I study U.S. political history and, within that subfield, I have a particular interest in institutional development. I see my project on the federal government's prosecution of the modern drug war as a continuation and combination of interests, including my engagement with "disorder" studies and American political development.


B.A. (1994) University of California, Davis; M.A. (1996) University of Chicago; Ph.D. (2000) University of Chicago


Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2003-present; Program Officer, National Academies, 2000-2003


U.S. political history

Project Summary

Americans once impressed the western world with their scheme to control the flow of narcotics. This system, put in place early in the 20th century, rested on a comprehensive state organized effort of narcotic inventory, registration, and supervision; in terms more common to political economy, it was a model that was regulatory and rehabilitative, and, as such, it was the most sophisticated scheme of its kind. Forty years later, the United States offered a very different drug control model, one that was prohibitive and punitive, though, like before, this system was also the most elaborate in the world. My book will tell the story of this transition in the goals and defining characteristics of the United States' approach to the narcotics trade, and it will do so with a special focus on federal power, as manifested at home and abroad. Where other scholars have seen a fully-fledged "war on drugs" as the culmination of an anti-narcotic discourse and, especially, the successful instrumentalization of fears regarding the "addict criminal," I expect to argue that a rhetorical and often literal "war" was a successful state-building strategy to overcome institutional divisions and marshal political support not just for a prohibitive and punitive anti-narcotic regime, but also for a central state engaged in much more activity at home and abroad. That is, a "war on drugs" mediated many of the consequences perceived as unwelcome in the reordering of American society and the growth of a powerful central state.

Major Publications

  • The GI Bill, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • "Kidnapping and US State Development," Studies in American Political Development, (Spring 2006)
  • "Trust to the Public: Academic Freedom in the Multiversity," in Academic Freedom After September 11, Beshara Doumani, ed., (New York: Zone Books, 2006)