Research

I am currently at work on five primary research projects. Brief summaries are below. My full CV can be found here.


Intangible Factors: Social Capital, Social Networks, and America’s Second Reconstruction (dissertation project)

In my dissertation, I ask how judicial writing about the relationship between segregated schools and equal educational opportunity, and the degree to which public policy is obligated to address opportunity disparities stemming from school segregation, has changed over time. I am especially interested in if or when judges have recognized the role non-financial factors play in hindering equal opportunity (e.g. social networks, family social capital, reputation, prestige), and what desegregation can or cannot do to ameliorate these more insidious inequalities. My primary dataset is the ~13,000 federal and state rulings using the terms ‘school’ and ‘segregation’ (spanning the years 1850 to 2018), as well as digital metadata attached to the cases. With these data, I am able to track the contours of the desegregation debates across time, place, and a number of other variables. I utilize computational text analysis methods (topic modeling and word embedding), in conjunction with interpretive legal analysis.

This project is in the service of three main questions at the intersection of social stratification, the sociology of culture, and legal studies: 1) what role do ideas play in shaping social policy and how do complex ideas become instantiated in policy, 2) how conceptual meaning-making happens and changes over time, particularly with legal ideas about the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and equality more generally, and 3) what factors help best explain judicial decision-making. Depending on the project’s findings, I may also argue that federal judges should be brought into conversation with Bourdieu, Coleman, and Simmel as early network theorists for their early recognition of the ways social connections and relationships influence socioeconomic attainment. Answering this set of questions, especially with computational methods which allow for analysis of the full corpus of interest, will provide leverage for understanding how and why desegregation largely fell off the policy agenda.

Municipal Resisters: How Cities Are Fighting Back In The Age Of Hyper Preemption (manuscript available)

Amidst gridlock in Congress and state legislatures, cities have become the progressive policy vanguard, leading the way on issues like environmental protection, minimum wage, and gun control. States are responding in kind, preempting local ordinances with aggressive state laws. We have seen this acutely during the covid-19 crisis, where state-local conflicts have been pronounced. Research in this area typically tries to derive the optimal distribution of power among governments. This paper takes an alternative approach. It accepts that state-local tension is inevitable and rejects the idea that trans-historically one layer of government has been consistently better at promoting shared political values (e.g. equality, public participation, general welfare). Instead, this paper explores today’s state-local tension as it exists, and dives deep into municipal resistance, analyzing a series of case studies of how cities across the country are fighting back against state preemption. It provides the first comprehensive review of resistance strategies cities are asserting against states. The goal is not to advocate for local power, but rather to index and analyze the tools being used in today’s state-local tussles.

Segregated In Fact, Segregated In Law (manuscript available; M.A. thesis)

This article examines rhetorical shifts across 82 Supreme Court rulings that consider the meaning and constitutionality of school segregation (1954-2007). Following Phillips and Grattet (2000), this paper builds on the concept of legal “settling,” or the social process through which legal meaning is debated and refined. Analysis of this case set illuminates the highly contested nature of segregation as a legal term. This paper argues that following Brown (1954), the Court evaluated the existence of segregation based on the presence of a legal statute. This conception expanded to include any policy that intended to keep students separate. A fundamentally more expansive view emerged in the 1970s, in which numerical racial imbalance in student composition, a demographic interpretation more similar to social science measures, came to determine segregation’s existence. In the last thirty years, the Court has reverted back to where it began, closing the “circle” of segregation’s meaning. However, to treat the meaning of segregation as settled would obscure the dramatic, lingering meaning disagreements that exist, making what seems like settled law in fact unstable, or incompletely institutionalized. This paper has implications for how scholars 1) think about legal meaning-making processes, 2) measure the “success” of judicial rulings, 3) understand how precedent enters judicial decision-making, and 4) envision the future of school integration.

Demographic Impact As Cultural Practice: Student Assignment Post-Parents Involved (early draft available)

In this paper, I ask what are the different cultural logics, particularly around the value of diversity, embedded in student assignment plans after Parents Involved v. Seattle (2007). While the number of districts affected is comparatively few in number, they represent an important subset: the places still doing integration, sixty years after Brown (1954). This paper is the first that attempts to identify and analyze the entire group of districts using race- conscious assignment pre- and post-PICS.

The Gay Paradox (manuscript available)

High quality population-based samples of adolescents show that gay youth face educational disadvantages, whereas high quality population-based samples of adults show that gay men enjoy educational advantages. We call this the gay paradox. Models of the relationship between sexual orientation and educational achievement are estimated on longitudinal data to determine why sexual minorities do not appear to carry childhood disadvantages into adulthood. We find that analyses of the adolescent sample that show poor adjustment among gay youth miss a latent (closeted) gay group that is performing exceptionally well educationally. Similarly, analyses of the adult sample that show outstanding educational achievement among gay men miss a latent (closeted) group of gay men who are underachieving in education. Discrepancies in findings and conclusions are due in part to different decisions about how to conceptualize and measure sexual orientation over the life course.