Sociology of Law, Economic Sociology, Comparative and Historical Sociology, White-Collar Crime, Finance and Regulation, Sociological Theory, Space and Place
Broadly, I examine the institutional and ideational supports of legitimacy, trust, and ignorance. My main line of research surveys the rise and fall of the Stanford Financial Group fraud, a decades-long Ponzi scheme that left roughly 20,000 victims with $7.2 billion in losses. My doctoral research traced the scheme’s development in Stanford’s two largest markets, the U.S. and Venezuela, and accounted for the fraud’s longevity in light of years of regulatory and negative media attention toward the firm. Research on trust tends to spotlight the characteristics of the trustee-trustor pair. I sought instead to explain Stanford’s “trustworthiness,” conceptualized as the collectively produced image of that firm’s probity. By widening the usual trust-theoretic focus, I captured the often-unwitting collaboration of an assortment of third-party actors across the Americas who, together, rendered the firm trustworthy. This research draws on in-depth interviews with 124 respondents, mostly defrauded investors, conducted in six cities in the U.S. and Venezuela, as well as a rich mix of legal, regulatory, and corporate documents.
This project has since evolved into a book manuscript, tentatively titled Truth’s Chimera: Trustworthiness and Ignorance in the Stanford Financial Group Fraud, that complements my previous work on trustworthiness with a focus on the social production of ignorance. Existing scholarship documents how organizations both cultivate ignorance internally (as a strategy to ward off culpability) and foist it on the public (to maintain advantage). My work, however, illustrates the accidental, or non-strategic, production of ignorance in expert organizations, and the active role that laypeople play in authoring their own ignorant accounts of the world. Moreover, in comparing the “expert ignorance” of U.S. federal securities regulators with the “lay ignorance” of Stanford’s U.S. and Venezuelan depositors, I show that both stem from such actors’ reliance on unstable forms of normative and epistemic authority. With its combined focus on the production of trustworthiness and ignorance, Truth’s Chimera sheds new light on a topic of real-world, sociological, and theoretical consequence: how individuals and organizations—malfeasant and upstanding, alike—acquire and maintain legitimacy.
Leslie, Camilo. 2016. "Territoriality, Map-mindedness, and the Politics of Place." Theory and Society 45(2): 169-201.