Susan S. Silbey | People

Susan S. Silbey

Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology

Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management

Room E53-335




Susan S. Silbey holds the Leon and Anne Goldberg Chair in Humanities, Anthropology and Sociology, and is Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences in the Sloan School of Management where she teaches in the programs in Work and Organizational Studies and Economic Sociology. From 2017-2019, she served as Chair of the MIT Faculty.

Silbey is interested in the governance, regulatory and audit processes in complex organizations. Her current research focuses on the creation of management systems for containing risks, including ethical lapses, as well as environment, health and safety hazards. In addition, for fifteen years, she has been part of a team following a national panel of engineers from college to the workplace.

Her award winning articles and books include “Subversive Stories and Hegemonic Tales: Toward A Sociology of Narrative” (1995); “Narrating Social Structure: Stories of Resistance to Legal Authority” (2003); “Governing the Gap: Forging Safe Science Through Relational Regulation,” (2011); The Common Place of Law: Stories From Everyday Life (1998). Other books include In Litigation: Do the Haves Still Come Out Ahead (2003); Law and Science (I): Epistemological, Evidentiary and Relational Engagements (2008), and Law and Science (II): Regulation of Property, Practices and Products (2008).

Silbey is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards including the  Institut des Etudes Avancees, Paris; Russell Sage Foundation (2014-2015); Stanton Wheeler Prize for Mentoring (2015); John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (2009); Doctor Honoris Causa from Ecole Normale Superiere Cachan in Paris (2006); and the Harry Kalven Jr. Prize for advancing the sociology of law (2009). She is Past President of the Law & Society Association, and a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.


The Struggle for Accountability :  Trust and Surveillance in the Cultures of Science

By substituting systems of audit and surveillance for the relations of trust and collegiality that have built and sustained modern science, contemporary environmental health and safety management systems seek to reconstruct the everyday routines and rituals of scientific practice, remaking them into the elements of a new form of sociality. While surveillance and audit are familiar in business and government, these are foreign to the world of science and the professional lives of scientists where traditions of autonomy and individual responsibility have been so powerful in creating the authority of science. This project explores a confrontation between the authority of law and the authority of science and does so in the very heart of science: in the laboratory, a complex technologically organized workplace.


Developing Diverse Leadership for Engineering

With colleagues Brian Rubineau, Erin Cech, and Carroll Seron, Silbey is conducting a longitudinal panel study of engineering students from entry in college to the workplace. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the research revists the panelists every five years after graduation (2007).  Our theoretical model adjudicates among the most important contending explanations for persistent gender stratification in professional employment by testing social psychological theories of causal individual and gender differences, organizational-level processes of culture, chilly climates and tokenism; and social capital theories concerning the efficacy of social networks. The research is designed to identify gaps in our understanding, as well as address some of the methodological problems associated with answering outstanding questions about gendering in STEM occupations.

See “Why are so many women leaving engineering?”

“Bias and belief in meritocracy in AI and engineering”


Governing the Gap: Managing Compliance in Complex Organizations

In collaboration with Ruthanne Huising, Silbey is synthesizing research on regulatory enforcement and compliance with ethnographic studies of the regulation of scientific laboratories. The neo-liberal policies of the last forty years deconstructed some of the most critical mechanisms of the regulatory state, leaving in their wake an abundance inconsistencies and contradictions as residues of the checkered history of 20th century government regulation. Although we risk escalating crises by ignoring the lessons of history, the circumstances in which we act are never exactly the same. Thus, this project seeks to identify the conditions that distinguish regulatory successes and failures across history and cultures, and puts front and center in the project the organized subjects of regulation. We look inside regulated organizations, recognizing them as a web of transactions and norms, to examine how formal and informal organizational practices transform regulatory requirements into normalized activity. We map the range of research on coalface governance (frontline work), while displaying the assumptions and implications of each lever (nudge (individual), bureaucracy (roles, rules and procedures), relational governance (network), organizational culture (assumptions, values, and artifacts) often embedded in recommendations to policymakers or organizational managers. For published work, see "The Sociological Citizen: Pragmatic and relational regulation in law and organizations", Regulation & Governance, Volume 5, 2011, pp. 14-42; “From Nudge to Culture and Back Again: Coalface Governance in the Regulated Organization”, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Volume 14, 2018, 91-114.

Publications|Selected Publications

forthcoming “The every day work of studying the law in everyday”, ARLSS.

“From Nudge to Culture and Back Again: Coalface Governance in the Regulated Organization”, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Volume 14, 2018, 91-114.

2018 Carroll Seron, Susan Silbey, Erin Cech, and Brian Rubineau. "I am Not a Feminist but...": Hegemony of a Meritocratic Ideology and the Limits of Critique Among Women in Engineering. Work and Occupations, 0(0), pp. 1-37.
2015 Carroll Seron, Susan S. Silbey, Erin Cech, and Brian Rubineau. Persistence is Cultural: Professional Socialization and the Reproduction of Sex Segregation. Work and Occupations, 0(0), pp. 1-37.
2015 Joelle Evans, Ruthanne Huising, and Susan Silbey. Accounting for Accounts: Crafting Ethnographic Validity Through Team Ethnography in Handbook of Qualitative Research in Organizations, eds. Kimberly Elsbach and Rodney Kramer, New York: Routledge Publishers, pp. 143-155.
2014 Garry C. Gray and Susan S. Silbey. Governing Inside the Organization: Interpreting Regulation and Compliance. American Journal of Sociology, 120(1), pp. 96-145.
2011 J. Locke, op. cit.: Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets. Journal of Comparative Law, Vol 5(2), pp. 66-91.
2011 The Sociological Citizen: Pragmatic and relational regulation in law and organizations. Regulation & Governance, Volume 5, pp. 14-42.
2011 Ruthanne Huising and Susan S. Silbey. Governing the Gap: Forging safe science through relational regulation. Regulation & Governance, Vol 5. pp. 14-42.
2009 Taming Prometheus: Talk of Safety and Culture. Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 35, pp. 341-369.
2005 After Legal Consciousness. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Volume 1. December 2005, pp. 323-368.
2003 Patricia Ewick and Susan S. Silbey. Narrating Social Structure: Stories of Resistance to Legal Authority. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 108, No. 6, pp. 1328-1372.
1998 Susan S. Silbey, Ideology, Power and Justice, in Justice and Power in Sociolegal Studies, edted by Bryant G. Garth and Austin Sarat, pp 272-308.
1995 Patricia Ewick and Susan S. Silbey. Subversive Stories and Hegemonic Tales: Toward a Sociology of Narrative. Law and Society Review, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 197-226.


21A.450J / 17.045J
Power: Interpersonal, Organizational and Global Dimensions

Using examples from anthropology and sociology alongside classical and contemporary social theory, subject explores the nature of dominant and subordinate relationships, types of legitimate authority, and practices of resistance. Examines how we are influenced in subtle ways by the people around us, who makes controlling decisions in the family, how people get ahead at work, and whether democracies, in fact, reflect the will of the people. OCW site

Seminar in Readings on Law and Society

Explores the historical and contemporary literature, theoretical and empirical, tracking the roles of law in society as a common yet distinctive aspect of everyday life. Focuses on law as a social institution, a system, and as a feature of popular culture. Highlights the relationship between the internal logic of legal devices and economic, political and social processes and change. Emphasizes law as a practical resource, a mechanism for handling a wide range of unspecified social issues, problems, and conflicts, and at the same time, as a set of limited although shared representations and aspirations.

Methods for Graduate Research in the Social Sciences

Foundations of good empirical research in the social sciences. Introduction to the basic assumptions and underlying logic of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Explores a variety of approaches to research design, evaluates the products of empirical research, and practices several common techniques. Students develop a framework for their own research project.

21A. 819J / 15.349J
Qualitative Research Methods

Training in the design and practice of qualitative research. Organized around illustrative texts, class exercises, and student projects. Topics include the process of gaining access to and participating in the social worlds of others; techniques of observation, fieldnote-taking, researcher self-monitoring and reflection; methods of inductive analysis of qualitative data including conceptual coding, grounded theory, and narrative analysis. Discussion of research ethics, the politics of fieldwork, modes of validating researcher accounts, and styles of writing up qualitative field research.


2019 MIT James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award
2015 Stanton Wheeler Mentorship Award, Law and Society Association
2014 Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
2012 W. Richard Scott Prize for Best Article for Organizations, Occupations and Professions, American Sociological Association
2011 Best Article in Regulation & Governance, 2011
2009 John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
2009 Harry Kalven Jr. Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in Law and Society
2006 Doctor Honoris Causa from Ecole Normale Superiere Cachan in Paris
2005 American Sociological Association, Best article prize in Sociology of Law
2004 American Sociological Association, Best article prize in Sociology of Culture
2004 American Sociological Association, Best Article Prize in Political Sociology
2001 American Academy of Political and Social Science, elected Fellow
2001 American Sociological Association, Special Recognition for The Common Place of Law. Sociology of Law Section
1999 American Sociological Association, Special Recognition Award for contributions to undergraduate teaching of sociology
1996 American Association of University Women, American Fellow



Sociology@mit website

FuturePaths website

"The Clash of Professional Autonomy and Regulatory Compliance" (RSF Blog)

The Life of the Law: an interview with Susan Silbey about "dibs"

Susan Silbey on WHYY Radio: Snowy Parking Conflicts in Philly

Robert J. Silbey Memorial Website

Interview on Insights from Anthropology and Sociology on Global Environmental Issues

Engineering Culture and the Reproduction of Sex Segregation

Conversations in Law and Society: Susan Silbey

Welcoming Remarks, Schwarzman College of Computing

“The Fundamental Challenge Facing Higher Education Today”

“#MeToo at MIT: Harassment and Systemic Gender Subordination”

“The Obligations of Citizenship”

“How Not To Teach Ethics”

MITx course

Video: Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets

Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets

Video: My Garden

My Garden