Currently, I am a Postdoctoral Scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Information. There, I help organize and lead the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group (AFOG), an interdisciplinary working group that brings together UC Berkeley faculty, postdocs, and Bay Area technology professionals to develop research and policy recommendations regarding fairness and transparency, governance, professional ethics, and social impacts of emerging technologies, particularly as applied to artificial-intelligence-based systems, algorithmic decision making, and data science.
More broadly, and drawing from intellectual traditions in organizational theory, law and society, cultural sociology, economic sociology, social psychology, and technology studies, my research is oriented around two broad lines of inquiry: 1) the formal and informal governance of economic and technological innovations, and 2) the organizational and legal environments surrounding such innovations. My current projects include studies of the psychological, organizational, and cultural underpinnings of personal data exchange in the digital economy (with Marion Fourcade), the effects of automated decision-support technologies on the professions (with Deirdre Mulligan and Nitin Kohli), and the construction and implementation of “data ethics” in the tech industry and higher education (with Solon Barocas, Anna Hoffman, Karen Levy, and Deirdre Mulligan). I employ both quantitative and qualitative methods in his work, including longitudinal and multi-level modeling techniques, in-depth interviews, surveys, geospatial analyses, and historical/archival methods.
My dissertation examined 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 conducted 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 found 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 found 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 examined the political, economic, and cultural factors influencing how stringently states regulate fracking via chemical disclosure requirements for oil and gas production firms. I found 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 were 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 shifted 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 found 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.
Selected past projects include 1) a study 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 (forthcoming in Law & Society Review), 2) an analysis of sociological field theory that offers a framework for how tools and concepts from related strands of 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), and 3) an examination 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 Law & Society Review (link); pdf available here).