Research

My research circles around three topics:

GLOBAL DIFFUSION

This is is the newest strand of research, dedicated to understanding the spread of ideas, institutions, and practices across the world and its consequences. Adopting a global and long-term historical perspective, it will produce a series of mostly quantitative, "big data" articles. Theoretically, I introduce the idea of multiple, overlapping domains within which such processes can unfold, leading to local adoption, transformation and incorporation if the balance of power generates a zone of shared interest. Individual research projects, mostly in collaboration with other scholars, explore the long-term consequences at the global level (leading to a rhizoid adoption network), at the regional level (generating overlapping areas of cultural similarity), and at the local level (producing layered legacies of past diffusion processes). 

 

 

 

STATE FORMATION, NATION BUILDING, AND WAR 

This group of work analyzes how the nation-state emerged and subsequently diffused across the world, whether or not national political integration succeeded in newly formed nation-states, and what consequences both nation-state formation and nation building had for war and peace. Much depends, according to the theory developed here, on the interplay between configurations of power and templates of political legitimacy. 

 

Nation-states are formed where nationalist, who believe that rulers and ruled should belong to the same national community, can overpower imperial states or dynastic regimes because these are weakened through war; because other nation-states in the neighborhood offer themselves as alliance partners; or because nationalists have already mobilized the population for some time. 

 

Nation building in such newly established nation-states will succeed when political alliances reach across ethnic divides and inclusive coalitions form. This is more likely where networks of civil society organizations have emerged that can link up the various regions of a country; where a uniform language decreases transaction costs for forming political alliances; and where the state is capable to deliver public goods across a territory, which will make it an attractive alliance partner for citizens of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Political integration across ethnic divides will then encourage citizens to identify with the overarching national community. 

 

Where nation building fails and major ethnic communities remain excluded from the ruling coalition, the state lacks legitimacy because it violates the nationalist like-over-like principle in the eyes of significant segments of the population. Civil wars pitting governing elites against excluded groups and their leadership may erupt and states may go to war with each other over the fate of co-ethnics across the border. 

 

Following up on older scholarship in the macro-comparative tradition, this group of articles and books tries to disentangle the complex and endogenous historical processes of political development with new methodological rigor and analytical precision. Most of these projects are based on the collection of new quantitative data that cover the entire world and involved extensive collaboration with other researchers.

 

ETHNO-RACIAL BOUNDARIES AND NETWORKS 

A series of articles and a book develop and empirically test a new theory of ethnic and racial boundaries as the outcome of an ongoing negotiation process between contextually situated and strategically competent actors. These pursue different strategies of boundary making depending on how much power they have to enforce their vision of the relevant social divides; on the institutional environments that offer different incentives to emphasize certain kinds of social categories rather than others; and on the personal ties of friendship, alliance, and affinity that make certain modes of categorization more plausible than others. 

 

The degree of power inequality, institutional incentives, and the reach of everyday networks determines whether the negotiated boundaries will be more or less exclusionary, politicized, culturally differentiated, and historically stable. They therefore shape individual lifes and identities in more or less consequential ways. 

 

This boundary making approach has certain advantages over competing approaches that take the relevance and salience of existing ethno-racial groups for granted, as do many arguments in migration research and as is the case in much "critical" race theory or in some social psychological research on how given "in-groups" relate to "out-groups".

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Education

Habilitation in Social Anthropology, University of Zurich 1994

PhD in Social Anthropology, University of Zurich 1992

MPhil in Social Anthropology, Sociology, and Communication Studies, University of Zurich 1989

Languages

German (very good)

English (pretty good)

Spanish (pretty good)

French (good)

Italian (not bad)

Greek (very bad)

Country expertise

Mexico

Iraq

Switzerland

Belgium

China

Russia

Somalia

Botswana

USA

Research topics

Culture and power

Nationalism and populism

State formation and nation building

Ethnic conflict and civil war

Ethno-racial boundaries and inequality

Social networks

Global diffusion

Employment history

University of Zurich

Swiss Forum for Migration Studies and University of Neuchâtel

University of Bonn

University of California Los Angeles

Princeton University

Columbia University

Awards and honors

  • Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research, International Science Council, 2019

  • Barrington Moore Book Award (co-winner), Comparative Historical Section of the American Sociological Association, 2019

  • Louis Wirth Best Article Award, International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association, 2019

  • Joseph Rothschild Prize in Nationalism and Ethnic Studies (honorable mention), Association for the Study of Nationalities, 2019

  • Distinguished Career Award, International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association, 2018

  • Doctor of Letters honoris causa, McGill University, 2016

  • Best Book Award (honorable mention), Global and Transnational Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association, 2014

  • Distinguished Scholar Award, Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Section of the International Studies Association, 2014

  • Best Article Award, European Academy of Sociology, 2013

  • Best Article Award, Rationality and Society Section of the American Sociological Association, 2013

  • Robert-Merton-Prize (honorable mention), International Network of Analytical Sociologists, 2013

  • Barrington Moore Book Award (honorable mention), Comparative Historical Section of the American Sociological Association, 2013

  • Outstanding Book Award, Peace, War and Social Conflict Section of the American Sociological Association, 2013

  • Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in Cultural Sociology (honorable mention), Cultural Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association, 2013

  • Anatol-Rapoport Prize (co-winner), Modeling and Simulation Section of the German Sociological Association (DGS), 2012

  • Best Article Award, Mathematical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (2012)

  • Best Article Award, Comparative Historical Section of the American Sociological Association (2011)

  • Theory Prize for Best Article, Theory Section of the American Sociological Association (2009)

  • Clifford Geertz Price for Best Article (honorable mention), Cultural Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (2009)

  • Best Article Award, Comparative Historical Section of the American Sociological Association (2007)

  • Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award, Political Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (2007)

  • Social Science Article Award, Thyssen Foundation (2002/2003)