Anthony Chen

Associate Professor of Sociology


A political and historical sociologist, Anthony S. Chen is interested in the political development of U.S. public policy since the New Deal, with a special focus on the politics of social policy, civil rights, healthcare, and economic regulation. His first book,  The Fifth Freedom: Jobs, Politics, and Civil Rights in the United States, 1941-1972 (Princeton, 2009) chronicles the forgotten origins of affirmative action, tracing the advent of such policies to the partisan politics of “fair employment practices” in the 1940s and 1950s. The Fifth Freedom received the Gladys M. Kammerer Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA), as well as the J. David Greenstone Award from APSA’s Politics and History Section and the Best Book Award from APSA’s Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section. It was also the recipient of the President’s Book Award from the Social Science History Association.

Chen’s research has appeared in the American Journal of Sociology and the Journal of American History, among others, and he has received grant support from the Spencer Foundation. In 2008, he was a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. Between 2005 and 2007, he was a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley and at UC, San Francisco. Chen was a member of the faculty for eight years at the University of Michigan, where he taught in the department of sociology and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy before joining Northwestern in 2010.

Current Research

The History of Affirmative Action in College Admissions. In collaboration with Lisa Stulberg of New York University, Chen is writing a new book on the origins and development of affirmative action in college admissions. In contrast to other authors—most of whom focus primarily on the role of the courts—Chen and Stulberg place institutions of higher education at the center of their analysis, showing how the initial advent and subsequent transformation of racially-attentive college admissions policies have not only reflected but have also shaped the larger social, legal, and political forces of their times.

The Transformation of the Regulatory State Since the Nixon Administration. By exploiting variation in the trajectory and character of deregulation across selected sectors of the economy since the 1970s, Chen is exploring whether, how, and why the balance of regulatory authority between Congress, interest groups, federal agencies, and the federal courts has changed over time. He is also interested in understanding how the transformation of the regulatory state has affected the distribution of economic risk between taxpayers and the private sector. To what extent can any of the observed changes be linked to the political mobilization of business interests?

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Chen, A. 2012. Virtue, necessity, and irony in the politics of Civil Rights: Organized business and fair employment practices in postwar Cleveland. In What’s Good for Business: Business and Politics Since WWII, ed. K. Philips-Fein and J. Zelizer. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stulberg, L. and A. S. Chen. 2011. A longer view on “diversity”: A century of American college admissions debates. In Diversity in American Higher Education: Toward a More Comprehensive Approach, ed. L. Stulberg and S. Weinberg. New York: Routledge Press.

Chen, A. S., and M. Weir. 2009. The long shadow of the past: Risk pooling and the political development of state health care reform. Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law 34(5): 675-716.

Chen, A. S., R. Mickey, and R. Van Houweling. 2008. Explaining the contemporary alignment of race and party: Evidence from California’s 1946 ballot initiative on fair employment. Studies in American Political Development 22 (2): 204-28.

Chen, A. S. 2007. The party of Lincoln and the politics of state fair employment practices in the North, 1945-1964. American Journal of Sociology 112(6): 1713-74.

Chen, A. S. 2006. “The Hitlerian rule of quotas”: Racial conservatism and the politics of fair employment legislation in New York State, 1941-1945. Journal of American History 92(4): 1238-64.


Anthony S. Chen and Lisa M. Stulberg. Beyond Bakke: The Origins and Development of Affirmative Action in College Admissions. Forthcoming, Princeton University Press.

Anthony S. Chen. The Fifth Freedom: Jobs, Politics, and Civil Rights in the United States, 1941-1972. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.