MIT Anthropology Faculty

Susan S. Silbey

Susan S. Silbey

Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology
Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management
Head, Anthropology
Room E53-335 · 617-253-6952
ssilbey@mit.edu

Biography

Professor Susan S. Silbey is Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management, and Head of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Silbey is interested in the governance, regulatory and audit processes in complex organizations. Her current research focuses on the creation of management systems for containing risks, including ethical lapses, as well as environment, health and safety hazards.

Previous books include The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life (with Patricia Ewick) (1998), In Litigation: Do the'Haves' Still Come Out Ahead (with Herbert Kritzer) (2003), Law and Science (I): Epistemological, Evidentiary, and Relational Engagements, and Law and Science (II): Regulation of Property, Practices, and Products (2008).

Silbey is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2009), Doctor Honoris Causa from Ecole Normale Superiere Cachan in Paris (2006) and the Harry Kalven Jr. Prize for advancing the sociology of law (2009). She is Past President of the Law & Society Association, and a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Research

The Struggle for Accountability: Trust and Surveillance in the Cultures of Science

By substituting systems of audit and surveillance for the relations of trust and collegiality that have built and sustained modern science, contemporary environmental health and safety management systems seek to reconstruct the everyday routines and rituals of scientific practice, remaking them into the elements of a new form of sociality. While surveillance and audit are familiar in business and government, these are foreign to the world of science and the professional lives of scientists where traditions of autonomy and individual responsibility have been so powerful in creating the authority of science. This project explores a confrontation between the authority of law and the authority of science and does so in the very heart of science: in the laboratory, a complex technologically organized workplace.

Developing Diverse Leadership for Engineering

With colleagues Carroll Seron, Brian Rubineau and Erin Cech, Silbey is conducting a longitudinal panel study of engineering students from entry to college to the workplace. The current work, funded by the National Science Foundation, revisits the panel five years after graduation and amidst their early years in the labor market. Our theoretical model adjudicates among the most important contending explanations for persistent gender stratification in professional employment by testing social psychological theories of causal individual and gender differences; organization-level processes of culture, chilly climates and tokenism; and social capital theories concerning the efficacy of social networks. The research is designed to identify gaps in our understanding, as well as to address some of the methodological problems associated with answering outstanding questions about gendering in STEM occupations.
FuturePaths website

Enhancing Human Capital for Development and Design: Innovating the Education of Technically Grounded Leadership

This study seeks to expand our previous work on engineering education with a carefully designed comparative study. We seek to develop a model that explains the impact of educational innovations in technical education. To produce any reliable model, however, requires that we look not only at new initiatives but at established programs as well. This study follow a cohort of students in three universities in Singapore from entry into college through graduation and beyond to trace the effects of innovative engineering and design education, comparing the student's performance, aspirations, and careers to those of comparable students in Singapore and the US. Comparison samples serve as controls for the innovations at newly established engineering programs in the US and Singapore. Is it possible to engineer education to produce extraordinary creativity?

Organizational Challenges to Regulatory Enforcement and Compliance: a New Common Sense of Regulation

With a team from across the US, Europe and Australia, we are developing a cross-national project that seeks to re-imagine the landscape of regulatory enforcement and compliance. The neo-liberal policies of the last forty years deconstructed some of the most critical mechanisms of the regulatory state, leaving in their wake an abundance inconsistencies and contradictions as residues of the checkered history of 20th century government regulation. Although we risk escalating crises by ignoring the lessons of history, the circumstances in which we act are never exactly the same. Thus, this project seeks to identify the conditions that distinguish regulatory successes and failures across history and cultures, and puts front and center in the project the organized subjects of regulation. For published work, see "The Sociological Citizen: Pragmatic and relational regulation in law and organizations", Regulation & Governance, Volume 5, 2011, pp. 14-42.

Selected Publications

2013 "Are You Ready to Listen": A Memorial for Egon Bittner. Ethnographic Studies, 13, pp. 74-81.
2011 J. Locke, op. cit.: Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets. Journal of Comparative Law, Vol 5(2), pp. 66-91.
  Rotten Apples or a Rotting Barrel: How Not to Understand the Current Financial Crisis. MIT Faculty Newsletter, Vol 21(5)
2011 Erin Cech, Brian Rubineau, Carroll Seron and Susan Silbey. Professional Role Confidence and Gendered Persistence in Engineering. American Sociological Review, Vol 76(5), pp. 641-666.
2011 The Sociological Citizen: Pragmatic and relational regulation in law and organizations. Regulation & Governance, Volume 5, pp. 14-42.
2011 Ruthanne Huising and Susan S. Silbey. Governing the Gap: Forging safe science through relational regulation. Regulation & Governance, Vol 5. pp. 14-42.
2009 Taming Prometheus: Talk of Safety and Culture. Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 35, pp. 341-369.
2005 After Legal Consciousness. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Volume 1. December 2005, pp. 323-368.
To see a full publication list with links to downloadable PDFs, please click here.

Teaching

21A.415J / 11.161J / 14.43J / 15.031J
Energy Decisions, Markets and Policies

Structured around choices and constraints regarding sources and uses of energy by households, firms, and governments, introduces managerial, economic, political, social and cultural frameworks for describing and explaining behavior at various levels of aggregation. Includes examples of cost-benefit, organizational and institutional analyses of energy generation, distribution, and consumption. Topics include the role of markets and prices; financial analysis of energy-related investments; institutional path dependence; economic and political determinants of government regulation and the impact of regulation on decisions; and other forms of government action and social norms regarding desired behavior and opportunities for businesses and consumers, including feedback into the political/regulatory system. Examples drawn from a wide range of countries and settings. OCW site

21A.450J / 17.045J
Power: Interpersonal, Organizational and Global Dimensions

Using examples from anthropology and sociology alongside classical and contemporary social theory, subject explores the nature of dominant and subordinate relationships, types of legitimate authority, and practices of resistance. Examines how we are influenced in subtle ways by the people around us, who makes controlling decisions in the family, how people get ahead at work, and whether democracies, in fact, reflect the will of the people. OCW site

21A.455J / 11.163J / 17.249J
Law and Society

Studies legal reasoning, types of law and legal systems, and relationship of law to social class and social change. Emphasizes the profession and practice of law, including legal education, stratification within the bar, and the politics of legal services. Investigates emerging issues in the relationship between institutions of law and science. OCW site

21A.459
Seminar in Readings on Law and Society

Explores the historical and contemporary literature, theoretical and empirical, tracking the roles of law in society as a common yet distinctive aspect of everyday life. Focuses on law as a social institution, a system, and as a feature of popular culture. Highlights the relationship between the internal logic of legal devices and economic, political and social processes and change. Emphasizes law as a practical resource, a mechanism for handling a wide range of unspecified social issues, problems, and conflicts, and at the same time, as a set of limited although shared representations and aspirations.

21A.802
Seminar in Ethnography and Fieldwork

Introduction to ethnographic practices: the study of and communicating about culture. Subject provides instruction and practice in writing, revision of fieldnotes, and a final paper. Preference to Anthropology majors and minors.

21A.809
Methods for Graduate Research in the Social Sciences

Foundations of good empirical research in the social sciences. Introduction to the basic assumptions and underlying logic of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Explores a variety of approaches to research design, evaluates the products of empirical research, and practices several common techniques. Students develop a framework for their own research project.

21A. 819J / 15.349J
Qualitative Research Methods

Training in the design and practice of qualitative research. Organized around illustrative texts, class exercises, and student projects. Topics include the process of gaining access to and participating in the social worlds of others; techniques of observation, fieldnote-taking, researcher self-monitoring and reflection; methods of inductive analysis of qualitative data including conceptual coding, grounded theory, and narrative analysis. Discussion of research ethics, the politics of fieldwork, modes of validating researcher accounts, and styles of writing up qualitative field research.

Awards

2012 W. Richard Scott Prize for Best Article for Organizations, Occupations and Professions, American Sociological Association
2011 Best Article in Regulation & Governance, 2011
2009 John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
2009 Harry Kalven Jr. Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in Law and Society
2006 Doctor Honoris Causa from Ecole Normale Superiere Cachan in Paris
2005 American Sociological Association, Best article prize in Sociology of Law
2004 American Sociological Association, Best article prize in Sociology of Culture
2004 American Sociological Association, Best Article Prize in Political Sociology
2001 American Academy of Political and Social Science, elected Fellow
2001 American Sociological Association, Special Recognition for The Common Place of Law. Sociology of Law Section
1999 American Sociological Association, Special Recognition Award for contributions to undergraduate teaching of sociology
1996 American Association of University Women, American Fellow

MIT Anthropology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, E53-335, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142
ph: 617.452.2837    fax: 617.253.5363    anthro@mit.edu