Peter McMahan

PhD Candidate

Department of Sociology

University of Chicago


My work examines the creation and negotiation of shared social institutions. I look at the role of structure, medium, and context in determining the coherence of shared norms and implicit knowledge.

My dissertation investigates the structural features of social status and prestige that are reflected through various types of observable relations. I use textual conversations (both online interactions and transcripts of face-to-face conversations) to uncover asymmetries in the linguistic styles of speakers, and use these asymmetries to infer relations of status difference between individuals. The global structures that the dyadic status relations describe underlie processes of influence such as the emergence and momentum of new topics and the eventual outcome of conflicts. This work links macro-level status hierarchies to the interpersonal interactions where they are realized and maintained, emphasizing the importance of both global and local status orders in individualsā€˜ social contexts.

Other current research projects include:

  • an analysis of the use of ambiguous language in scientific literature, and its influence on patterns of citations (with James Evans).
  • development of methodologies incorporating network autoregressive characteristics into linear models (with John Levi Martin).
  • an investigation into the evolution of perceived network structure (cognitive nets) among graduate students (with Mario Small and Vontrese Pamphile).

I focus on mathematical, statistical and computational methods, including network analysis, Bayesian inference, stochastic modeling, and (occasionally) agent-based models.


I regularly co-teach (with Michael Castelle) an interdisciplinary course at the University of Chicago on computational methods for the social sciences. The course’s most recent syllabus can be found on the course website.

I have also been an assistant for a number of courses, including Statistical Methods of Research (with Stephen Raudenbush), Internet and Society (with James Evans), and Content Analysis (with James Evans)

Curriculum Vitae