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My research examines the strategies through which social actors build up their legitimacy and competency within particular structural and cultural constraints by making selective and strategic use of different forms of knowledge (e.g. experiential, abstract, affective). My projects span the fields of medical sociology, the sociology of professions, science and technology studies, and race and immigration. In my dissertation, I examine how professional psychotherapists assert expertise and authority in a medical context dominated by concerns for “evidence,” and financial viability. I draw on extensive ethnographic observations and in depth interviews, and compare the work practices and ideologies of psychotherapists adopting either a cognitive behavioral or a psychoanalytic orientation. I elaborate a typology of professional practices by distinguishing between “techno-scientific” and “charismatic” expertise, and bring to the fore the embodied aspects of working with abstract knowledge. I argue that both at the institutional and the practical levels, cognitive behavioral psychotherapists have been more successful at claiming a legitimate space within the world of medicine than their psychoanalytic counterparts. In addition to the dissertation, two other projects (the latter with Jason Owen-Smith) examine how actors make use of various forms of knowledge to gain credibility in two very distinct contexts: Romanian immigrants making sense of the racial landscape of the Midwestern United States, and scientists testifying in congress on the topic of stem cell research.
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