At the Boundaries of Homeownership: Credit, Discrimination, and the American State (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

In the United States, homeownership is synonymous with economic security and middle-class status. It has played this role in American life for almost a century, and as a result, homeownership’s centrality to Americans’ economic lives has come to seem natural and inevitable. But this state of affairs did not develop spontaneously or inexorably. On the contrary, it was the product of federal government policies, established during the 1930s and developed over the course of the twentieth century. At the Boundaries of Homeownership traces how the government’s role in this became submerged from public view and how several groups who were locked out of homeownership came to recognize and reveal the role of the government. Through organizing and activism, these boundary groups transformed laws and private practices governing determinations of credit-worthiness. This book describes the important policy consequences of their achievements and the implications for how we understand American statebuilding.

Listen to my podcast on New Books in Political Science here.

Read the Institute for Policy Research’s write-up of the book here.


American Political Development in an Era of Black Lives Matter Politics, Groups, and Identities (2018) (Joint with Debra Thompson). 

This Dialogues discussion explores the ways that the historical-institutional approaches of American Political Development can be useful for analyzing the ideological origins and contemporary politics of Black Lives Matter. By focusing on the evolution and impact of ideas and institutions, and the shifting relationship between the state, polity, and policy, American Political Development scholars have been crucial voices in political science working to demonstrate the intractable influence of race on the creation, maintenance, and evolution of political orders. American Political Development is, therefore, a useful lens through which to explore the era of Black Lives Matter, which is characterized by grassroots challenges to the proliferation of the American carceral state, the prison-industrial complex, the militarization of the police, and the ways that public goods are unequally distributed along racial lines. The papers presented in this Dialogues collection explore the impact of Black Lives Matter, particularly in terms of the historical processes and patterns of race politics that can contribute to our understandings of the intellectual history, contemporary politics, and future manifestations of Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter, American political development, and the politics of visibility Politics, Groups, and Identities (2018)

Viewed through the lens of American Political Development (APD), the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement raises several questions about the movement’s relationship to earlier movements for social and racial equality in the United States. This essay highlights a mode of politics common to BLM and its predecessors that involves rendering the state’s role in producing racial inequality visible and legible, in order to contest it. This mode of contestation is a product of a “post-racial” era in which the formal colorblindness of government institutions promotes a narrative in which inequalities in outcomes are linked to personal choices rather than political ones. However, a developmental perspective on the politics of visibility also reveals its precursors, for example in early anti-redlining movements.

The Democrats’ Misplaced Faith in Policy Feedback The Forum (2017) (Joint with Dan Galvin.)

Policy Feedback in the Public-Private Welfare State: Advocacy Groups and Access to Government Homeownership Programs, 1934-1954  Studies in American Political Development (2015)

Scholarship on the U.S.’s public-private welfare state has pointed to the ways in which indirect, market-based channels of social policy provision often obscure the role of the government from many citizens who use these programs. This article argues that those same mechanisms may actually be both visible and salient to citizens advocacy groups whose constituents are unable to access public-private policies. Focusing on the responses of black civil rights and veterans advocacy groups to the shortcomings of the FHA and early GI Bill, it shows that public-private policies can draw advocacy groups, providers, and the state into conflicts over their terms of access. The findings contribute to scholars’ understanding of policy feedback in the public-private welfare state, as well as to discussions about the role of advocacy groups in helping to reshape the state’s capacity to govern a policy area that is often characterized as dominated by third-party providers.

From Metaphors to Measures: Observable Indicators of Gradual Institutional ChangeJournal of Public Policy (2014), 34:1, 35-62 (joint with Phil Rocco)

Scholarship on social policy has recently emphasised the importance of gradual processes of institutional change. However, conceptual work on the identification of processes such as drift, conversion and layering has not produced clear empirical indicators that distinguish these processes from one another, posing major problems for empirical research. We argue that, in order to improve the validity of its empirical findings, scholarship on gradual change should – and can – pay more attention to issues of measurement and detection. We then contribute to this goal by clearly articulating observable indicators for several mechanisms of gradual institutional change and validating them against extant empirical work on political economy.

(Blogged at The Monkey Cage How Patronage Politics Ate the Port Authority 1/13/14)


From Personal to Partisan: Abortion, Party and Religion in the California State Assembly, 1967-2000 ( joint with David Karol)

We explore the changing politics of abortion in California, where the issue emerged years before it reached national politics. We show that at first divisions in the State Assembly on abortion fell more along religious lines than partisan ones. Yet the issue later became highly partisan. The realignment on abortion was distinct from overall polarization, and not a result of district-level factors or “sorting” of legislators by religion into party caucuses. Instead the growing ties between new movements and parties, feminists for Democrats, the Christian Right for the GOP, made party affiliation supplant religious affiliation as the leading cue for Assemblymembers on abortion. Our findings contribute a state politics perspective to a party position change literature focused on national politics and inform a literature on representation that often sees the importance of legislators’ personal characteristics as fixed.

Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

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