Education shouldn't be a collection of inert facts. Critical thinking means being able to make comparisons and connections.

Matthew Baltz

"With the current administration attempting to redefine the role of government, political alignments are changing," says Professor Matthew Baltz, sociology & anthropology. "Social, economic and political shifts are happening right before our eyes."

Baltz's research focuses on the formation of nation-states, how their institutional capacities evolve, and how these processes relate to economic development. Part of his research has explored state-building and citizenship during the interwar period.

"We take it for granted today, but the stakes attached to citizenship status were low prior to those years," he explains. "Only after nation-states began to attempt to control migration and extend social benefits did a person's citizenship begin to matter much in their day-to-day lives."

Each nation-state is organized differently and provides unique benefits to its citizens. Baltz's students compare differences between the United States and other countries while analyzing how social benefits and economic policies in the United States have evolved over time — and what forces have contributed to that evolution.

"As the United States evolves in the 21st century, it's crucial to understand the roles corporations, powerful individuals and the military have played, and continue to play, in state-building," explains Baltz.

To that end, another area of his research focuses on foreign direct investment. How much is allowed, which countries are encouraged to invest, and how it is regulated are not always transparent. Baltz conducted extensive archival research on the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS), a secretive organization housed within the United States Treasury, to better understand how the process works. "My findings indicate that CFIUS represents a concrete case of neoliberal state-building," he says. "This obscure organization, created in the 1970s and originally expected to be short-lived, was part of a much broader movement to institutionalize 'free market' ideas and practices across various corners of the state."

Baltz says he hopes to cultivate "sociological imagination" in his students by teaching them skills such as identifying patterns and relationships; drawing comparisons across groups, times and places; linking private troubles with larger-scale social forces and public issues; defamiliarizing the familiar; and revealing the arbitrariness of the taken-for-granted.

"Education shouldn't be a collection of inert facts," he says. "Critical thinking means being able to make comparisons and connections. I want to give my students a framework for seeing the underlying patterns behind what's happening in the world today."

Posted Oct. 6, 2017