Summaries of my scholarly writing are as follows. My CV is here.
Bar Districts as Subcultural Amenities, 2015. City, Cuture and Society 6(1)
Bar districts, agglomerations of drinking establishments, are important to urban economies by nurturing urban subcultures. Their vernacular nature presents important contrasts to planned urban entertainment districts (UEDs). Unlike UEDs, bar districts are not necessarily amenities for middle- and upper-class consumption and identity, but the subcultures they nurture can include potential gentrifiers. I present a case study of Polk Street in San Francisco, showing that it supported a uniquely diverse and countercultural LGBT street scene in 1999. By 2013 it had been displaced by a heterosexual nightclub scene that was first hailed for revitalization, and then regulated as a rowdy urban nuisance. These transformations show how bar districts provide two interrelated spatial resources in the gentrification process: (1) infrastructures of adult leisure and consumption and (2) sites of subcultural networking and creativity. This case study suggests the importance of distinguishing between creativity desired by potential gentrifiers from that which is not. If gentrifiers, as a subculture, benefit from creative nightlife networking opportunities, countercultural creativity is especially fragile because few outsiders recognize it as such. Bohemian creativity that can be commercialized, the target of creative cities promoters, is only one form of creative practice, and queer practices without commercial appeal are especially fragile.
Style and the Value of Gay Nightlife: Homonormative Placemaking in San Francisco. 2015. Urban Studies 52(16)
Reductionist conceptions of gay nightlife and the neighbourhoods they anchor have obscured their diversity amid claims of gentrification or displacement. The divergent trajectories of San Francisco’s three gay bar districts present a natural experiment to specify the relationship between gay placemaking and urban processes. In 1999, each neighbourhood anchored distinct stylistic practices but by 2004, one had collapsed, another became stylistically mixed, while the youngest expanded and became homogenous. In that neighbourhood a particular gay style and mainstream cosmopolitanism converged, spatially institutionalising what queer theorists call ‘the new homonormativity’ comprising sexual discretion, mainstream political assimilation and boutique consumerism. Adherence to this particular gay style conferred spatial capital, allowing cosmopolitans, gay and straight, to literally ‘take place’ anywhere, while nonconformist gays lost their places. Contrary to popular and academic claims, not all gay places are associated with gentrification: homonormativity fostered gentrification from within, nonconformist gay nightlife fell victim to gentrification from without. This study thus contributes to a clearer relationship between gay men and urban revitalisation, nightlife economies, and the valuation of some forms of urban creativity and placemaking over others.
The study of security within sociology is bifurcated, with a small but robust tradition studying political security alongside other disciplines, while the disciplinary core has focused on social, economic, or interpersonal insecurity. This chapter compares these two sociological conceptualizations of (in)security, including their main concepts, questions, theories and research methods. We then evaluate this work for its promise to provide insights about political security. We suggest that scholars should distinguish between political security as an explicit object of discourse and practice, and security as a broader category of cultural understandings of safety and disorder. We conclude that one of sociology’s unique contributions are the tools to study the relationships among these different kinds of (in)security, connections that are lost when research focuses solely on external threats to the nation at the expense of internal, domestic processes.
Mattson, Greggor. 2015. Book Review: Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture. Teaching Sociology October vol. 43 no. 4 311-313
Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-closeted Culture, James Joseph Dean’s masterwork on heterosexual identity, fills essential gaps for the academic literature and the classroom. By providing a critical discussion of theories of gender and sexuality with engaging data in an accessible writing style, he brings sexuality studies into the mainstream with this investigation of the impact of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) movement on heterosexual identities.
Nation-State Science: Lappology and Sweden’s Ethnoracial Purity. 2014. Comparative Studies in Society and History 56(2).
This paper introduces the concept of “nation-state science” to describe the scientific work of ethnoracial classification that made possible the ideal of the homogenous nation-state. Swedish scientists implicitly defined their nation for Continental Europeans when they explicitly created knowledge about the “Lapps” (today’s Sámi/Saami). Nation was coupled to state through such ethnoracial categories, the content of which were redefined as Sweden’s geopolitical power rose and fell. These shifts sparked methodological innovations to redefine the Lapp, making it a durable category whose content was plastic enough to survive paradigm shifts in political and scientific thought. Idiosyncratic Swedish concerns thus became universalized through the scientific diffusion of empirical knowledge about Lapps and generalizable anthropometric techniques to distinguish among populations. What Sweden lost during the nineteenth century in terms of geopolitical power, it gained in terms of biopower: the knowledge and control of internal populations made possible by its widely adopted anthropometric innovations. Nation-state science helps unpack the interrelationships between state-building, nation-making, and scientific labor.
The view that America is fragmenting is popular among both pundits and academics and may well be endemic to American culture. We review claims that between 1970 and 2005 American society fragmented along lines of cultural politics, social class, immigration, race, or lifestyle. Taking the twentieth century as historical context, we weigh evidence for both main variants of the fragmentation thesis—that there is an increasing divide between two Americas, or that America is fragmenting into a variety of “little worlds that touch but do not interpenetrate.” We find a well-documented, widening gap in social class, whether measured by education or income. We also find that political elites and activists are demonstrably more polarized in 2005 than they were in 1970; this gap’s effect on the electorate is debatable, however. Caveats aside, there is little evidence for increasing fragmentation of America along lines of race, ethnicity, or immigration status. American cultural tastes increasingly cluster into distinct lifeways, but there is little evidence about what effects, if any, this development has. The loudest claims of fragmentation, those concerning value issues, are based on the most contested evidence, but the widening gap between Americans by income and education—which receives less popular attention—is substantial and serious.
Urban Ethnography’s “Saloon Problem,” and It’s Challenge to Public Sociology. 2007. City & Community 6(2)
This essay assesses the legacy of urban ethnography’s (UE) early engagement with the “saloon problem.” Early sociologists (1880–1915) intervened in the national debate on alcohol on the basis of their long-term, in-depth understanding of the urban poor. Ethnographers highlighted the role of the saloon as a haven for maintaining social ties while socializing immigrants to American norms. Instead of prohibition or temperance, sociologists advocated replacing the saloon’s positive functions with more democratic institutions, especially an egalitarian domestic sphere. This position was shared by both academic and settlement house sociologists whose saloon investigations offer a coherent sociological research paradigm that antedates the Chicago School. The activism of early sociologists exemplifies the characteristics of Michael Burawoy’s recent call for public sociology. Yet the early sociologists failed to redeem the saloon amongst Progressives, who increasingly rallied around the National Anti-Saloon League and constitutional Prohibition. By only investigating alcohol in its public manifestations, sociologists failed to challenge the way the social problem was framed and may even have contributed to the stigmatization of the saloon. This voyeuristic opportunism has plagued the American tradition of urban ethnography, the ineffective legacy of which poses a challenge to a contemporary revival of public sociology.