Open only to doctoral students based at universities within the U.S.

Workshop dates:

Spring - May 29-June 2, 2013 in Chaska, Minnesota

Fall - September 18-22, 2013 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The history of public finance is a story about change over time, a tale punctuated by wars, social movements, and revolutions. Yet much of the existing scholarly literature neglects the broader context that has given meaning to fiscal policies. The new historical fiscal sociology is an emerging interdisciplinary field that investigates the relationship between public finance and society. In doing so, it restores the importance of historical and social context to the study of taxation, public debt, and state spending. Scholars in this field pose broad historical and comparative questions about the origins and development of fiscal policies. They also ask about the consequences of these policies for political, social, and cultural life. Taxation is a central institution in modern society. Instead of asking how a particular tax law or policy affects prices and quantities in a particular market, we can also ask such consequential questions as these: How did a particular tax policy develop in the first place? How does the choice of fiscal policy affect notions of citizenship and social solidarity, and vice versa? What is the relationship between tax policy and cultural understandings of gender? How does sovereign debt affect the likelihood of regime stability? What are the cultural conditions that promote greater tax compliance and hence increased public trust in the state? What does taxation have to do with the development of democracy in particular times and places?

The new historical fiscal sociology approaches questions like these by using multidisciplinary methods to understand the causes and consequences of fiscal changes. Rather than building abstract models that are imagined to be of universal applicability, exemplary recent studies delve into the particulars to examine how contrasting understandings of race shaped development of taxation in South Africa and Brazil, how unsustainable fiscal policies paved the way for the fall of the Egyptian dictatorship, how slavery shaped taxation and democracy in colonial America, how tax enforcement undermines the rule of law in Argentina, and how graduated income taxation constrained the development of the American welfare state. In keeping with the methodological pluralism of these studies, we welcome proposals that use any of a wide range of appropriate methods to answer comparative and historical questions about the relationship between public finance and society. Studies may rely on archival sources, qualitative interviews, ethnographic observation, large-N statistical analysis, survey experiments—or, as is increasingly common, on some combination of these methods.

We welcome proposals from students in political science, sociology, economics, history, law, anthropology, psychology, geography, and related disciplines. Despite the label, the new historical fiscal sociology is no monopoly of academic sociology or history departments. “Historical fiscal sociology,” much like “historical political economy,” is a classical label for an interdisciplinary endeavor—the name merely signifies an interest in society and historical change. The successful submission will be centrally concerned with the historical, social, and cultural understanding of taxation or public finance more generally.


  • Daniel Alvord

    University of Kansas, Sociology

    What Do People Hate When They Say They Hate Taxes? Understanding Anti-Tax Sentiment in the United States
    Why are so many Americans hostile to taxes? How are attitudes towards taxes linked to other attitudes? What do people visualize when they say they are against taxes? Those are the questions I propose to address in my dissertation. Unlike most researchers in this field, my focus is attitudinal. While anti-tax movements are widely studied, anti-tax sentiment has received little attention. This is true even though dialogue and dissent in America, from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, often revolve around taxes (and, specifically, fairness in relation to taxation). Previous tax-related research has tended to focus on macro-level forces. I seek to deepen understanding by studying anti-tax sentiment at the micro- and meso-levels, using surveys and follow-up interviews. I hope to understand how anti-tax sentiment intersects with attitudes towards race and nationality, fairness and citizenship. Is anti-taxes animus linked to animosity against welfare recipients? I hope to find out.
  • Jackson Christopher Bartlett

    Northwestern University, African-American Studies

    Lights Out: Race, Fiscal Crisis, and the Powering Down of Detroit's Lower East Side
    Responding to threats from creditors and the State of Michigan to make up a four-hundred million dollar budget deficit, the City of Detroit has implemented a plan to "power down" neighborhoods with high land vacancies and concentrate resources elsewhere. Called Detroit Works, this strategy has included targeted municipal service reductions from street-light shutoffs to reductions in transportation, public safety, and infrastructure maintenance. As the city formally implements harsh austerity measures to re-concentrate its population and, ultimately, resolve its fiscal crisis, black poor and working class home-owners, renters, and transients have found themselves living at the bottom of a formalized two-tiered system of service delivery. I propose a multi-method study to investigate the impact of austerity on the city's poorest target neighborhood, the Lower East Side. Employing document-based and ethnographic methods I intend to link the technocratic debates about public finance solutions in Michigan to their social consequences on the ground.
  • Stephanie L. Bradley

    Florida State University, Sociology

    The Distribution of Postsecondary Education Tax Credits: Racial and Temporal Comparisons
    With the passage of the Tax Relief Act of 1997, politicians sought to redress the postsecondary education gap attributed to a lack of financial resources by offering federal tax credits for college expenses. Education tax credits primarily benefit middle-income families, but little is known about the racial profile of taxpayers who receive such aid. By using data from the 2000, 2008, and (forthcoming) 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey and the Internal Revenue Service, I aim to advance existing research (Long 2004) by exploring the distributional effects of education tax credits within and across income ranges by race, and by examining how this distribution changes during different stages of a national financial crisis. The proposed research serves to shed light on how federal policy contributes to educational cleavages between racial groups, which, in turn, informs an understanding of financial disparities.
  • Emily Swenson Brock

    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Public Administration

    The Private Governance of Public Funds: A Historical-Institutional Analysis of the Public Pension Crisis
    Crippled by a still-recovering economy and decades of actuarial underfunding, public pensions are struggling to sustain promised payments to current pensioners. At the same time, rule-making financial agencies are providing conflicting rules for discount rates determining the potential for a pension fund's future earnings. As the pension policy crisis escalates, this critical juncture has brought to light an important facet of government finance. There are two private rule making bodies suggesting conflicting standards in this regulatory framework. This research seeks to bring attention to these governance issues through a historical-institutional framework that will extend the critical perspectives on government accounting. Focusing on critical junctures will provide this research an analytical framework for suitable empirical analysis of both the pension policy problem and the decisions made prior to this event that changed the legacies of governmental finance.
  • Bryan C. Chitwood

    Emory University, English

    Poetic Investments: Public Finance and the Fiscal Sociology of Anglophone Poetry Since 1945
    During the second half of the twentieth century, poets around the world confronted new challenges to financing their art and livelihood. Public funds became an important source of support for poetry, as well as an important topic in the poems of the period. This project will aim to historicize and contextualize transnational Anglophone poetic responses to and investments in public finance since 1945. Analyzing the routing of those funds, the poems that they enabled, and the personal accounts of organizational leaders and poet-beneficiaries can reveal important insights about how public finance shaped and was shaped by cross-cultural poetic flows. On the one hand, poems, personal financial records, and in-depth interview serve as indices or symptoms of financial developments. On the other hand, consideration of publication and distribution networks and close analyses of poetic source materials offer additional indices of how public finance enabled and impinged on poetic production.
  • Nathan Coben

    University of California / Irvine, Anthropology

    Tracking Property: Taxation and Registration in Ireland's Age of Austerity
    In 2013 Ireland will introduce a property tax. The need for tax-based revenue, brought on by the government's decisions to back the finances of all Ireland's banks and to take out international loans in order to do so, has transformed the bureaucratic organization of property in the country. The Land Registry and Registry of Deeds is now the Property Registration Authority, and the goals of property registration have shifted along with those organizational realignments. In my project I study how the introduction of technical documents (digital maps, streamlined titles in place of uncertain deeds) attempts to make property more legible and centralized for the purposes of taxation. I also will examine whether those new documents, intended to clarify uncertainty in property, do not, in fact, produce new uncertainties, while reenacting familiar unequal social relations.
  • Hoa Duong

    Cornell University, Government

    Policy Accountability and the Institutionalization of Public Finance in Vietnam: Environmental Public Goods Provision and its Effect on Citizen Tax Compliance
    Vietnam's fiscal transformation mirrors its dramatic economic development. It has gone from having crippling budget deficits (in the early to mid 1980s) to having one of the most robust tax bases in the region. This recent experience is ripe for analysis and speaks specifically to the question of why citizens comply with taxation. Is broad tax compliance, as some theorists have posited, due to the enactment of strong legal institutions – which have the effect of criminalizing and deterring tax fraud through the imposition of costly financial penalties? Alternatively, is tax compliance a result of specific political or social norms existing in some national contexts that encourage voluntary tax compliance? My dissertation proposes a third view. Via a sub-national study conducted in Vietnam, I plan to examine how the effectiveness of prior government public policy – operating as a behavioral cue – affects the taxpaying behavior and civic culture of citizens.
  • Camden Hutchison

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, History

    Contested Wisdom: Economic Theory and Tax Policy Rhetoric
    My project explores the historical use of economic theory in U.S. tax policy rhetoric, focusing on twentieth-century income taxation. My goal is to illuminate the processes by which moral, philosophical, and social arguments, prevalent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were gradually supplanted by more "objective" emphases on full employment and economic growth. My project is inspired by my primary source research for my master's thesis, in which I found striking parallels between the tax policy rhetoric of the interwar period (1918-1939) and that of today, particularly the manner in which economic theory was presented as objective fact. By examining the changing ways in which political actors have employed economic theory (and to what effect), I aim to provide a historical perspective on contemporary tax policy debates.
  • Carly R. Knight

    Harvard University, Sociology

    The Taxman in Historical Perspective – Morality and Rhetoric in American Taxation Discourse
    Taxation has, at least, two faces. One the one hand, taxation is a basic economic tool through which states accrue the revenue necessary for governance. On the other, tax policy is the expression of a state's distributional struggles, the field over which societies negotiate conceptions of economic fairness and justice. This project addresses the historical evolution of American moral discourse over the Federal income tax. Using historical, quantitative, and qualitative methods, this project will explore how the moral discourse of taxation has changed over time and how it relates to changing economic and political contexts.
  • Chris McFadin

    University of Iowa, History

    God’s Money: Social Welfare in the French Reformed Church, 1560-1700
    How did French Calvinists provide poor relief for their members without help from secular authorities? Scholars have for a long time studied the broad consolidation and secularization of urban poor relief during the late-medieval/early modern period. In response to rising population levels, municipal governments organized and systematized the secular administration of assistance to the urban poor. French Calvinists present a unique and unstudied challenge to this narrative because much unlike other mainstream Protestants, French Reformed churches developed an independent poor relief agency for their own members. Relying on the authority of their Christian religion, Huguenot leaders across France created a new fiscal policy in which they determined how much their members should pay and, using these funds in combination with their consistory courts, they enforced what historians now call social discipline. My project focuses on how Reformed churches in southern France developed this system in an age of secularization.
  • Marialena Rivera

    University of California / Berkeley, Education

    The Effects of Tax Policy and Public Debt on Private Involvement in Public Education
    The 2008 economic crisis has had devastating implications for society. Housing markets have struggled with depressed property values, making it difficult for school districts to raise money through property taxes. Districts in California have attempted to issue bonds for construction projects through public referenda, with varying success. This study explores the historical development of public bonds and their social and cultural implications for schools, focusing specifically on whether bond passage is related to the level of private involvement in public education. While researchers have examined aspects of involvement of private (for-profit and nonprofit) organizations in public education, educational policy scholarship has not yet focused on the relationship between education tax policies and private sector involvement in public schools. This qualitative study examines school districts that attempted to issue bonds since 2008 and compares their school boards' relative willingness to enter into contracts with private organizations for a variety of services.
  • Michael R. Vasseur

    Indiana University / Bloomington, Sociology

    Facilitator or enforcer? Tax expenditures, utility mandates, and public officials’ understanding of the role of the state in promoting renewable energy production.
    How should governments promote social change? Using the case of renewable energy policy among U.S. states, this project examines how state policymakers understand their choices and their role in promoting change. Focusing on differences between tax incentive-based policies and those which mandate utility company action, this project uses multiple methods and data sources to understand how renewable energy policy is created in the United States. First, drawing hypotheses from literature on welfare state tax expenditures, I assess the relationships between different types of policies, political partisanship, interest group activity, and policy sequencing using longitudinal quantitative models. Second, utilizing archival records of legislative policy discourse and interviews with key policy actors, I examine how local policy actors in a subset of states understand their policy choices, with attention to the processes of frame alignment before and after a policy is enacted.