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Anthony Chen

Associate Professor of Sociology and of Political Science (by courtesy)

PhD, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 2002

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, and business-government relations. 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, the Annual Review of Sociology, the Journal of American History, and the Sociology of Education, among others, and he has received grant support from the Spencer Foundation. In 2014-15, he was a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, and he was a visiting scholar in 2008 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. Along with Eric Schickler, Chen is former co-editor of Studies in American Political Development.Chen and Stephanie L. Mudge are editors of the Cambridge Studies in Historical Sociology, a new book series based at Cambridge University Press.

Current Research

The History of Affirmative Action in College Admissions. In collaboration with Lisa Stulberg of New York University, Chen is completing a book on racially conscious affirmative action policies in college admissions. Based on their research in archival manuscript collections, they are exploring the origins and development of such policies at America’s most selective colleges and universities. Chen and Stulberg are interested in understanding how and why college administrators came to incorporate racial considerations into the admissions process as well as the range of social, political, legal, and institutional forces driving the transformation of such programs over time. They hope that understanding the history of affirmative action will serve as a useful guide for thinking clearly about the policy today.

Organized Business and the Development of Public Policy. How politically powerful is organized business in the United States? What kind of independent influence, if any, does it exert on the content and design of public policy? Through what channels and mechanisms? Is organized business simply one of many powerful collective actors in American politics, or is it consistently the most influential of them all? Chen is developing a new long-term project that explores whether, how, and to what extent organized business influences politics and policy in the United States. The project is based on close-up case studies of legislative, legal, and regulatory conflict in selected industries as well as surveys of public opinion. Chen recently completed a review of the multi-disciplinary literature, and he is continuing work on an article that lays out some basic theoretical intuitions and explores selected case studies as a proof of concept.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

Chen, A.S. and L.M. Stulberg. 2020. Before Bakke: The Hidden History of the Diversity Rationale. University of Chicago Law Review Online.

Chen, A. S. 2019. In the private interest? Business influence and American democracy. In Can America Govern Itself?, ed. by F. Lee and N. McCarty. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mudge, S. and A. S. Chen. 2014. Political parties and the sociological imagination: Past, present and future directions. Annual Review of Sociology 40: 305–50.

Stulberg, L., and A. S. Chen. 2014. The origins of race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions: A comparative analysis of institutional change. Sociology of Education 87(1): 36–52.

Chen, A. S., and L. M. Stulberg. 2013. Racial inequality and race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions: A historical perspective on contemporary prospects and future possibilities. In Beyond Discrimination, ed. F. C. Harris and R. C. Lieberman, pp. 105–34. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Chen, A.S. 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.



Anthony S. Chen and Lisa M. Stulberg. Beyond Bakke: The Origins and Development of Affirmative Action in College Admissions. Under contract, 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.