Conservative Politics in the United States:
The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election has raised urgent questions about the role knowledge plays in conservative politics. Scholars are turning their attention to the proliferation of “fake news” on the internet and what might be a new era of “post-truth” politics in the United States. Political sociologists suggest the possibility conservatives in the United States belong to numerous “epistemic cultures,” though none have done the long-term observational work necessary to investigate this claim. For my dissertation, I draw on four years of ethnographic research with conservative political organizations located in San Diego and Orange County, California, to analyze how participants involved in conservative political organizations develop and habituate epistemic practices. I find that participants in conservative organizations engage in knowledge production as a secondary activity anchored in primary practical concerns that vary by type of organization. I demonstrate how people within organizations develop coherent sets of epistemic practices by acting in relation to common sets of practical problems, the formal and relational aspects of an organization (including the organization’s relation to a broader party apparatus), and within the cultural context that they produce themselves. My work illuminates how conservatives come to distrust conventional sources of information, invalidate expert knowledge, or dismiss expert knowledge as irrelevant despite viewing it as true.
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.