I use political sociology and medical sociology research to generate and extend social theory. In my view, political sociology and medical sociology inevitably intertwine. I understand the impulse to classify most research as either one or the other – after all, the A.S.A. and many leading journals formally separate them – but ultimately precise delineations are untenable.
A Note on Medical Sociology
I sympathize with the core insight of fundamental cause theory: risk factors with a direct biochemical effect are generally manifestations of underlying social determinants of health. In general, I am interested in identifying how politics and culture shape health disparities, and how they can be used to intentionally improve human health. To that end, I have worked professionally in a community health center setting, researched effective means of delivering breast and cervical cancer services, researched delivery of genetic services, and written about the more general relationship between different types of policy and fundamental causes of disease. In the future, I would like to do more sociological research on community health centers.
A Note on Political Sociology
As an example, my dissertation on the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011 examines how an unplanned collective action without any common formal affiliation or central leadership rapidly created a functioning community with a fairly high degree of social order. Drawing on insider participant-observation, extensive in-depth interviews, documentary analysis, and digital archiving, I make at least three specific arguments. First, I introduce the concept of escalating moral obligation, a relational mechanism showing how commitment to collective action increases as others endure difficulties on behalf of the same cause. Second, I identify non-hierarchical forms of organization that simultaneously provided a focal point for an initially disorganized crowd and incorporate normally marginalized people into meaningful leadership, notably youth, in a non-age-graded way. Third, I identify the mechanisms by which this enormous assembly of diverse individuals rapidly created a mutual moral community. This allows me to use this event to explain thus-far elusive sources and interactional mechanisms of collective effervescence.
A Note on Theory
I would like to think my general intellectual development will not stop with a PhD, hence my theoretical perspectives will develop and grow throughout my life. My current view is that we need not choose in any firm way between materialist perspectives (in which social life is ultimately reducible to physical and economic forces, à la Marx most of the time) and ideational perspectives (in which social life is ultimately reducible to forms of thought and culture, à la Weber most of the time). The goal is to understand how these interact to produce social life, and we usually do a better job of that without preconceptions of causal primacy. In this vein, I have a writing project analyzing and synthesizing Pierre Bourdieu and Göran Therborn’s contemporary theories of subjectivity.