspired by the pragmatist tradition.

Explanation in the Social Sciences:

Ethics and Explanation in Ethnographic Research

I am currently working on a manuscript that presents a historical account of the ways sociological ethnographers have deployed pseudonyms over the past century, and explain how those practices relate to the types of accounts and explanations they produce today. This historical account centers on two enduring problems that sociology encounters: the problem of generalizability that developed in the early twentieth century, and the problem of standardized ethics that emerges during the second half of the twentieth century. The problem of generalizability relates to the need for ethnographers to make their findings more representative of broader social phenomena. The problem of standardized ethics relates to the challenges ethnographers encounter when attempting to adhere to standardized “ethical” protocols that are based on medical models of research. I show how in each instance, pseudonyms provided sociologists with an efficacious solution to a pervasive problem that goes beyond considerations of the protection of vulnerable respondents. In so doing, I not only demonstrate how pseudonyms have become pervasive in ethnographic research, I also bring the relationships between ethically motivated pseudonymous practices and explanation into clear view.

fMRI Research in Political Science

This is a collaborative project that I am conducting with Natalie Aviles (Colby College, Dept. of Sociology), Vanessa Carels (UC Berkeley, Dept. of Neuroscience), and Christopher Pappas (Sacramento State, Department of Sociology). We are investigating how political scientists have begun to us fMRI data to argue for the biological basis of conservatism. We argue that these political scientists have adopted technologies without adequately considering the controversies surrounding the validity or reliability of these technologies in other disciplines. Abstracting from the case of how political scientists deploy fRMI to investigate political ideologies, we seek to discuss the broader process relating to the disciplinary transfer of technologies and the implications of this process in the receiving discipline when the controversy surrounding these technologies is lost in translation.