Current Projects

This project examines how place reputations are created, reformed, and consumed across different countries in an increasingly digitized world. It analyzes thousands of pages of digital texts from a wide-array of sources, including travel, military, and popular culture forums as well as job advertisements and governmental and organizational materials. These represent different types of knowledge and are tangible ways we can study reputation. They also allow us to focus on how and why some place-based images (or “cultural wealth”) become “sticky” and relate to economic activity (Bandelj and Wherry 2011), while others do not. This work tackles important and timely questions like: How do places get portrayed? How is this connected to the economic activity that the place attracts? How does this differ according to the authors of texts and the audiences that are being addressed? Since the history of the modern world is a history of empire, what role does colonialism and militarism play in place reputation, fantasies, and economic activity? Can states’ control of territory extend to its myths and reputations, particularly if they are rooted in imperial histories?

I’m particularly interested in comparing how state actors’ attempts to shape place reputation with narratives on-the-ground and in the media, and – for Subic Bay – what that means regarding colonial legacies and the contemporary presence of the U.S. military in the area.

I’ve received funding from the American Sociological Association and National Science Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline grant and a UCR Blum Initiative on Global and Regional Poverty Faculty Research Seed Grant. During 2019-2020 I am working on the book manuscript as a Postdoctoral American Fellow, funded by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). I work with the UCR Sociology Reputation Team, a collaboration with two graduate students and, thus far, a total of 30 undergraduate research assistants.

What is the role of the U.S. in the world? Scholars document the reach of American empire. For example, the U.S. has been, and continues to be, a formal empire, ruling over colonial Philippines and contemporary Puerto Rico and Guam, among others. It also is an informal empire, which scholars currently understand as encompassing a wide array of contexts, from overseas military bases to multilateral agreements. I argue that we need to revise our understanding of empire. First, that military bases are significantly different from those related to exchanges not associated with place. Extending my previous work, I suggest military bases do exert territorial control, albeit one that extends over physical buildings, rather than an entire country and that informal empire should refer to this type of territoriality. Second, I suggest the need for what I call residual empire. If informal empire confers territorial control over particular spaces, residual empire addresses power dynamics among former colonial relations that have no current territorial claims. I have, or will be presenting this work at the 2nd Chicago Area Comparative Historical Social Sciences Conference at Northwestern, the 2019 Junior Scholars Workshop at the Law and Society Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, and the 2019 Social Science History Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

Recently, I’ve also started a collaborative project on drag as a form of precarious labor with graduate student Zeinab Shuker, where we are interviewing drag queens and drag kings in, and conducting participant observation in clubs around, the Inland Empire of Southern California.