I am an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico (PhD from New York University, 2010). My research interests are in medical sociology and the sociology of knowledge.
Knowledge is a basic fault line upon which power disparities are constructed. The old saw that “knowledge is power” raises important research questions. Medicine offers a fertile site for the exploration of questions related to knowledge and power. Primarily, my research focuses on medical professionals, specifically the history of professionalization in the United States, the nature of professional politics, and the influence of abstract knowledge on clinical practice.
My first book, Knowledge in the Time of Cholera (University of Chicago Press, 2013) explores how the modern American medical profession emerged out of an intellectual crisis produced by recurrent cholera epidemics in the 19th century and the struggles over medical knowledge between medical sects that followed in their wake. The book offers a fresh understanding of the origins of the exceptional – and politically powerful – U.S. medical profession, one that underscores the ways in which the tension between professional authority and democratic cultural values shaped the profession.
My second book, On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming Spring 2019), draws on extensive archival research and contemporary interviews to reconstruct the history of American psychiatry from 1844 to today. The book begins from a simple premise: the history of American psychiatry is a history of ignorance. Underwriting its curious past, its repeated crises and its dramatic transformations, its faddish theories and epistemic somersaults, its temporary arrogances and eventual humblings, and its egregious abuses and occasional achievements, is a stubborn inconvenient fact; psychiatrists lack basic knowledge regarding their object. If professions are granted authority on the basis of their claims to expert, abstract knowledge, how has psychiatry survived, despite such glaring gaps in its knowledge base? My book examines psychiatry’s endurance despite its ignorance.
In addition to my book projects, I conduct research on diagnosis in mental health. Specifically, I focus on the controversies surrounding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).