Quinn Mulroy

Quinn Mulroy

Assistant Professor, Human Development and Social Policy
Assistant Professor (by courtesy), Political Science
Faculty Associate, Institute for Policy Research



Quinn Mulroy is a political scientist whose research centers on the study of inequality (racial, economic, and gender) through the lens of the policies, citizens, and political institutions that can reinforce and/or challenge its persistence in American politics. She is particularly interested in studying inequality from the perspective of policy implementation -- not only by the government agencies charged with formally enforcing policy through top-down means, but also through the private citizens who can engage in informal and quite hidden actions that perform policing and regulatory functions. While many of her projects take a "long view" of politics and policy, and examine the historical development of inequality and implementation processes over time, she also employs other methodological approaches (such as interviewing, survey experiments, and statistics) in a number of ongoing projects to explore these questions.
Her forthcoming book, Agents of Litigation: How the American Bureaucracy Leverages Private Legal Power to Make Policy Work, explores how administrators in civil rights and environmental agencies – constrained by mid-20th Century legislative compromises denying them adequate administrative powers or resources – developed innovative and entrepreneurial strategies to mobilize private citizens to bring lawsuits against policy violators in the courts. At its core, this research project, seeks to better explain how rights protection actually works – and doesn’t work – in the U.S. In contrast to accounts of increased legal mobilization in the last half century that suggest private citizens and groups have defiantly turned to the courts to fulfill regulatory demands largely unmet by the allegedly weak American bureaucracy, this book reintegrates the actors and institutions that compose the administrative arm of the state into our larger developmental narratives of regulation in 20th Century American politics. Earlier versions of this project received the Leonard D. White Best Dissertation Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 2012, and the 2012 Best Conference Paper Award from APSA’s Law & Courts Section. 
As an extension of these lines of research inquiry, Mulroy also has a number of ongoing research projects examining the development and implementation of social policy addressing racial, economic, and gender inequality. The first explores the development of informal means for policing Title IX policy on college campuses and uses ethnographic observation and interviewing to examine how these experiences shape the legal consciousness of target populations and produce feedback effects for attitudes toward government institutions and political engagement. The second
is a comparative project that examines how partisan positioning on social welfare policy in the U.S. and France is shaped by race, immigration, conceptions of “the other,” and the current rising populist tide. The third engages questions concerning the historical development of partisan approaches to the political framing of higher education policy, particularly with respect to programs that target minority and underserved student populations. 

Each of these research projects is centrally focused on not just understanding policy ‘as written,’ but also how the implementation process shapes the politics of and the legacy of partisan and ideological position-taking on social policy. In doing so, this research agenda speaks to the importance of understanding the subtle interactions between state and society that occur in the process of addressing inequality – across substantive policy areas, institutional contexts, and historical moments.

A Chicago native, Mulroy received a B.A. from the University of California-Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University, and after living on both coasts, now finds herself back in the 'middle' of things. Her work has been recognized by visiting fellowships and grants from the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, the American Bar Foundation, Princeton University's Law and Public Affairs Program, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, and the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy.

Research Interest Keywords:
Inequality, American political development, social policy, private policing/regulation, policy feedback, civil rights (employment, housing, education), racial politics, law and courts, public administration, Congress, presidency, political institutions, mixed methods.


Curriculum Vitae

Adobe Acrobat PDF View Quinn Mulroy's CV.


  • 2018 - Outstanding Professor Award, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University
  • 2012 - Leonard D. White Best Dissertation Award, American Political Science Association
  • 2012 - Best Conference Paper Award, American Political Science Association, Law and Courts Section



Year Degree Institution
2012 PhD, Political Science Columbia University
2001 BA, Political Science University of California, Berkeley

Selected Publications

Mulroy, Quinn (Working Paper/In Press/Under Review). Agents of Litigation: The American Bureaucracy and the Regulatory Power of Private Lawsuits. Forthcoming, "Studies in Postwar American Political Development" series at Oxford University Press.

Mulroy, Quinn and Shana Gadarian (2018). "Off to the Courts? Or the Agency? Public Attitudes on Legal and Bureaucratic Approaches to Policy Implementation". Laws, Special Issue: Intersection between Law, Politics and Public Policy, 7: 1-18.
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Mulroy, Quinn (2018). "Enforcing Rights Protections: Private Civil Rights Litigation and the American Bureaucracy" in Dodd, Lynda (ed), The Rights Revolution Revisited: Perspectives on the Role of Private Enforcement of Civil Rights in the U.S. Cambridge University Press.

Katznelson, Ira and Quinn Mulroy (2012). "Was the South Pivotal? Situated Partisanship and Policy Coalitions during the New Deal and Fair Deal". Journal of Politics, 74(2): 604-620.
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Bimes, Terri and Quinn Mulroy (2004). "The Rise and Decline of Presidential Populism". Studies in American Political Development, 18(2): 136-159.
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Research Interests

Political analysis; policy development and implementation; political institutions (law and courts, regulatory agencies, Congress); civil rights, environmental, and education policy; relationship between state and society/public and private; and American political development.


Works In Progress

2019 When the Second Dimension Comes First: Populism, Race, and Welfare State Exclusion in the U.S. and France (with Thomas Ogorzalek)
This comparative project examines how partisan positioning on social welfare policy in the U.S. and France is shaped by race, immigration, and conceptions of “the other.” Today, formerly homogeneous European nations with historically generous welfare states are quickly becoming more diverse, and a right-wing populist backlash has ensued in many of these countries. Scholars suggest that social heterogeneity is associated with lower levels of welfare state provision, with the U.S. as a crucial case. In many nations, however, this contemporary backlash is characterized not by calls for social safety net retrenchment, but exclusion. Building off of scholarly accounts of welfare state development and the political economy of racial diversity, this project compares the “third-party” role played by obstructionist southern Democrats during the U.S.’s first major wave of welfare policy development in the 1930s and 1940s to that played by far-right parties in France today. In each case, the nation’s central partisan cleavage - defined by competing investments in state-building, on one hand, and state-leveling, on the other - was complicated by the presence of a third group interested in accruing the benefits of state welfare policy while also excluding those considered “nonmembers” of society. In so doing, this third bloc - southern Democrats in the U.S. and the National Front in France - added a major second dimension to state welfare politics but, in the end, produced quite different proposals of what the welfare state can do and should provide. Relying on parallel contemporary sources from the two cases, this paper identifies the sequence of state building, diversity, and third bloc emergence as an important role for explaining the different trajectories of these proponents of exclusionary social safety net policy.

2019 Fighting for Equality: The Political Development of Higher Education Policy at FIPSE, 1973-1999 (with Heather McCambly)
In this paper, we explore how claims of bureaucratic autonomy - built as they often are on claims of expertise, knowledge, and institutional prestige - can work to undermine policy goals specific to addressing racial inequality. Using a longitudinal case study of the development of reputational expertise at the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), we examine how these frames, over time, shift the policy aims of the agency and the target population ultimately served. Founded in 1973, FIPSE was modeled after the flexibility of a private philanthropic foundation and charged, until its shuttering in 2018, with disrupting postsecondary educational racial inequalities by investing in innovative projects that expand opportunities to underrepresented groups. Through a historical analysis of the development of this agency charged with addressing expansive inequality in U.S. higher education, we employ a qualitative content analysis of congressional hearings, budget appropriation documents, and congressional research service materials from 1969 to 2018 to analyze the relationship between claims of agency expertise and different conceptualizations of inequality (e.g., race or class, sharply or vaguely defined), and find that a reliance on arguments for institutional autonomy based on agency innovation, expertise, and prestige are associated with a shift in the conceptualization of the proper target populations of the agency - one that shifted the gaze of this grantmaking agency away from higher education institutions serving underrepresented racial groups.

2019 Overseen but Not Heard: Institutional Neglect, Predation, and the Development of Self-Policing Strategies on Sexual Assault by College Women (with Simone Ispa-Landa and Sara Thomas)
The wide range of recent revelations associated with the #MeToo Movement indicates that sexual violence is pervasive in many settings and yet, it is still remarkably underenforced. But as much as women report feeling unseen, unheard, and ignored by formal institutions of authority on the problem of sexual assault, they also report feeling too seen, over-exposed and surveilled on this issue, experiencing revictimination at the hands of authorities that turn the disciplinary focus back on the victim. In other words, women navigating issues of sexual assault in the U.S., we argue, occupy an important but underexplored liminal space vis-a-vis institutions of authority -- one is which they are simultaneously not only overseen, but not heard. How does one make sense of this political world? How does one learn to resolve such contradictions? We join a small set of new studies investigating how these overseen but overlooked groups learn to navigate and actively respond to their political position. Through in-depth interviews (N=37) with women attending a university with known incidents of sexual assault, we present novel findings with insights for better understanding these groups. First, we observe the processes through which college women consciously and deliberately grapple with their incongruous status vis-a-vis institutions of authority. By studying this group of young and, for the most part, otherwise privileged students likely entering this liminal space for the first time, we provide a useful lens for observing how conscious political learning takes place during particularly impressionable years for citizens. Second, in contrast to most studies of policy feedback -- particularly those exploring the political demobilization effects of institutional distrust and betrayal -- we find that study participants engaged in active, participatory responses, building informal self-policing structures for addressing incidents of sexual assault (e.g. prevention, punishment, monitoring, surveillance, information dissemination, and proceses of democratic decisionmaking).

Last Updated: 2019-09-20 16:10:57