Research Overview

You can view my CV here.

Currently, I am a postdoctoral scholar in the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Group (AFOG) at UC Berkeley's School of Information. Algorithms and computational tools/systems, particularly as applied to artificial intelligence and machine learning, are increasingly being used by firms and governments in domains of socially consequential classification and decision making. But their construction, application, and consequences raise new issues pertaining to fairness, bias, transparency, interpretability, and accountability. Working under the direction of Professors Jenna Burrell and Deirdre Mulligan (UC Berkeley School of Information), I collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of researchers from academia and the technology industry to develop research and policy recommendations regarding these issues.

More broadly, I study how law, technology, and firms produce—and are produced by—social and cultural relations. Drawing from intellectual traditions in law and society, organizational theory, cultural sociology, economic sociology, and technology studies, my research is oriented around two lines of inquiry: 1) the formal and informal governance of economic and technological innovations, and 2) the organizational environments centered around such innovations. I employ both quantitative and qualitative methods in my work, including longitudinal and multi-level modeling techniques, geospatial analysis, historical/archival methods, textual analysis, and in-depth interviews.

Dissertation

My dissertation examines the relationships between law and society when encountering disruptive, risky economic activities. Using the case of U.S. fossil-fuel development and the controversial practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and drawing from sociological theories of law, organizations, politics, social movements, and the economy, I reveal the sociopolitical and economic foundations of laws and legal processes governing fracking.

In one part of the project, I conduct a longitudinal analysis of each state’s oil and gas regulations over the past decade to understand how social movements, economic industries, and state institutional environments influence the decisions of states to issue new regulations governing fracking or ban it altogether. I find that increased economic security and increased environmental movement organizational capacity in a state boost the likelihood that a state will regulate the fracking industry or even ban fracking entirely. I also find that higher potential profitability (and accordingly, potential environmental risk) for fracking in a state moderates the effects of state government liberalism and resource dependence on industry. 

In another part, I examine the political, economic, and cultural factors influencing how stringently states regulate fracking via chemical disclosure requirements for oil and gas production firms. I find that a state’s expected chemical disclosure stringency is most influenced by how stringently its geographically proximate peer states regulate. Increased economic hardship and higher fossil-fuel industry political influence are associated with less stringent regulation. I argue for a field theory-based approach to state-level regulation, which conceives of states as both constitutive of their own regulatory fields and embedded within broader fields, taking similarly situated states into account but susceptible to industry capture during particularly difficult economic times.

In a final part of the project, I shift to the individual level and analyze thousands of legal instruments, mineral-rights leasing contracts, to explain how sociological features of contracting parties and communities, in addition to market forces, affect economic outcomes. I find that 1) local-community embeddedness yields expected higher payments to mineral-rights owners when compared to those who reside outside of the local community, and 2) people of color, in particular those of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, receive significantly lower royalty terms when compared to whites, all else equal. This analysis offers new theoretical directions into how social advantages and disadvantages become reinforced in legal instruments.

Other Projects

Other current empirical projects include 1) a study of the social and legal implications of markets for personal data in today's digital economy (with Marion Fourcade), 2) a project that develops the concept of contestability as a goal for machine-learning-based decision support systems and that empirically assesses how law and other social forces drive contestability as a property of such systems in organizations (with Deirdre Mulligan and Nitin Kohli), and 3) an historical analysis of scholarly legal journals and law schools to explain how institutionalized practices persist despite contestation within their fields and isomorphic pressures to conform to different practices in adjacent fields.

Selected past projects include 1) an analysis of the co-evolution of American copyright law and publishing industries over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to explain how cultural understandings of law affect markets when formal intellectual property laws do not apply (with Heather Haveman; published in the Law & Society Review (link); pdf available here); and 2) a review of sociological field theory and examination of how tools and concepts from various strands of field theory may be used to further our understanding of social worlds (with Neil Fligstein; published in The Handbook of Contemporary Social Theory (Seth Abrutyn, ed.) (link); pdf available here).