My research interests lie at the intersection of political economy and economic sociology, and focus on the relationship between states and markets. I use interdisciplinary tools and frameworks to understand the role of social and political institutions in shaping economic outcomes.
My current work is animated by a fundamental tension around the legitimacy of business actors in contemporary market society. Business actors play a central role in modern capitalist economies, yet they have historically occupied tenuous positions in society. These arise from the question of whether their activities are narrowly beneficial, enriching only themselves, their family and kin or whether they generate broad-based economic gains that facilitate societal advancement.
This question of legitimacy persists across different institutional and organizational manifestations of market actors across varying historical periods. Whether as ‘traditional’ merchants, traders and moneylenders or as ‘modern’ bankers, venture capitalists or captains of industry, these actors are often simultaneously revered and reviled: admired for their ability to generate economic activity while disparaged for the inequalities that their business practices are believed to create.
I study this tension through two main research projects, both of which focus on how the state makes sense of these competing representations of business actors and the resulting implications for policy decisions and regulatory outcomes.
The first is centered around my dissertation research, which I completed at MIT. It seeks to understand the mechanisms through which economic ideas and moral beliefs shape the legitimacy of market actors. This work has the intellectual roots of economic theory in classical political economy as well as the relationship between institutions and colonialism at its center. It has led to papers on economic nationalism in Brazil and India and on multinational firms in the Indian retail sector, and has culminated in my book manuscript, tentatively entitled Moral Orders of Capitalist Legitimacy in India.
The second and most recent project, which is in its early stages, extends this central question of business legitimacy and market morality to the rise of the platform or ‘sharing’ economy, one of the most compelling developments in contemporary market society. Platform firms offer the potential to radically transform industries and markets at the local, national and global levels through ‘disruptive’ technologies and business models. They also raise an important array of conceptual questions for scholars, regulatory issues for policymakers and strategic challenges for business actors. My emerging work in this area primarily focuses on ‘ridesharing’ firms in urban transportation markets, which offer the promise of technologically sophisticated and ‘efficient’ private solutions as an alternative to incumbent state organized systems, thus reviving classic debates of markets versus planning.
Finally, these major projects are complemented by a number of smaller research activities including (1) law and corporate power in the global economy; (2) gender, trade and development; and (3) diasporas, high skilled migration and ‘brain drain’ in the Caribbean.
A brief summary of my writing in these and other areas is available here.