I am a cultural and comparative historical sociologist studying race and authoritarianism.
My dissertation asked how social institutions like citizenship and the welfare state respond to challenges to ethnic and racial classification schemes. Empirically, I conducted a comparative study of how Japanese and German bureaucrats historically translated diverse forms of racialized thought into practice in both nations and their empires. I sought to better understand the emergence of meaning under different institutional and organizational contexts, and the role of bureaucratic agency in retrofitting racial scientific knowledge fields. Earlier work explored sites of institutional disintegration and collective reactions to them. This included projects on the transformation of higher education in the US, the decline of collective bargaining in Germany, women’s professionalization on social policy activism in Japan, and demographic change on political participation in Europe.
Methodologically, I have worked ethnographically and mostly straddle both archival research and a variety of computational sociological approaches (specifically text analysis). My work to date has contributed to the literatures on sociological theory, race and ethnicity, comparative historical sociology and STS.
Assimilation in Multi-Ethnic Empires
How do bureaucrats translate nativist legislation into practice? Since Martin Lipsky’s Street Level Bureaucrats and Celeste Watkins-Hayes’ New Welfare Bureaucrats and Cybelle Fox’s Three Worlds of Relief, we know that bureaucrats’ agency plays a crucial role in transforming legislation from paper into action. How did this agency play out in National Socialist Germany?
(2018) A.K.M. Skarpelis, The Administrated Human: Making Germans in the Nazi Empire
Best Paper Prizes: Eastern Sociological Society, 2018 and American Sociological Association, Reinhard Bendix Prize (Honorable Mention), 2018
How much sense does the jus sanguinis / jus soli binary make in a context of moving borders, multi-ethnic states and forced assimilation? We often think of citizenship as a comparatively stable attribute, one that most individuals are unlikely to change over their lifetime, compared to citizenship changes as mostly singular and voluntary events. But this is largely a phenomenon of post-1945 nation states. Over two papers, I ask how ethnicity and race factor into citizenship and naturalization decisions of states generally considered to be nativist.
(2018a) A.K.M. Skarpelis, Going Native: Birthright Citizenship, Trump and the Pesky Question of Indigeneity
(2018b) A.K.M. Skarpelis, Citizenship in Motion
In the 1990s, the study of the American welfare state experienced a racial turn as scholars from diverse disciplines began systematically investigating what role race played for structure, scope, and distributive effects of the welfare state. The same has not happened in Germany or Japan although welfare states are immensely consequential institutions in their capacity as instruments of redistribution that significantly impact life chances and reveal nations’ moral and normative judgments. A comparative take on welfare state racialization yields does away with frustrating accounts of exceptionalism.
(2018) A.K.M. Skarpelis, States of Exception: Comparison and Temporality in Racialized Welfare States. (invited submission to a special issue of Politial Power and Social Theory)
Comparative Historical Methods
There is little by way of historical and archival training for sociologists. As consequence, doctoral students often get lost in the archive and fundamentally misunderstand what archives are. I propose the term archival bodies to make sense of documentary creation, preservation and interpretation. The heuristic of archival bodies allows us to better understand archives as organizations within which professionals exercise agency that shapes data and knowledge construction.
The project contributes to organizational sociology by treating the creation of documentary reality as an organizational and thus traceable and legible process; to cultural sociology by unboxing how the meanings we can recover are contingent on specific power structures and organizational processes and the agency of professional archivists; to historical comparative sociology by providing a framework to think about comparison of distinct datasets; and lastly to sociologists more generally interested in robust research, as archival bodies can help us dispel the illusion of false necessity.
(2018) A.K.M. Skarpelis, Life on File: Archival Epistemology and Theory
Keywords: sociology of knowledge, epistemology, social theory, archives, racial classification, subjectivity