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David Kyle


  • Ph.D., Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, 1996
  • M.A., International Development, Florida International University, 1989
  • B.A., Psychology, Loyola University, 1986


I have three book projects under contract, reflecting my areas of research, all connected by my agenda to understand the origins and impacts of "talent-ism," and the social uses of the imagination and "creativity." This focus began with my work with Saara Koikkalainen on "cognitive migration," as a precursor to physical migration, and the realization that notions of "the imagination, creativity, and talent" are mysterious and highly problematic, yet strangely able to avoid serious sustained critique. My work seeks to uncover the deep historical cultural currents and social movements at play and how their ideological work in institutional settings is largely unnoticed, though critical to understanding the nature of social inequality and the decadence of contemporary cultures (as a fragmentation of values and symbols).

1) "Natural Talent: An Unnatural History" (Stanford University Press)

This book, my primary writing project, uncovers the centrality of imagining each other's potential and the forms it took in the context of democratic aristocracy, slavery, racism, sexism, industrial capitalism, colonization, and the educational and managerial revolutions that came to support a "meritocracy" (a word coined in 1958 by sociologist Michael Young as a dystopic Orwellian world of ranking young brains and the disruptive result in extreme inequality that would ensue over coming decades). During the Cold War, this talent-ism captured and remade creativeness in its own image, giving us "scientific creativity." Ultimately, this is a book about current forms and narratives of inequality and what Bourdieu labeled, "The Racism of Intelligence."

2) "Global Human Smuggling: Control, Complexity, and Creativity in Unauthorized Mobility," 3rd edition" with Luigi Achilli (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Building on the first two editions (with Rey Koslowski), this edition, due in print in 2020, contains 18 new chapters from a diverse group of authors writing about nearly every region of the planet and every dimension of the topic. The book could not be more timely as the reality and rhetoric of unauthorized mobility is reshaping domestic and international politics, and dividing citizens in ways now compared to the pre-Civil War period in the U.S. Migration policies that have both intended and unintended impacts in facilitating or curtailing migrations, are virtually defined by a hidden talent-ism in which the only thing agreed upon, across the political spectrum, is that the "talented" should be favored for entry.

3) "Coffee Culture: Coffee and Café Life Around the World" with Federico Castillo and Katie von der Lieth (ABC-CLIO Press).

This will be a wide-ranging volume with multiple contributors due in 2021, useful as an introduction to the world of specialty coffee, especially the social, cultural, and political dimensions of the second most traded commodity on the planet. My interest in coffee started with the idea that a sociological understanding global problems, and their historical contexts, could be usefully taught through a coffee theme, resulting in the course, "World in a Cup: Global Social Change and Coffee." Research on coffee production, including a current "farm crisis" due to historical low prices to growers, took me to Italy, Ecuador, and Nepal in 2018. This may seem disconnected from my other work, but issues of value, merit, talent, creativity, and social and physical mobility are very much central to this project. Example: the Guatemalan coffee growing regions have some of the highest levels of migration to the U.S., many joining the caravans seeking asylum in the U.S., now set to be perhaps a central focus of the American presidential campaign now underway.

My past work pioneered the concepts of "transnational migration" and role of third party actors in migration processes, which I labeled migration merchants as part of a migration industry. All of these concepts have taken on a life of their own, in same ways that I may not fully support but nonetheless opened up important conversations for renovating migration research. See "Transnational Peasants: Migrations, Networks, and Ethnicity in Andean Ecuador" (2000, JHU Press).

I am a founding member of the UC Davis Migration Cluster, and an active member in the new UCD Coffee Science Center.

I've taught jazz piano privately for fifteen years and perform with improvisational musical groups, including my band Mercurial Mind.

Selected Publications

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. (In Preparation). Inventing Creativity. Stanford University Press.

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. 2017. The risky business of transformation: Social enterprise in Myanmar's emerging democracy, in Melissa Crouch (Ed.) The Business of Reform: Law Reform, Economy and Development in Myanmar. Cambridge University Press.

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. (2016) Smart humanitarianism: Re-imagining human rights in the age of enterprise. Critical Sociology 42 (6): 783-797.

Kyle, D., & Koikkalainen, S. (2015) Imagining mobility: The prospective cognition question in migration research, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. (2015) Smart transitions? Foreign Investment, Disruptive Technology, and Democratic Reform in Myanmar, Social Research. Link to article: https://muse.jhu.edu/loginauth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_research/v082/82.2.dale.html

Kyle, D., & Koslowski, R. (Eds.) (2011) Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives, 2nd Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kyle, D. (2000) Transnational Peasants: Migrations, Networks, and Ethnicity in Andean Ecuador. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


SOC 138, Economic Sociology

SOC 1, Introduction to Sociology (Creativity Edition)

SOC 104/ IRE 104 International Mobility

SOC 195/295 Sociology of Creativity


2013      UC Davis IFHA ($450,000) “Managing Temporary Migration” (with four co-investigators).

2013      PIMSA ($40,000), “Creative Approaches to Mobility, Health, and Habitat in Oaxaca.”

2012      UC MEXUS ($25,000), (CoPI) with Rick Mines and Humberto Gonzalez Chavez, “The Impact of Mexican Industrial Agriculture on the Environment, Migration and Social Conditions: A Case Study of Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco.”

1997      Early Career Award, Rural Sociological Society