Short biography


Andreas Wimmer's research brings a long term historical and globally comparative perspective to the questions of how states are built and nations formed, how individuals draw ethnic and racial boundaries between themselves and others, and under which conditions these processes result in conflict and war. Using new methods and data, he continues the old search for historical patterns that repeat across contexts and times. He has pursued this agenda across the disciplinary fields of sociology, political science, and social anthropology and through various styles of inquiry: ethnographic field research (in Mexico and Iraq), comparative historical analysis, quantitative research with cross-national or survey data, network studies, and formal modeling. His recent work has resulted in three books (see this summary for a general readership or biographical interviews in print or as a podcast):


Ethnic Boundary Making investigates how ethnic and racial groups emerge and subsequently transform and how researchers should disentangle these from other processes of group formation based on other modes of categorization. It shows how individuals deploy ethno-racial distinctions in their everyday struggles over honor and power and why this sometimes leads to boundaries that are exclusionary, politicized, marked by cultural difference and deeply felt identities, while in other cases they remain inconsequential for the life chances and identities of individuals, invite little political passion, and separte groups with similar cultures. Paying systematic attention to such differences helps to avoid both an unreflected essentialism, widespread in migration research as well as many "critical" race theories, and an exagerated constructivism according to which ethno-racial boundaries represent mere imaginations that ephemerally change from context to context | Download introduction | Watch a book talk | Read book debate in Ethnic and Racial Studies


Analyzing datasets that cover the entire world over long stretches of time, Waves of War traces the emergence of the nation-state, its subsequent proliferation across the globe, and the resulting waves of international war and domestic ethnic conflict. Political legitimacy is crucial in this process: once nationalism--the idea that like should rule over like--has taken hold in the minds of a population, the ethnopolitical hierarchies of empire are increasingly difficult to justify and anti-imperial wars may follow. After the transition to the nation-state, ethnic groups excluded from national government may protest the violation of the like-over-like principle and eventually rise up in armed rebellion. Wars between states over the fate of co-nationals across the border or over mixed territories may ensue. Long overlooked by students of war and the international state system, nationalism has radically transformed the modern political world and motivated many of its violent conflicts | Read summary in Foreign Affairs | Download introduction | Watch a book talk | Read book debate in Trajectories


Why is political integration achieved in some diverse countries, while others are destabilized by exclusionary regimes prone to separatism and ethnic war? Traversing centuries and continents, Nation Building delves into the slow-moving forces that encourage political alliances to stretch across ethnic divides and build inclusive coalitions: the early spread of civil society organizations, language assimilation, and a states’ capacity to provide public goods. Further deepening political integration, citizens of inclusive states will embrace the idea of the nation as a community of shared historical origin and future political destiny. This is shown by contrasting three pairs of countries from Europe, Africa, and Asia and by analyzing datasets that cover the world over long stretches of history. Colonial legacies, democracy, globalization, or the nature of ethnic cleavages play a comparatively minor role in understanding where nation building suceeds | Download introduction | Watch a book talk at the HUTS or GWU | Listen to a book debate at Columbia University | Read a summary written for the general public or an interview in the Washington Post

In previous work, Wimmer developed a theory of how culture emerges as a negotiated compromise between strategically competent and contextually situated actors (click here for an English version, here for the German original). This theory of cultural transformation provided the basis for two earlier books (in German) that compared the different paths along which indigenous communities in Mexico and Guatemala evolved over the past two hundred years. Another book in German brought several studies on diverse empirical topics, from mythical tales in a Mixe community to cross-cultural love in Zurich, under the same theoretical roof. The same framework also underlies later work on ethnic boundary making and nation building, including a book that compared the divergent trajectories of political development in Switzerland, Mexico, and Iraq.


Professional background

Andreas Wimmer was educated at the University of Zurich, from where he received a PhD in social anthropology in 1992 and a habilitation two years later. He joined Columbia University in 2015 as the Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy. He previouly taught sociology at Princeton University, where he also served as director of the Fung Global Fellows Program, and at the University of California Los Angeles (from 2003 to 2012). Before moving to the United States, Wimmer was founding director of two interdisciplinary research institutes: the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies at the University of Neuchâtel (from 1995 to 1999) and the Department of Political and Cultural Change at the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn (from 1999 to 2002).

Wimmer received the Heisenberg fellowship from the German Research Foundation, was Senior Associate Member of St Antony's College of Oxford University, a fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies Berlin, visiting professor at Harvard University, the European University Institute in Florence, the University of Paris 8, Kyoto University, the Social Science Research Center Berlin, the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, SciencesPo in Paris, and a Jenning Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

For Princeton University Press, Wimmer edits the book series Studies in Global and Comparative Sociology. He is a Fellow of the Boundaries, Membership & Belonging Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an external fellow of the Center for Research and Analysis of Migration of University College London, board member of (among others) the Institute for World Society of Bielefeld University, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, and the Foundation for Population, Migration, and Environment. He is or was associated with the editorial boards of the American Journal of Sociology, World Politics, Sociological Theory, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Nations and Nationalism. He is also a past chair of the Comparative Historical Section of the American Sociological Association.