Watson Institute at Brown University
Public Policy

Adaner Usmani

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs

Areas of Interest: Labor and social movements, democratization, crime and incarceration, quantitative methods.


Adaner Usmani received his PhD in Sociology from New York University, and his BA in Social Studies from Harvard College. He was born in Pakistan but has spent the last half of his life in the United States.  

His research interests span two different areas. One project examines the rise and fall of labor movements over the 20th and early 21st centuries and considers the effects of these facts for political change. Another project examines American mass incarceration, with an eye on the racial politics of its origins and reproduction. 


Adaner's first project grows out of his dissertation. In it, he reconsiders an age-old sociological puzzle: how, given enormous inequalities in income and wealth, do ordinary individuals succeed in mounting credible challenges to powerful interests? His work seeks answers to this question in the varying fortunes of the labor movement. He shows that workers are best placed to solve collective action problems and win concessions when they fill roles that give them leverage over economic life--where they have disruptive capacity. One paper shows that the ebb and of flow of these disruptive capacities is the best available explanation of why unions rose and fell in the 21st century, and also that the muted growth of these disruptive capacities explains the relative weakness of unions in the developing world. In a separate paper, forthcoming in the American Journal of Sociology, he argues that these insights have been missing from the literature on democratization, which either assumes away or oversimplifies the challenge of anticipating successful non-elite collective action.  

With John Clegg, Adaner has written about the racial politics of the punitive turn in American criminal justice. Conventional wisdom holds that America's carceral state was built by a revanchist white majority, but they find considerable support for a revisionist view that punitive policies found a hearing amongst black elected officials and the black public. They use a variety of evidence to argue that the conventional account needs revision--though not inversion. Even though African-Americans and their elected representatives often supported tough-on-crime policies, punitiveness was not a first-order preference. Rather, this support was offered amidst political constraints that severely narrowed the field of available policy options. 


“Democracy and the Class Struggle,'' forthcoming at the American Journal of Sociology.

“Social Movements,'' with Jeff Goodwin, in American Governance, edited by Stephen Schechter, Thomas S. Vontz, Thomas A. Birkland, Mark A. Graber, and John J. Patrick. Vol. 5. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016.

“The Abject Condition of Labor in Pakistan,'' with Kamal A. Munir and Natalya Naqvi. International Labor and Working-Class History Vol 87 (Spring 2015).

“The Indian State and the Capitalist Class'', with Vivek Chibber, in The Routledge Handbook on Indian Politics, Atul Kohli and Prerna Singh eds., London: Routledge, 2013.


Crime and Punishment in the USA