Tyler Leeds | Sociologist

I am a sociology PhD candidate at UC Berkeley studying digital and legacy media, right-wing politics, and theory. I have published research in Social Problems, Qualitative Sociology, and Sociological Theory, among other venues. My scholarship is complemented by a commitment to teaching, mentoring, and critically engaging curriculum practices.

Dissertation Project

My three-article dissertation considers what a trio of theorists—Stuart Hall, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Pierre Bourdieu—would make of the 1619 Project, an effort by the New York Times to center slavery in the American narrative. Drawing on Hall, I parse how Fox News sparked a moral panic that attacked the Project and how this panic evolved into the subsequent attack on 'critical race theory.' My analysis of Fox News was published by Social Problems, while an article that explains my application of Hall's thought is forthcoming at the Journal of Right-Wing Studies. Thinking with Bourdieu, I trace how the digital transformation of the journalistic field created the conditions of possibility for such a convention-defying work of journalism. An article that expands on this essay was published by Social Problems. My final essay stages a dialogue between the Project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Du Bois, who is frequently invoked across the Project. While Hannah-Jones develops a case for reparations by employing many of the arguments Du Bois made throughout his life, Du Bois sharply opposed such a measure in 1916. My essay probes this surprising opposition by exploring the theoretical foundations of Du Bois's alternative political programs.

Ethnography of Right-Wing Activism

Before the pandemic kept me out of the field, I conducted an ethnography of right-wing activists in rural Northern California, an effort I published in Qualitative Sociology. As the activists I studied agitated for a rural-majority 51st state, they were simultaneously deep into conspiracy theories—from Sandy Hook to "chem trails"—which they pinned on bureaucrats in Washington and Sacramento. At the same time, they showed up and stayed late at municipal meetings, offering thoughtful engagement with the minutia of small-town governance. As a result, my fieldwork was marked by contrasts—conversations ranged from fringe blogs promoting Christian nationalism to debates about the finer points of septic regulations. To understand this mix of anti-government fervor and civic engagement, I explain how background assumptions of capacity and morality shape their imagination of the state. I systematized these assumptions into what I term their “state schema,” which differentiates federal, state, and local agencies, as well as their imagined 51st state, the "State of Jefferson."  

Rethinking Bourdieu with Pain Science

My award-winning article in Sociological Theory builds on the biomedical pain science literature to extend and reformulate Bourdieu's central concept of habitus. I make the case that Bourdieusian theory must recognize that action springs from a "bio-habitus," which both enables and limits the process of socialization and habitual action Bourdieu theorizes. I illustrate my point by describing how the neurological effects of pain limit one's ability to respond to stimuli, thus interfering with habitus expression and revision. While this project stands apart from my main research agenda, it is rooted in my experience of a chronic pain condition.

Background and Contact

Prior to Berkeley, I worked at a daily newspaper in Oregon, where my reporting focused on political tensions in a former mill town experiencing rapid tourism-driven growth. I also covered the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge and debates over the implementation of marijuana legalization. Before becoming a journalist, I earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. A work of public sociology drawn from my research and journalism career was published by the Berkeley Journal of Sociology in 2022. 

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tyler_leeds [at] berkeley [dot] edu

art by Kate Oliver Irick