Erin McDonnell (Ph.D. Sociology, Northwestern University) is a Kellogg Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. She is a theorist whose research engages Organizational, Political, Cultural, and Economic Sociology. Her work focuses on how social organization affects economic outcomes, from consumer groups to administrative capacity in African states. She recently published “Budgetary Units: A Weberian Approach to Consumption” in The American Journal of Sociology. This article rethinks organization within consumption, arguing that orienting research toward the analysis of budgetary units makes visible more general social patterns of consumption across diverse contexts. Other current work takes a sociological approach to examining the historical changes and group dynamics patterning notions of fairness in market pricing behaviors.
Her current work on state capacity and development in Africa observes that states have a high degree of internal variation in their administrative capacities and organizational cultures. This has led to two lines of inquiry in her current book project. First, what explains the emergence of effective bureaucratic practice? She finds that even in conventionally identified "weak states", effective, quasi-meritocratic, Weberian-style bureaucracy flourishes in “interstices”— relatively distinct niches embedded within dominant patronage and patrimonial institutions. Her ethnographic work in the economic sector of the Ghanaian state reveal how such interstitial bureaucratic cultures not just emerge but protect themselves from an environment hostile to such reforms. Second, what are the consequences of such internal variation of bureaucratic practice? McDonnell’s mixed-methods approach to analyzing the causes and consequences of this internal variation in bureaucratic quality, from statistical analysis, interviews, participant observation, and comparative historical methods, paints a rich portrait of the birth of bureaucracy in African states.
Research Interests: Governance, state administration, international comparative sociology, development, elite migration, and classical social theory
Areas of Study: Comparative / Historical Sociology, Social Movements / Political Sociology, Stratification and Inequality, Theory, Work, Economy and Organization