Sociologist at Harvard University
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About

I am a Lecturer on Sociology at Harvard University, an Associate of the Weatherhead Institute Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality, and a Faculty Affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. I’m also a Visiting Fellow at the International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, where I previously held a post as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. I earned my Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University (2017). My dissertation is titled “Institutions as Inferential Spaces: How People Learn About Inequality“.

I study the cultural and cognitive dimension of inequality: how we learn about inequality, and how we make sense of it. From Julius Caesar's self-described decisive victory over the Gauls, to the superior ingenuity of David in defeating Goliath, Western culture is rife with stories of individual accomplishment. We celebrate the success of leaders in business, science and sports, and when we do, we tend to attribute the outcome of events to the achievements of (extraordinary) individuals.

In today's unequal world, how we make sense of wealth and poverty similarly depends on the way we understand the causes of events; in particular, whether we consider successes and setbacks to be the result of hard work and ingenuity (or lack thereof) or regard them as the outcome of circumstances not fully within our control. Looking at inequality through the lens of hard work and ingenuity implies a meritocratic worldview where people get what they deserve, or deservingly miss out. An alternative worldview is one that acknowledges the role of structural forces in shaping our lives.

How people make sense of inequality in turn drives their feelings of sympathy and solidarity with fellow citizens, informs their policy attitudes and motivates their voting behavior. This, I believe, makes it an important area for research.

My interest more broadly is in the interplay between the structural and agentic forces that together shape the course of people’s lives. In previous work, I studied such processes in schools and educational policy, criminal justice, and in urban settings.

My work has been published in Socio-Economic Review, European Sociological Review, Sociology of Education, and the Annual Review of Sociology, among other journals (see papers).

It has featured in The Guardian, The Washington Post, Financial Times, The Independent, Education Week, The Conversation, and other outlets (see News).

Click for my Curriculum Vitae. You can contact me at mijs [at] fas.harvard.edu,