My research makes use of both qualitative methods and computationally assisted inductive modeling techniques to explore the institutional dynamics of contested fields. In particular, my work explores semi-legal and fully illegal organizations, markets, and financial instruments in an effort to understand how the absence of important institutional conditions leads to concrete social outcomes.

The Gray Market for Cannabis in The United States

I am particularly interested in understanding the social transformation of the cannabis market in the United States. As an industry that is currently criminalized at the Federal level and being propelled forward as a commercial enterprise by disparate state laws, it provides a unique opportunity to explore some of the more vexing questions that remain in institutional theory concerning how micro-level behavior abstracts to the field-level to create enduring social structure.

This project is making use of in-depth interviews across California, Arizona, and Texas to distill patterns among entrepreneurs embedded in vastly different regulatory frameworks for cannabis cultivation, distribution, and access. Content analysis of these interviews are providing insights into the types of repertoirs that entrepreneurs have access to as they navigate the political, cultural, and economic barriers stemming from regulatory semi-legitimacy. Specifically, these repertoirs are conceived of as types of temporary or provisional institutions that cannabis entrepreneurs are using to both provide immediate guidance to conduct business in this type of “gray market” while also acting as a means to influence the development of broader enduring institutions in the future. Through classic content analysis and structured-topic modeling procedures I am leveraging these interviews to develop an integrated framework that can explain how routine practices can contribute to broader observable outcomes across the cannabis industry.

Additionally, these interviews provide a data foundation for a national survey of the U.S. cannabis industry that is currently funded by the National Science Foundation (Award: 1903986), and the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute at the University of Arizona. This survey is providing insights into which types of provisional institutions are more and less likely to evolve into enduring institutions.

Frameworks of Value Among Cryptocurrency Adopters

Another line of research have pursued is exploring the boundaries between symbolic and non-symbolic value systems among adopters of cryptocurrencies. I began this project in 2015-2016 by collecting semi-structured interviews with early adopters of the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin in order to understand how both traditional economic value and symbolic values are tethered in alternative money systems. Through this I have demonstrated how unique schemas emerge out of this community to produce extra-institutional logics of alternative money use. This research is published in Social Currents. Additionally, this project has revealed that embedding into alternative money systems follows a patterned and reflexive process. This research is forthcoming in Sociological Focus.

The Organizational Dynamics of Terrorist Regimes and Contested States

This line of research explores how organized groups engaged in contentious politics produce social artifacts through their struggle for legitimacy.

With Andrew P. Davis and Yongjun Zhang, I leveraged multiple techniques built from Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic modeling to demonstrate how terrorist organizations deploy vastly different frameworks to recruit participants despite struggling for similar causes that consequently result in scholars categorizing these organizations into the same niche in for research. This research has been published in Poetics.