I have several ongoing projects that address different questions across a range of settings. They have a common theme in that they are about Work, Employment, and Knowledge: Sociological Inquiries into Groups' Nascent Activities in Large-scale Settings. In other words, I study WEaK SIGNALS. The acronym's literal meaning captures a shared analytic orientation, a focus on the detection of substantively meaningful observations in otherwise highly abstract behavioral records. The ongoing projects have funding from different sources and involve several collaborators and research assistants.

Abduction and Computational Ethnography

My methodological approach combines my experiences analyzing field observations, interviews, survey and network datasets, and large-scale textual corpora. It builds on calls in computational social science to consider qualitative research for guiding ML and other quantitative techniques. My applications echo the ethnographic aim to understand, as Diane Vaughan has put it, a “particular social world in terms of the meanings it has for the people who inhabit it” (Vaughan, 2009:690). “Abduction” offers epistemological guidance.

NYC's Yellow Cab Industry

I study problems in the reconstitution of many once-stable jobs as “gigs” and developed strategies for exploiting large-scale records that these activities generate. My project on New York City’s yellow cab studies how drivers negotiate their precarious work. In a recent publication with Stefan Timmermans, we report breaks during workdays that were correlated with sunsets, suggesting they were perhaps driven by prayer times in Islam, which follow the sun’s position in the sky. This discovery in trip records challenges past views on labor supply decisions.

Funding: diiP

Collaborators: Stefan Timmermans (UCLA); Soror Sahri (Université Paris Cité)

Street-level Bureaucrats

I collaborate with Andrew Schrank and Josh Whitford to study economic development activities across the US through a program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This program’s agents operate as “street-level bureaucrats” with substantial discretion. We have access to records that allow us to ask questions such as how the street-level agents implement deviant strategies in hostile political contexts and to test hypotheses about experimental learning, personnel changes, and diffusion across teams.

Collaborators: Josh Whitford (Columbia); Andrew Schrank (Brown)

Immigrant Careers in German Firms

This project studies the careers of immigrants in German firms, focusing on the informal strategies that immigrants use to navigate the firms’ internal labor markets and to compensate for existing disadvantages. Using Linked-Employer-Employee Data (LIAB) of the German Institute for Employment Research, we follow several thousand immigrants over the course of their working lives and through the organizations that employed them. And we develop new measures for a better understanding two key dimensions of informal career strategies: career resemblance and organizational exposure.

Funding: DFG; MZES

Collaborators: Henning Hillmann (Mannheim); Jeremy Kuhnle (Trento); Marcel Kappes (Mannheim)

Expert Discourse on Twitter

In one study, I analyze data science’s cultural definition on Twitter and develop a strategy for studying an emergent case with unclear boundaries and substance. The comparisons of varying boundary specifications offer a new direction for studying emergent or otherwise ill-defined groups on social media. In another study with Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier, we take the case of food professionals in France to study how professional groups use social media to claim public jurisdiction.

Funding: APICSO

Collaborator: Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier (CNRS/Sciences Po/CSO)