Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy
My research assumes a long term historical and globally comparative perspective. It asks how states are built and nations formed, how ethno-racial boundaries and hierarchies form or dissolve in the process, and when these inequalities will lead to armed conflict and war. Most recently, I am trying to understand how ideas and institutions travel across the world and with what long term consequences.
Using new methods and data, I continue the old search for historical patterns that repeat across contexts and times. I have pursued this agenda through the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and political science, using multiple methods, from qualitative to quantitative, from small to large N, from online experiments to offline ethnography.
Andreas Wimmer was educated at the University of Zurich, from where he received a PhD in social anthropology in 1992 and a habilitation two years later.
He joined Columbia University in 2015 as the Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy. Previously, he taught at Princeton University and at the University of California Los Angeles (from 2003 to 2012). Before moving to the United States, Wimmer was founding director of two interdisciplinary research institutes in Europe: the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies at the University of Neuchâtel (from 1995 to 1999) and the Department of Political and Cultural Change at the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn (from 1999 to 2002).
He is currently a fellow of the Boundaries, Membership & Belonging Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. For Princeton University Press, he edits the book series Studies in Global and Comparative Sociology. He also serves as one of the deputy editors of Sociological Science.
He held funded visiting positions at St Antony's College of Oxford University, the Center for Advanced Studies Berlin, Harvard University, the European University Institute, the University of Paris 8, Kyoto University, the Social Science Research Center Berlin, the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, SciencesPo, and the United States Institute of Peace. He received an honorary PhD from McGill University, the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research, life-time achievement awards from sections of the American Sociological Association and the International Studies Association, as well as numerous best book and best article awards. He is also a recipient of the Heisenberg Fellowship of the German Research Council.
LAYERED LEGACIES. How Multiple Histories Shaped the Attitudes of Contemporary Europeans
This article introduces the concept of multiple, layered, and interacting histories, which opens four new avenues of research. We can ask which types of institutions or events, such as states, religions, or war, are more likely to leave a historical legacy. We can also explore why only certain states, religions, or wars leave legacies. We can compare the consequences of older and newer layers of history, such as of a series of successor states. Finally, these layers may interact with each other by preserving, neutralizing, or amplifying each other’s effects. To illustrate these new research avenues, I use measurements of value orientations as well as generalized trust from the European Social Survey as dependent variables. New data on the history of states as well as the wars fought since 1500 are combined with existing data on the medieval policies of the Church, all coded at the level of 411 European regions. A series of regression models suggests that the political history of states is more consequential for contemporary attitudes than medieval religious policies or wars, that older layers of states can be as impactful as more recent ones, that interactions between layers are frequent, and that modern nation-states are more likely to leave a legacy than other types of polities.
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CONSENT AND LEGITIMACY. A Revised Bellicose Theory of State-Building with Evidence from around the World, 1500–2000 (with Yuval Feinstein)
This article builds on the large literature that discusses if frequent international wars enhance state-building, as famously argued by Charles Tilly. It integrates key insights of that literature and a series of additional arguments into a more comprehensive and systematic model of bargaining between rulers and ruled. The model specifies the conditions under which wars are likely to build states: if there are political institutions enabling such bargaining and expressing the consent of the ruled, if the population contributed substantially to the war efforts by providing soldiers and taxes, and if rulers are legitimized either through nationalism or success at war. The article expands the empirical horizon of existing quantitative research by assembling two measures of state development, ranging from the early modern period (for nearly 20 states) to the years from 1860 to the present (for 116 countries).
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Using survey data on school classes in four European countries, we study how the social relations and identities of adolescents develop depending on the degree to which ethnic and gender boundaries align with each other. Minority students will have mostly same-ethnic friends, we find, when classmates of different ethnic origins tend to be of the opposite sex as well. Within such local topographies of boundaries, minority students will also end up identifying less as members of the nation. In contrast, majority students are not affected by the alignment of ethnic and gender boundaries because their feelings of national belonging are widely taken for granted and thus less sensitive to attribute alignment at the local level. The article develops a structuralist framework that identifies the conditions under which local configurations of boundaries affect social life.
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WHEN ETHNICITY AND GENDER ALIGN: CLASSROOM COMPOSITION, FRIENDSHIP CLIQUES, AND COLLECTIVE IDENTITIES IN EUROPEAN SCHOOLS (with Clemens Kronenberg and Hanno Kruse)
DOMAINS OF DIFFUSION. HOW IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD AND WITH WHAT CONSEQUENCES
How do cultural and organizational templates, such as the ideal of gender equality or neoliberal policies, spread around the globe and what are the cumulative consequences of such processes? This article offers a multi-level theory of diffusion and local incorporation that overcomes some of the conceptual problems of existing approaches. The theory conceives the world as polycentric, divided into multiple, overlapping domains of bounded connectivity within which diffusion unfolds. These domains differ in their basic characteristics, such as their degrees of institutionalization, which determine which mechanisms of diffusion (such as coercion or imitation) will be at work and how widely and quickly templates will be initially adopted within a domain. Depending on the intrinsic properties of templates as well as the local configuration of power, a template may further spread among a population and eventually be incorporated into local cultural and organizational fabrics. Three cumulative and long-term consequences follow: layered cultural and institutional complexity at the local level; at the regional level, polythetic areas of cultural and institutional similarity; and a multi-channeled network of diffusion at the global level
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WHY NATIONALISM WORKS AND WHY IT ISN'T GOING AWAY
This general readership piece outlines the history of nationalism in the modern world and how it has become one of its foundational principles. It provided the ideological basis for institutions such as democracy, the welfare state, and public education, which were all justified in the name of a unified people of equal citizens held together by a sense of shared purpose and mutual obligation. The article outlines variations in the political role played by nationalism across the world, identifying the conditions under which it can embrace majorities and minorities alike and foster inclusive political coalitions. The current challenge of right-wing, anti-liberal nationalism needs to be met by rebuilding political coalitions that include the majority working class, rather than portraying and marginalizing them as the enemy of progress.
PRESTIGE, PROXIMITY, AND PREJUDICE: HOW GOOGLE SEARCH TERMS DIFFUSE ACROSS THE WORLD (with Chris Bail and Taylor Brown)
A large literature examines the global diffusion of institutions and policies, yet there is much less systematic research on how cultural tastes, consumption preferences, and other individual interests spread across the globe. With a data set that tracks the most popular Google search terms in 199 countries between 2004 and 2014, and drawing on Gabriel de Tarde, this article introduces a theoretical framework to examine how country-level differences shape global imitation of cultural interests and consumer tastes. Contrary to popular accounts, this study finds that cross-national diffusion is surprisingly rare—and seldom U.S. led—but occurs through a multichannel network with many different centers. Negative binomial regression models applied to cases of diffusion in 346,620 country-year dyads reveal that global imitation flows are likely patterned by the power and prestige of countries, their proximities to each other, and the cultural boundaries between them. Accounting for factors such as the influence of large organizations does not disrupt these findings.
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NATION BUILDING. WHY SOME COUNTRIES COME TOGETHER WHILE OTHERS FALL APART
Why is political integration achieved in some diverse countries, while others are destabilized by exclusionary regimes prone to separatism and ethnic war? Traversing centuries and continents, Nation Building delves into the slow-moving forces that encourage political alliances to stretch across ethnic and racial divides and build inclusive coalitions: the early spread of civil society organizations, language assimilation, and a state’s capacity to provide public goods. Further deepening political integration, citizens of inclusive states will embrace the idea of the nation as a community of shared historical origin and future political destiny. This is shown by contrasting three pairs of countries from Europe, Africa, and Asia and by analyzing datasets that cover the world over long stretches of history. Colonial legacies, democracy, globalization, or the nature of ethnic cleavages play a comparatively minor role in understanding where nation building suceeds