Sarah Quinn

University of Washington

Sarah Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington. She uses historical research and case studies to investigate how political institutions affect the development of financial organizations and technologies. She also studies processes of moralization and classification. These studies are united by her abiding interest in how social categories interact with systems of power.


In American Bonds: A Pre-History of a Crisis (to be published by Princeton University Press), Quinn investigates the effect of political institutions on mortgage markets. Drawing from a mix of original archival research and secondary sources, the study begins with a landmark national land credit policy in the 1780s, and ends with a policy change in 1968 that laid the foundation for our current housing finance system built around mortgage securitization. Comparing time periods, she finds that across generations and regardless of political affiliation, government officials have used land sales, housing, and credit to sidestep fractured and contentious political institutions, including the separation of powers and debt limits. This study reveals how political institutions affect the ways that government officials come to be creative participants in markets. It reveals how competing moral visions of the American political economy became written in the deep structures of lending institutions, from farmers’ cooperatives to mortgage bonds. And it reveals how Americans have repeatedly turned to land, housing, and credit in an elusive search for widespread economic opportunity that comes without the attendant costs of political conflict, financial risk, or large-scale redistribution.


In addition to her work on mortgage securitization, Quinn investigates the development of federal credit programs (supported with a grant from the Institute of New Economic Thinking), the complex style of American political institutions, and the moral classification of human lives and bodies. She also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in economic sociology, sociological theory, culture, and qualitative methods.