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Research projects

Treading Carefully: Politics and Expert Work in a Government Agency

In my doctoral dissertation I studied the work of policy and regulation analysts at a government agency in Mexico. From October 2019 to October 2020, I collected ethnographic data at the agency, documenting the everyday work of different teams and their interactions with outside actors.


In my dissertation monograph I explore the challenges analysts face everyday as they fulfill their techno-legal mandate in a political—and increasingly hostile—context. I find these workers go beyond the boundaries of their legal mandate and technical rationality and expand their expertise to include political knowledge and practices necessary to perform their work. The work of policy and regulatory analysts occurs along a continuum formed between strict adherence to legal mandates, norms, and technical criteria on one side, and the interests and directives of powerful actors on the other. As the political context in their work changes, analysts must adapt their expertise to continue to achieve legally and politically acceptable compromises along the continuum.

I successfully defended my dissertation on July 11, 2022 

Working papers and chapters:

Ortiz Casillas, S. "Minimizing the Tradeoff between Political Support and Control in Policy Work"

Ortiz Casillas, S. “Up Against the Wall: How Analysts Manage Political Interference in Regulatory Review” (Revise and resubmit at Regulation and Governance). 

Ortiz Casillas, S. "A Framework for the Study of Expertise in Government Work" (Submitted to the Research in the Sociology of Organizations volume on Expertise in and around Organizations).

Ortiz Casillas, S. "Etnografía organizacional en la administración pública mexicana: combatiendo estereotipos y pensamiento normativo en el estudio del gobierno" (Chapter for book on ethnography in Spanish, "Etnografía en Acción")

Keeping accounts
People with Masks

Participation and organization in a grassroots campaign

In 2018, I spent 5 months doing ethnographic research on a political campaign organized by a group of young activists in Mexico City. I followed the development of the organization from a group of 15 organizers to a campaign organization of almost 300 volunteers. I collected data in the form of field notes, interviews, documents, photos, and videos. The organization made use of a community organizing strategy to mobilize and recruit volunteers. I collected data on the design and implementation of this strategy as well as the everyday work of canvassing and the challenges affecting volunteer participation. 


I am currently writing a paper on the dynamics of commitment and control in this organization. In particular, I analyze how boundaries between social, organizational, and personal dimensions are eroded in order to develop and sustain high commitment.


Ortiz Casillas, S. (2021), Caring as an Organizing Principle: Reflections on Ethnography of and as Care. Journal of Management Studies, 58: 1146-1153.


Working papers:

Ortiz Casillas, S. “When boundaries collapse: sustaining high commitment in a grassroots organization”  

Experiences from the picket line

With Professor Ruthanne Huising (Emlyon Business School) we analyze the experiences of administrative workers during a strike in McGill University in 2011. Using data from field observations and more than 80 interviews with striking workers, we analyze workers' experiences and feelings in the picket line as they try to overcome different challenges and "survive" the strike.

(This article has a provisional accept at Organization Science)

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