Boundaries of Obligation

Book Cover

This book shows how ordinary Americans imagine their communities and the extent to which their communities' boundaries determine who they believe should benefit from the government's resources via redistributive policies. By contributing extensive empirical analyses to a largely theoretical discussion, it highlights the subjective nature of communities while confronting the elusive task of pinning down "pictures in people's heads." A deeper understanding of people's definitions of their communities and how they affect feelings of duties and obligations provides a new lens through which to look at diverse societies and the potential for both civic solidarity and humanitarian aid. This book analyzes three different types of communities and more than eight national surveys. I find that the decision to help only those within certain borders and ignore the needs of those outside rests, to a certain extent, on whether and how people translate their sense of community into obligations.

Here is a link to my book Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics.

Here is the web appendix to the book.

Reviews in Perspectives , AJS , POQ , Political Psychology , Nationalism & Ethnic Politics , Governance , and Political Studies . Reference in Editorial Introduction in Du Bois Review .


How Generation Z, as the Multicultural Vanguard, Can Safeguard the Future of America The Pacific Standard . 2019.

Maps in People's Heads: Assessing a New Measure of Context (with Jake Bowers, Daniel Rubenson, Mark Fredrickson, and Ashlea Rundlett). Political Science Research and Methods . 2018.

Politics and the English Language in California: Bilingual Education at the Polls (with Jack Citrin and Morris Levy). The California Journal of Politics & Policy . 2017.

Racism, Group Position, and Attitudes about Immigration among Blacks and Whites (with Vince Hutchings). The Du Bois Review . 2014.

Would We Know 'Integration' If We Were to See It? Measurement and The Imperative of Integration . Political Studies Review 2014.

Bringing the Person Back In: Boundaries, Perceptions, and the Measurement of Racial Context (with Jake Bowers, Tarah Williams, and Katherine Drake Simmons) The Journal of Politics 2012.

Who Fights: Substitution, Commutation, and `Green Card Troops'. 2007. Du Bois Review 4: 1-22.

`Little' and `Big' Pictures in Our Heads: Race, Local Context and Innumeracy about Racial Groups in the U.S. 2007. Public Opinion Quarterly. 71: 392-412.

Racial Threat, Partisan Climate, and Direct Democracy: Contextual Effects in Three California Initiatives (with Andrea Campbell and Jack Citrin). 2006. Political Behavior 28: 129-150.

Two-Headed Coins or Kandinskys: White Racial Identification (with Grace E. Cho). 2005. Political Psychology. 26: 699-720. (Mentioned in 2017 NYTimes Op-Ed by Thomas Edsall )

"Multiculturalism in American Public Opinion" (with Jack Citrin, David Sears, and Christopher Muste). 2001. British Journal of Political Science 31: 247-275.

"Public Opinion Toward Immigration Reform" (with Jack Citrin, Donald P. Green, and Christopher Muste). 1997. The Journal of Politics 59: 858-881.

Book Chapters

Explaining Perceptions of Competitive Threat in a Multiracial Context (with Vincent Hutchings, James Jackson, and Ronald Brown). 2011. In Heather Gerken, Guy-Uriel Charles, Michael Kang, eds. Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Who Belongs? Assimilation, Integration and Multiculturalism in the United States. 2009. In Gary Freeman, John Higley, James Jupp, eds. Nations of Immigrants, 2nd edition. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Jus Meritum: Citizenship for Service (with Grace Cho). 2006. In Taeku Lee, Karthick Ramakrishnan, and Ricardo Ramirez, eds. Transforming Politics, Transforming America: The Political and Civic Incorporation of Immigrants in the United States. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

The Meaning of American National Identity (with Jack Citrin and Brian Duff). 2001. In Richard D. Ashmore and Lee Jussim, eds. Social Identity, Intergroup Conflict, and Conflict Reduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

American National Election Study Reports

"Group Closeness" 1997 NES Pilot Study


Ethnic Context, Race Relations, and California Politics (with Bruce Cain and Jack Citrin). 2000. San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California.