Monday, October 19th
Noah Zucker (Columbia), “Carbon Bonds: Identity and the Politics of Industrial Change”
This paper explores how bouts of industrial decline resonate across socially divided polities. Standard accounts suggest that economic shocks prompt similar responses across exposed industries’ workforces, which are also thought to serve as the primary loci of political mobilization. I argue that workers’ social ties can both fracture industries’ workforces and expand the set of individuals responsive to industry-specific shocks. Individuals who belong to a social network with extensive exposure to an industry will be less likely than others to adopt costly behavioral changes in times of relative stability, regardless of their own places of employment. As shocks to the industry become more severe, these individuals will increasingly look to reorient their social and political ties towards groups offering more reliable benefits. In an analysis of the early-twentieth century United States, I find that immigrants with extensive network exposure to the coal mining industry were significantly less likely than other immigrants to pursue social and political assimilation in periods of industrial stability; as industrial contractions intensified, they became increasingly likely to reconfigure their social and political ties. These findings suggest a new network-based framework for explaining past responses to industrial change and projecting future reactions to economic instability.