My research lies at the intersection of political
sociology, organizational studies, inequality, and social policy. More
specifically, I examine how class conflict, policies, and politics interact to
shape social classes, modern states, and contemporary dynamics of power and
inequality. Methodologically, I bring qualitative and quantitative analysis to
bear on comparative, cross-national, and historical evidence.
Bust of AFL-CIO President George Meany (1894-1980)
George Meany Memorial Archives,
Silver Spring, Md.
Book and Related Publications
In my book, Labor and the Class Idea in the United States
and Canada, which is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, I ask the
question: why are unions weaker in the U.S. than in Canada, despite the two
countries’ many socio-economic similarities? This difference has had profound
consequences for politics, policy, and inequality in both countries.
draws on research from my dissertation, which won the Thomas A. Kochan and
Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Award from the Labor and Employment
Relations Association, as well as the Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States. It offers a fresh reinterpretation of the problem of
American exceptionalism through a cross-national comparison with Canada. Many
view this cross-border distinction as a byproduct of long-standing differences
in political cultures and institutions, but I find that it is actually a
relatively recent divergence resulting from how the working class was
politically incorporated in both countries during the Great Depression and
World War II. My central argument is that in Canada, this incorporation process
embedded “the class idea”—the idea of class as a salient, legitimate political
category—more deeply in policies, institutions, and practices than in the U.S.,
where class interests were reduced to “special interests.”
|AFL-CIO Political Education Pamphlet, 1957
Cornell ILR Archives, Ithaca, N.Y
Using archival and statistical data gathered over a year
from collections across the U.S. and Canada, my analysis first challenges the
conventional wisdom regarding cross-border differences. I then articulate my
“political incorporation” explanation by examining changing party-class
relations in the 1930s and 40s, the different effects of postwar Red scares on
labor-left relations, and how those factors combined with different
institutional structures to cause labor law regime divergence in both countries.
This, I argue, drove the stark divergence in U.S.-Canada unionization rates
starting in the 1960s: U.S. rates collapsed, while Canadian rates stayed
relatively stable, and are now nearly triple those in the U.S.
I elaborate my book’s theoretical contribution
in two articles. The first, entitled “Why Is There No Labor Party in the United
States? Political Articulation and the Canadian Comparison, 1932-1948,” draws
on my comparative case study of the development of party-class alliances in the
U.S. and Canada in the 1930s and 40s to argue for an “articulation model” of
politics that emphasizes the role of parties in both articulating and
suppressing different social cleavages. This manuscript is forthcoming in the American Sociological Review.
The second article, entitled “Class vs. Special Interest:
Labor, Power, and Politics in the U.S. and Canada in the Twentieth Century,” examines
why labor law regimes diverged in the two countries, exacerbating union density
divergence. This paper was published in the May 2015 issue of Politics & Society, and received the 2013 Best Student Paper Award
from the American Sociological Association Section on Labor and Labor
Additionally, I drew on my research on Canadian
politics to contribute a chapter to Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society, published in 2015 by Stanford University Press. My chapter,
“Continuity or Change? Rethinking Left Party Formation in Canada,”
problematizes the idea that the formation of an independent left party was
inevitable in Canada. It explains why the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation
(CCF) succeeded in the 1930s where previous efforts failed.
In the course of revising my dissertation for publication as
a book, I immersed myself in the literature on class formation and class
identity. Out of this process I developed an article offering a history and
critical assessment of this literature. That piece is featured in the August 2014 issue of Sociology Compass. I also have a chapter on class and work forthcoming in the Sage Handbook on the Sociology of Work and Employment.
The dissertation itself grew out of a study for my master’s
paper of the relationship between state policy, intra-class conflict, and
organizational transformation in the Teamsters Union in the 1930s and 40s. This
study appeared as the lead article in the August 2009 issue of Labor History, and won awards from the ASA Sections on Labor and Labor Movements and Marxist
Sociology. In it, I showed how struggles between more radical and conservative
factions within the union fundamentally transformed both the union’s
organizational model and its relationship with the state. In turn, this episode
foreshadowed expanded state intervention in union affairs more broadly and
marked the ascendancy of a new model of postwar unionism.
My interest in historical processes is
complemented by an ongoing engagement in contemporary problems of power and
inequality. This led me to research the scope, influence, and functioning of
retail giant Wal-Mart by quantitatively examining the effect of Wal-Mart market
entry on retail sector wages. Findings showed that the “Wal-Mart effect”
reduced earnings of retail workers nationwide by $4.5 billion in the year 2000. A manuscript based on this research is under review at a major economics journal, and findings were featured in the New York Times.
|National Association of Manufacturers Survey, 1962
Hagley Museum, Wilmington, Del.
Ongoing and Future Projects
I am currently developing a series of projects that expand
my research program exploring the relations between social class, political
power, ideology, and organization. The first, a book-length project, is a
comparative historical study of the politics and ideology of economic crisis in
North America and Europe. Viewing the current economic crisis in historical
perspective, what is striking is the degree to which is has failed to undermine
current economic orthodoxies. While expansionary Keynesianism enjoyed a brief
revival in the crisis’ early days, fiscal austerity quickly reasserted its
dominance as the consensus policy strategy. This stands in stark contrast to
the Great Depression, which discredited the ideology of the gold standard in
favor of Keynesianism, as well as the crisis of the 1970s, which discredited
Keynesianism in favor of market liberalism. This raises two important sets of
questions. First, why did state policy elites converge on fiscal austerity as
the consensus response to economic crisis, despite its considerable political
and economic costs? Second, why did this economic crisis not only fail to
dislodge the prevailing economic orthodoxy, but actually strengthen it? My
current hypothesis is that this novel response to economic crisis is tied to
the decline in class-based economic and political organization that I initially
examined in my dissertation.
The second project is a piece that Michael McCarthy (Marquette University) and I are
developing that re-engages with class analysis and seeks to integrate
it with institutional approaches to understanding social change.
The third is an article-length piece that uses cases of
dramatic electoral realignment in two neighboring U.S. states and two
neighboring Canadian provinces in the 1920s and 30s to examine poorly
understood processes of cross-class coalition formation. While farmers in
Minnesota, North Dakota, Alberta, and Saskatchewan all mobilized behind
left-populist parties in the aftermath of World War I, North Dakotan and
Albertan farmers veered sharply to the right in subsequent decades, while those
in Minnesota and Saskatchewan remained staunchly to the left. I seek to
understand the causes of realignment and diverging political alliances in the
two matched-pair cases.
Finally, Kim Voss (UC Berkeley) and I are working on
comparative project that examines the historical development of college
admissions in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. The project has two related
facets. The first seeks to understand the emergence and institutionalization of
a system of professions surrounding college admissions. The second examines how
and why admissions standards have changed over time, how this differs between
the three countries, and how this both reflects and reproduces class structures
in each case.
Taken as a whole, my future research furthers my efforts to
understand and re-theorize the relationship between political and economic
power, and its effects on socio-economic inequality broadly construed.