Anthony Johnson

Area(s) of Interest:  Social Inequality; Culture; Sociology of Education; Higher Education; Race/Ethnicity, Class, and Gender; Science, Technology Engineering, and Math (STEM); Mixed Methods


My research is broadly at the intersection of education, culture, and social stratification. Specifically, my research examines how college students navigate academic peer groups in educational settings that formally and informally promote group work as a way of understanding new forms of inequality reproduction at America’s top colleges. My dissertation “Social Identity, Campus Culture, and Academic Peer Networks at Selective Colleges and Universities” is a study that offers a multilevel cultural framework to understand how processes at the institutional, network, and micro-levels create socially segregated and stratified academic peer groups. Drawing on interviews with a sociodemographically diverse sample of engineering students supplemented by ethnographic observations, I take an in-depth look at how academic peer networks are formed and negotiated. I show how various institutional practices around grading contribute to a selective form of peer collaboration. I also show how students draw upon cultural similarity to navigate academic peer groups, and how students’ participation in extracurricular activities helps to foster these networks. These academic sorting mechanisms, while seemingly innocuous, have unintended consequences as they unevenly distribute academic resources and learning opportunities among students, thus compounding pre-existing educational disparities. This research makes theoretical contributions to sociological scholarship on peer networks, social stratification, and academic achievement in higher education. It also provides policy implications for higher education practice in an era of student-centered, peer collaborative learning approaches.

Future research will test the generalizability of the qualitative findings by predicting various achievement outcomes, using a nationally representative survey dataset of a sociodemographically diverse sample of students at selective colleges and universities.

Research Fellowships/Grants/Honors

2016, National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship    
2016, Maurice J. and Fay B. Karpf Award, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University  
2016, Graduate Research Grant, The Graduate School, Northwestern University   
2013, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
2013, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship (Alternate)