I am a political and historical sociologist, interested in how we conceptualise and theorise power, its role in society, and associated long-term patterns of historical and social change. This connects to an interest in the nature of liberal society, its emergence and fate. My work can be described as historically informed sociological theory. Much of my work is on nationalism and national identity, with particular interest in liberal or civic forms of nationalism, as in Scotland. I have done ethnographically based empirical research on devolution politics in Scotland, and the role of national identities in a changing Scottish financial sector. My most recently published book with Manchester University Press (July 2017) is based on ethnographic data collected in a major Scottish bank prior to the 2008 crisis, revisiting that data from a post-crisis perspective. I am currently working on a book about the historical institutionalisation of political, economic and cultural competition in modern liberal society.
In addition to the above, I have a range of research interests including the usefulness of the concept of 'evolution' for understanding social change, and classical social theory and Scottish Enlightenment thought (especially David Hume and Adam Smith).
I am also President of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN), which runs an annual conference, webinars, and other activities: https://asen.ac.uk/
Salvage Ethnography in the Financial Sector: the path to economic crisis in Scotland, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017.
Theorizing Power, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Rethinking Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Claiming Scotland: National Identity and Liberal Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.
'Reframing the History of the Competition Concept: Neoliberalism, Meritocracy, Modernity', Journal of Historical Sociology, 34(2), 2021
‘How to Read the Wealth of Nations (or why the division of labor is more important than competition in Adam Smith)', Sociological Theory, 36(2): 162-184, 2018.
‘Theoretical and methodological considerations for the study of banal and everyday nationalism’, with Marco Antonsich, Nations and Nationalism 24(3): 594-605, July 2018.
'The Culture of Competition in Modern Liberal Societies', Humanities: Christianity and Culture, vol. 48, 2017.
‘Once more with feeling: the Scottish Enlightenment, sympathy, and social Welfare’, Ethics and Social Welfare 10(3): 211-223, 2016.
'Inequality, liberal society, and the balance of power', Revue Internationale de Philosophie, No. 275, 1/2016.
'Demos before Democracy: Ideas of nation and society in Adam Smith’, Journal of Classical Sociology, 6(2): 396-414, 2016.
‘On the social evolution of power to/over’, Journal of Political Power, 7(2): 175-191, 2014.
‘Nationalism, Biography and the Ecology of Identity’, Humanities Research, Vol XIX, No. 1, pp. 5-22. 2013.
‘The Strength of Weak Legitimacy: a cultural analysis of legitimacy in capitalist, liberal, democratic nation-states’, Journal of Political Power 4(2): 199-216. 2011.
The Origins of Modern Nationalism in the North Atlantic Interaction Sphere’, Sociological Research Online 14:5. 2009.
‘What’s Wrong with Domination?’, Journal of Power 1(1): 37-49. 2008.
‘National Identity: Banal, Personal, and Embedded’, Nations and Nationalism 13(4): 657-674. 2007.
‘Narrative, Agency and Mood: On the Social Construction of National History in Scotland’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 44(4): 745-769. 2002.
‘Identity, Class and Civil Society in Scotland’s Neonationalism’, Nations and Nationalism 8(1): 15-30. 2002.
'Contesting Visions of the Civil Society Project'. Special Issue of Critique of Anthropology, 21(4). 2001.
Teaching and Supervision
- Theories and Theorists in Nationalism Studies (PG)
- Comparative Perspectives in Nationalism Studies (PG)
- Power: Conceptualising, Theorising, Investigating (PG)
- Theories of Power (UG honours)
- Globalization (UG honours and PG variant)
- Sociology 1B, units on 'Social Structure' and 'Social Change' (UG)
Supervision: I enjoy supervising PhDs, MSc dissertations, and honours projects, on topics related to my research and teaching interests above, although I am happy to consider supervision beyond this, where appropriate. I am best suited to supervising work using ethnographic, historical, comparative and qualitative methods, and work concerned with problems of theorisation.
Biographical Note and Qualifications
I attended a radically experimental primary and secondary school in Austin, Texas, modeled on the educational philosophies of A. S. Neill and John Holt. The School was not accredited by the Texas State Board of Schools and could not award diplomas, so I obtained a 'General Equivalency Diploma'. During the late 1970s and early 1980s I concentrated on music (guitar, songwriting, composing), working and recording with theatrical groups, modern dance troupes, and several bands in Austin. In 1986 I turned to undergraduate studies in earnest, earning a BA (1989) in Social Studies, with a concentration in Anthropology, at Bard College. From there I went to do a Ph.D. (1997) in Cultural Anthropology at the City University of New York, earning an MA en route. While working on my Ph.D. I taught as an adjunct at several colleges in New York City. After completing my Ph.D. I taught briefly part-time at the New School for Social Research, and had a post-doc from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in 1998. I began a joint post in Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh in Autumn 1998, and moved entirely into Sociology three years later. I continue to play music in my spare time.