According to Paul Krugman, I must have been a terribly wicked person in my past life. After training as a physicist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, I did a brief stint in economics at El Colegio de México to then join the Science Studies Unit of the University of Edinburgh, where I completed my PhD in 2010. Throughout this transition from physics to sociology my interests have remained broadly the same: I am fascinated by the central yet contested role of markets in the constitution of modern societies.
My early work (2000-2005) involved developing and testing a novel measure of market efficiency using an artificial financial market developed by colleagues at the Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares (UNAM). Following from this very early interest in how finance works, my recent contributions explore the production of markets at the intersection of culture, organizations, and technology. Combining theoretical insights from economic sociology, anthropology, and science and technology studies, my most recent book Automating Finance: Infrastructures, Engineers, and the Making of Electronic Markets (Cambridge University Press, 2019), examines the moral, political and organizational struggles that underpinned the automation of modern stock exchanges. By connecting the literatures on infrastructures with discussions on kinship, morality, and institutional change, the book explores how automation occurred not as a planned project but as a confluence of multiple, fragmented visions of the world.
My exposure to computational methods and multi-agent simulations carried over to my more recent project. Firmly positioned within the literature on quantification, organization studies, and computational social science, The Quantified Scholar: How austerity, markets, and rankings transformed the British social sciences, presents a multi-methods analysis of the effects of measuring knowledge on careers, departmental cultures, and the evolution of academic fields. Empirically, the project looks at the consequences of the Research Assessment Exercises/Research Excellence Framework on the evolution of British social sciences. By combining large and original datasets of career trajectories, computational analyses of social science publications, and oral histories of British academics, the study provides a detailed overview of how the quantification of knowledge both transforms the dynamics of scholarly fields and is mediated by organizational hierarchies and inequalities.
In addition to teaching and ‘doing’ computational social science, my current work also includes a critical examination of data, algorithms and the emerging field of computational social science itself. In a project supported by the Institute of Practical Ethics at UC San Diego, I study the way data scientists deal with the uncertainty of their claims. Through a mix of interviews and online experiments, I am exploring the types of uncertainty made (in)visible in data science research in the creation of seemingly trustworthy algorithmic claims. In a different project, I address the ‘missing workers’ of computational social science. Mirroring discussions about replication in the social sciences, in this project I track how authors report data cleaning, processing, storing, and manipulation practices.
A longer term project concerns the materialities of political liberalism. Tentatively titled The Architectures of Liberty: Market Gardeners, Intellectuals, and Urban Planners in Enlightenment England, this (book) project traces the history of London’s urban markets in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as an opportunity to explore connections between the reorganization of cities and elites, the re-embedding of market regulation, and the emergence of liberal political thought. (Think of it as Polanyi meeting the literature on materiality and cultural sociology). Here, my concern is not only with the marketplace as an object of design, aesthetics, everyday practices and calculated construction but also on its role as a generative site of politics.
In addition to these larger projects, I am also interested in art markets and am currently collaborating with Carrie Friese and Nathalie Nuyts of the London School of Economics on the project Care as Science.