Faculty & Staff
PhD, University of California, San Diego 2015
Office: 321 Graham
Research and Teaching Interests
Social Theory; Comparative Historical Sociology; Social Movements; Humanitarianism; Consumption; Cultural Sociology; Philosophy of Social Science.
My research circles around two central questions: what is a capitalist world? And how can comparative historical research contribute to a description of it? One line of research calls attention to the ethical and cultural work that occurs within capitalist societies. To this end, I compare social movements that have mobilized consumers to address labor exploitation since the late eighteenth century. Across several centuries, the anonymity of mass-produced commodities has elicited moral questions for consumers again and again. These anonymous commodities have shaped the strategies and tactics employed to turn purchasing into political action.
A more abstract line of research considers the contributions of phenomenology to a description of social systems and their development over time. If we attend to the ways that people experience social problems, difficult-to-see suffering, for instance, this can reveal surprising structural similarities across very different periods and types of activism. It also raises the question of whether we can characterize a capitalist social system in terms of problems that develop in ways that elude our ordinary sense perception. In a related set of papers (written with Kelly Nielsen), we elaborate a conceptual language with which to investigate human experiences of possibility and finitude as crucial sociological questions.
In classes, I encourage students to see the work of imagination and abstraction as vital to any valuable social science. Without attention to the ways that we access social phenomena in thought – as things that we imagine and, as such, require definition, justification, logical coherence, and empirical demonstration – sociology loses its ability to understand and explain the world around us.
Selected Recent Publications
Tad Skotnicki. (2019) “Unseen suffering: slow violence and the phenomenological structure of social problems,” Theory and Society [in press]
Kelly Nielsen and Tad Skotnicki. (2018) “Sociology towards death: Heidegger, time, and social theory,” Journal of Classical Sociology [online first]