About Me

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I am a political and historical sociologist, interested in how we conceptualise and theorise power, its role in society, and associated long-term patterns of historical and social change.  This connects to an interest in the nature of liberal society, its emergence and fate.  My work can be described as historically informed sociological theory.  Much of my work is on nationalism and national identity, with particular interest in liberal or civic forms of nationalism, as in Scotland.  I have done ethnographically based empirical research on devolution politics in Scotland, and the role of national identities in a changing Scottish financial sector.  My most recent book The Domestication of Competition (CUP, 2023) investigates the institutionalisation of competition across multiple spheres of society in the 18th and 19th centuries, as a new way of managing and legitimating power relations. In addition to the above, I have a range of research interests including classical social theory and Scottish Enlightenment thought (especially David Hume and Adam Smith).  

I attended a radically experimental primary and secondary school called Greenbriar in Austin, Texas, modelled on the educational philosophies of A. S. Neill and John Holt.  This inculcated in me a highly self-directed attitude to my own eduction, which has shaped my life ever since. The School was not accredited by the Texas State Board of Schools and could not award diplomas, so I obtained a ‘General Equivalency Diploma’.  In my late teens and early twenties (late 1970s and early 1980s) I concentrated on music (guitar, songwriting, composing), working and recording with theatrical groups, modern dance troupes, and several bands in Austin.  By the mid-eighties I was disenchanted with the music business. In 1986 I turned to undergraduate studies in earnest, earning a BA (1989) in Social Studies, with a concentration in Anthropology, at Bard College in upstate New York.  From there I went to do a Ph.D. (1997) in Cultural Anthropology at the City University of New York, earning an MA en route.  While working on my Ph.D. I taught as an adjunct at several colleges in New York City.  After completing my Ph.D. I taught briefly part-time at the New School for Social Research, and had a post-doc from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in 1998.  I began a joint post in Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh in Autumn 1998, and moved entirely into Sociology three years later.  I have been there ever since.

I continue to play music and occasionally write songs in my spare time.  I play guitar and sing with a band called The Chilli Dogs most Thursday nights at the Cannon’s Gait pub in Edinburgh. The music is broadly called ‘Americana’ (blues, country, jump jazz, folk-rock). The ‘dogs’ are known for their vocal harmonies, diverse instrumentation (2 harmonicas, 2 guitars, bass, cajon, fiddle, piano, and accordion), and eclectic taste in songs.

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