My research exploits novel data collection opportunities enabled by present-day communication technology to answer longstanding questions about the origins of social order and societal inequality.
My work on social networks seeks to understand complex patterns of social connectedness as the aggregate combination of many individuals following elementary decision rules on whom to connect to and whom to avoid. Examples of such decision rules are “a friend of a friend is a friend”, “reach out to people you wouldn’t normally hang out with”, “avoid being in the minority”, and "cultivate competing ties as to improve your bargaining position" . Agent-based computational models show that the networks that emerge in the aggregate as the result of such purposive action often exhibit undesirable structural features that no individual intended.
In my research on success-breeds-success processes I bestow minor financial and social successes (donations, awards, endorsements) upon random and unsuspecting recipients to reveal how this produces arbitrary inequality by raising their future success expectations vis-a-vis equally talented non-recipients. For my contributions to social network analysis I received the 2010 Freeman Award for Distinguished Junior Scholarship and several best article awards. My research is supported by the National Science Foundation through award #1340122 and has been published in American Sociological Review and American Journal of Sociology.