I am a computational social scientist and methodologist whose work is rooted in sociological social psychology and the sociology of culture. Though the empirical questions I have addressed in my work have applied theory and methods from these areas to an array of other subfields, including political sociology, criminology, and the sociologies of gender, work and occupations, and health, the common thread tying everything together is uncertainty. My central interest is in situations—and in particular, interactions—in which labels and meanings are unclear or variable, and so must be inferred by actors. I study the consequences of this uncertainty and the processes by which these inferences are made, often using tools that I build for the purpose.

I have three main lines of current work which investigate different forms of uncertainty in meaning and interaction. Descriptions are below with links to selected projects in each category. Download my CV for a complete list of my papers.

Meaning ambiguity, disagreement, and the relationship between the two

In the paper linked below, I investigate how uncertainty in meanings is structured on different levels of analysis. I draw an explicit distinction between two forms of uncertainty that operate on two levels of analysis: between-person disagreement in meaning, which has been previously studied; and meaning entropy, or the within-person uncertainty that an individual carries about the meaning of a concept, which had not previously been measured. I present a new method by which to measure meaning entropy in surveys. I use it to establish that within and between-person uncertainty are empirically as well as theoretically distinct, and I investigate how entropy is patterned between respondents and terms.

With a clear conceptual distinction between within and between-person meaning uncertainty and an empirical operationalization of both, the logical next question is, what are their effects? I plan to build upon this work to study topics such as:

  • The effects of ambiguity and disagreement on social influence, using agent-based models programmed in my R package bayesactR.
  • Persistent miscategorization of and discrimination against people on the boundaries of categories.
  • How actors determine, make use of, and change category boundaries—particularly those of emergent categories, such as gender nonbinary.

(2023). Estimating Ambiguity in Cultural Meaning. Working paper. Winner of the 2023 Southern Sociological Society Odum Award for Best Graduate Student Paper.

Influence in anonymous political conversation on social media

Social media spaces in which people interact semi or fully anonymously are one example of a context which facilitates uncertainty in labels and meanings. In these projects, I and my coauthors investigate processes of political influence in such spaces. In the three papers on which I am first or sole author, we use data from experiments in which we paired respondents to talk to each other about politics on mobile messaging apps that I developed for the purpose.

(2023). Reducing Political Polarization with a Mobile Chat Platform. Nature Human Behavior.

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(2023). Perceived Gender and Political Persuasion: A Social Media Field Experiment during the 2020 US Democratic Presidential Primary Election. Nature Scientific Reports.

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(2020). Assessing the Impact of the Russian Internet Research Agency on the Political Attitudes and Behaviors of American Twitter Users in Late 2017. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117(1):243-250.

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First order and third order perceptions of cultural meaning

People who inhabit controversial identities handle uncertainty borne out of lack of consistency between how they see themselves and how they believe others see them. In a series of articles using a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of American police officers collected by NORC at the University of Chicago, my coauthors and I study patterns, changes, and wellbeing effects of the identity meanings held by police officers, who have recently been the center of a national discourse about not just systemic racism and inequality in the justice system in general, but the fundamental power and moral worth of their occupational identity specifically. They are therefore a particularly useful case to study in order to better understand changes in and effects of differences between first and third order meanings.

(2023). The Effect of Occupational Status on Health: Putting the Social in Socioeconomic Status. Heliyon.