Grad Students

Zachary Griffen

Contact Information

Office  Haines A50

I study the relationship between economic expertise and social policy. 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'? In my dissertation, I compare the economics of education and health from the 1950s until the present, as well as the influence of this expertise on social policy.  I am interested in the historical development of various concepts in economics (human capital theory, cost-effectiveness analysis, the production function) and the trajectory of large, government-funded projects related to education or healthcare (the Coleman Report, RAND Health Insurance Experiment, the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, and Project STAR).

I am also involved in collaborative projects on related 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, 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.

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


Griffen, Zachary and Aaron Panofsky. Forthcoming. “Ambivalent economizations: The case of Value Added Modeling in teacher evaluation.” Theory & Society.

Griffen, Zachary. Forthcoming. "The ‘Production’ of Education: The Turn from Equity to Efficiency in U.S. Federal Education Policy.” Journal of Education Policy

Griffen, Zachary and Stefan Timmermans. 2020. "The cost of saving babies: How economists justify policies.” Economy and Society. 49(2): 265-286.

Griffen, Zachary and Aaron Panofsky. 2020. "VAM on trial: judging science in teacher evaluation lawsuits.” Journal of Cultural Economy. 13(4): 444-460.

Grants and Awards

2018 Moody Research Grant from the LBJ Foundation

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 (co-chair), Hannah Landecker (co-chair), Stefan Timmermans, Ted Porter, Elizabeth Popp Berman (University of Michigan)


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