Grad Students

Zachary Griffen

Contact Information

Office  Haines A50

My research is on the social organization of economic knowledge, particularly as it relates to education and health. The current focus of my research is on what we might call ‘economization’: how are economic ways of thinking applied to phenomena that we normally think of as social? My dissertation compares the history of education economics and health economics, two research fields that emerged in the 1950s. How does economic thinking about the social come into conflict with other ways of knowing, and what sorts of controversies result from these competing epistemic claims? To what extent do economists influence social policy in education and healthcare? In the dissertation, I ask these sorts of questions about the historical development of concepts in economics (human capital theory, cost-effectiveness analysis, the production function) and about large, government-funded projects related to education or healthcare (the Coleman Report, RAND Health Insurance Experiment, and Project STAR).

I am also involved in collaborative projects on similar topics. With Aaron Panofsky, I am studying public controversies over teacher evaluation and how social scientific debates about "Value Added Models" are related to their use in policy settings. Another project, this one with Stefan Timmermans, investigates the use of economic techniques for evaluating healthcare, such as cost effectiveness analysis. We are interested in how these economic evaluations have been applied to something that is particularly difficult to quantify, newborn genetic screening, and how this knowledge affects public health policy. Finally, I am in the early stages of a project with Alex Tate on "Relative Value Units," a measure used by Medicare providers to guide physician reimbursements.

More broadly, I am interested in the history and organization of social scientific expertise. In particular, I am fascinated by how social scientists gain or lose autonomy over their work, as well as the emergence and decline of social scientific categories. In my mind, these two issues are closely related. How does the organization of knowledge affect what kinds of interventions social scientists can make in public affairs?

Fields of Study

Sociology of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science; Economic Sociology; Sociology of Culture; Comparative Historical Sociology; Sociology of Education; Sociology of Health

Grants and Awards

2016-17 Graduate Research Mentorship at UCLA

2016 Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship at the Social Science Research Council

2014-15 Marvin Hoffenberg Fellow at the UCLA Center for Politics and Public Policy


Aaron Panofsky, Hannah Landecker, Stefan Timmermans, Ted Porter


C.Phil. Sociology, UCLA 2017; M.A. Sociology, UCLA 2015; M.A. International Affairs, Washington University in St. Louis 2013; B.A. Economics and Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis 2010