Disaster Anticipation

If disasters are failures of foresight, how do organizations productively anticipate them? Since the establishment of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979, a new professional field has emerged with the task of preparing for and responding to disasters both "natural" and "man-made." My dissertation is an ethnographic study of how expertise in this field is developed and practiced among professionals in New York City. My research sits at the intersection of Organizational Sociology and the Sociology of Science, Knowledge and Technology.

This project is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and from the PIIRS Global Systemic Risk research community at Princeton University.

Averted Lynching

What triggers waves of collective violence, and what ends them? This project, which began as my master's thesis, examines the political conditions under which white mobs lynched 3,000 African-Americans in the southern United States between 1880 and 1930. Previous studies of lynching had considered only events where mobs formed and were able to kill. In fact many more lynch mobs formed, and were prevented from killing by some external intervention. For this project I, with Kinga Makovi, constructed an inventory of averted lynchings -- events where mobs formed with the intent to kill, but were prevented from doing so. This study shifts the dependent variable from mob killings to mob formation, allowing for a more precise investigation of what motivated and enabled mobs to kill.


2016 | Kinga Makovi, Ryan Hagen and Peter Bearman. "The Course of Law: State Intervention in Southern Lynch Mob Violence 1882–1930." Sociological Science.

Abstract Collective violence when framed by its perpetrators as “citizen” justice is inherently a challenge to state legitimacy. To properly account for such violence, it is necessary to consider an opportunity structure incorporating the actions of both vigilantes and agents of the state. The motivation and lethality of lynch mobs in the South cannot be understood without considering how the state reacted to the legitimacy challenges posed by lynching. We trace the shifting orientation of state agents to lynching attempts between the end of Reconstruction and the start of the Great Depression. Analyzing an inventory of more than 1,000 averted and completed lynching events in three Southern states, we model geographic and temporal patterns in the determinants of mob formation, state intervention, and intervention success. Opponents of lynching often pled with mobs to “let the law take its course.” This article examines the course followed by the law itself, as state actors moved between encouraging, accommodating, and in many instances averting mob violence.

2013 | Ryan Hagen, Kinga Makovi and Peter Bearman. "The Influence of Political Dynamics on Southern Lynch Mob Formation and Lethality." Social Forces.

Abstract Existing literature focuses on economic competition as the primary causal factor in Southern lynching. Political drivers have been neglected, as findings on their effects have been inconclusive. We show that these consensus views arise from selection on a contingent outcome variable: whether mobs intent on lynching succeed. We constructed an inventory of averted lynching events in Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina—instances in which lynch mobs formed but were thwarted, primarily by law enforcement. We combined these with an inventory of lynching and analyzed them together to model the dynamics of mob formation, success, and intervention. We found that low Republican vote share is associated with a higher lethality rate for mobs. Lynching is better understood as embedded in a post-conflict political system, wherein all potential lynching events, passing through the prism of intervention, are split into successful and averted cases.