I study the production and use of knowledge, especially economic knowledge, and its intersection with morals and values. At the most general level, I’m interested in where our broad frameworks for thinking about social and economic problems come from, how those frameworks shape the choices we see as reasonable, and how they remain stable or, eventually, change.
My focus on these questions is motivated by a desire to understand and, ultimately, disrupt the currently dominant framework—neoliberalism, in a word—which has sustained a form of capitalism that is harmful to ordinary people and destructive of the natural environment. My research is primarily (though not exclusively) historical, and has mostly focused on how this framework was established between the 1960s and 1980s; I am also, increasingly, interested in mining earlier eras for ideas that can disrupt our taken-for-granted assumptions about how we should organize and govern economic activity.
These themes can be seen in my three major areas of research, described further below: on economics and public policy, on higher education, and on the marketization of academic science. While these have been my main focus, my broader interests are wide-ranging. I particularly follow research on quantification processes, debt, the transformation of work, racial and economic inequality, algorithms and big data, and regulatory politics and the administrative state.
Economics and Public Policy
My primary focus in recent years has been on the relationship between the economics discipline and policymaking in the United States, particularly from the 1960s to 1980s. This has resulted in a book, Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy (Princeton University Press), and several articles. Thinking Like an Economist looks at how an economic style of reasoning, grounded in the discipline of economics but also circulated through law and policy schools, became institutionalized in various parts of the U.S. policy process and subsequently shaped—and limited—the space of political possibility, particularly for Democrats. Other work in this area has looked at the role played by economics in the deregulatory movement of the 1970s, synthesized existing approaches to understanding the role of economists in policymaking, and examined how unconventional economic claims (the “Laffer curve”) take on political meanings, among other topics.
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2022. Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Read Ch. 1)
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2017. “From Economic to Social Regulation: How the Deregulatory Moment Strengthened Economists’ Policy Position.” History of Political Economy 49:187-212. (ungated)
Hirschman, Daniel, and Elizabeth Popp Berman. 2014. “Do Economists Make Policies? On the Political Effects of Economics.” Socio-Economic Review 12:779-811. (ungated)
Berman, Elizabeth Popp, and Laura M. Milanes-Reyes. 2013. “The Politicization of Knowledge Claims: The ‘Laffer Curve’ in the U.S. Congress.” Qualitative Sociology 36:53-79. (ungated)
I have also maintained a line of research on higher education more broadly, much of which has been conducted in collaboration with graduate students. This has produced an edited volume of Research in the Sociology of Organizations, “The University under Pressure,” along with work on the history of student loan policy, the moralization of markets for admission services, and relational work in families around student loans. Most recently I am collaborating with Aya Waller-Bey on a paper on the experiences of racialized students at the University of Michigan.
Chen, Kenneth Han and Elizabeth Popp Berman. 2022. “Buying into the Meritocracy: Taiwanese Students and the Market for College Admissions Services.” Sociology of Education 95:23-42. (ungated)
Stivers, Abby, and Elizabeth Popp Berman. 2020. “Parents, Partners, Plans, and Promises: The Relational Work of Student Loan Borrowing.” Socius 6.
Berman, Elizabeth Popp, and Abby Stivers. 2016. “Student Loans as a Pressure on U.S. Higher Education.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations 46:129-160. (ungated)
Marketization of Academic Science
My first book, Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine, asked why academic science became more entrepreneurial and market-oriented after the 1980s. It argues that the main reason was not universities’ search for new resources or industry’s desire to outsource its research, but policy changes driven by a new idea: that technological innovation drives economic growth. This project also produced papers on, for example, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 as the culmination of a decade of institution-building, and on U.S. science & technology policy as reflecting not just neoliberalism but a process of “economization.”
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2012. Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Read Ch. 1)
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2014. “Not Just Neoliberalism: Economization in U.S. Science & Technology Policy.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 39:397-431. (ungated)
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2012. “Explaining the Move toward the Market in Academic Science: How Institutional Logics Can Change without Institutional Entrepreneurs.” Theory and Society 41: 261-299. (ungated)
Berman, Elizabeth Popp. 2008. “Why Did Universities Start Patenting? Institution-Building and the Road to the Bayh-Dole Act.” Social Studies of Science 38:835-871. (ungated)