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Amy Binder

Professor, Chair

Amy Binder received her BA in Anthropology from Stanford University and her MA and PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University. Her principal research interests are in the areas of education, politics, cultural sociology, and organizations.

Professor Binder’s CV is available here.

Professor Binder’s first book, Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools (Princeton 2002), explores two challenges made to public school systems in the 1990s. Marshaling the comparative method, and combining insights from several sociological fields, Binder shows how cultural resources, bureaucratic structures, and the wider political environment influence marginal challengers’ efforts to reform schools. The book received the 2003 Best Book Prize of the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association, the 2003 Distinguished Scholarship Prize of the Pacific Sociological Association, and the 2004 Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Professor Binder’s second book, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives (Princeton 2013), examines how right-leaning college students experience life on two campuses—one an elite private institution, the other a major public university. In this work, Binder and her co-author Kate Wood show that the college years are not simply a time when students lean more heavily into their early political preferences, as fostered in the family and high school. Rather, college is a highly influential period, when campus culture and other university features shape students’ distinctive conservative styles—such as to be confrontational and provocative, or civil and restrained. Becoming Right has been reviewed widely, including in The New Republic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Boston Globe.


In 2017, Professor Binder began work on a new research project that picks up where Becoming Right left off. In this project, she and co-author Jeffrey Kidder examine student activism and organizations across the political spectrum on four public university campuses. Binder and Kidder have already collected data for Wave 1 of their project, during the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections; they plan to collect Wave 2 data when the 2020 presidential campaign gets underway.  

In addition to studying the intersection of education and politics, Professor Binder also researches the links between educational institutions and the labor market. In 2016, she and graduate student co-authors published “Career Funneling: How Elite Students Learn To Define and Desire ‘Prestigious’ Jobs,” which appeared in the journal Sociology of Education. This article, which won a Best Article award, is a case study of Harvard and Stanford universities’ effects on students’ assessments of career prestige—with an emphasis on students’ pathways into finance, consulting, and high tech careers. Pieces of this research also have appeared in the Washington Monthly in the articles “Why Are Harvard Grads Still Flocking to Wall Street?" and “Is High Tech the Answer?

At the request of Sage Publications, Professor Binder and Daniel Davis filmed two videos about their research:

Sage interview about Career Funneling 
Sage interview about The Marketed University 


In other activities, Professor Binder served as the 2014-2015 Chair of the Sociology of Education section of the American Sociological Association, is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, and recently completed a three-year term as deputy editor of the journal Sociology of Education.

At UC San Diego, she has served as director of graduate studies for the Department of Sociology and was a founding member and organizer of an interdisciplinary workshop called The Workshop for the Study of Conservative Movements. She co-organized four UCSD Culture Conferences, resulting in a widely read special issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Professor Binder served as a board member of The Preuss School, UC San Diego’s award-winning charter middle and high school for first-generation, low-income college-goers.