My research identifies non-financial flows of capital such as beauty, status, and attention, and considers how their circulation manifests in inequalities such as in markets, labor compensation, and more recently, in platform capitalism.  Here are some main projects, past and present:

Viral Social Media Content:  Scholars typically approach virality as a matter of circulation; when something “goes viral” on the internet, it spreads far and fast.  My approach is different.  I think of virality as a cultural production and I've been following creative entrepreneurs as they pursue monetized attention on Facebook and other platforms.  This ethnography maps the changing field of cultural production in a digital age and theorizes how algorithms shape creative labor.  Here is an overview in The Economist 1843 summer 2022. 

Beauty:  Fashion modeling is a "winner-take-all" labor market with vastly unequal earnings among models, and between men and women.  Based on fieldwork and interviews in the New York and London modeling markets, my dissertation outlines this form of precarious labor typical of “bad jobs” in the new economy.  

Valuation and Social Sorting:  How does valuation reproduce social inequalities?  With Heather Mooney (BU PhD candidate), we researched the college party scene in Boston, a case to examine inter-status interactions among students -- who gets into which party is tied to status hierarchies and gender.  This team-based ethnography involved 10 undergraduate student researchers and was funded through UROP.

Elite Consumption:  Tracing the connections between beauty, value, and status led me to study elites. My last book, Very Important People, documents how women with valued “bodily capital” generate status, social ties, and economic profits for wealthy men, while women themselves are unable to access such benefits. Based on fieldwork in New York, the Hamptons, the French Riviera, and Miami, this project is part of broader efforts to understand stratification by studying elites, who now drive the world’s sharp rise in economic inequality.


2020    Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit.  Princeton University Press.  May. 

2011    Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model.  Berkeley: University of California Press.


2018    Socio-Economic Review Special Issue, “Elites, Economy, and Society.”  Co-edited issue with Bruno Cousin, Shamus Khan, and Ashley Mears.  Volume 16, Issue 2.


"The Addiction of a Viral High."  In progress. 

“The Performativity of Algorithms in Creative Labor: The Case of Viral Videos on Social Media.”  In progress.

"The Cultural Economy of Attention: Lessons from a Viral Content Farm."  Under Review.

"Playing Cat-and-Mouse with a Platform: Attention Games under Algorithmic Management in the Creator Economy.”  Ashley Mears, Thao Nguyen, Elif Birced.  Under Review. 

“Challenging the Trope of the Hardworking Foreigner.” Patricia Ward, Ashley Mears, and Michel Anteby.  Under review.

“College Partying as a Social Field: An Ethnography of Symbolic Domination.” Ashley Mears and Heather Mooney.  Revise & Resubmit.

 “Elites, Bodies, and Gender: Women’s Appearance as Class Etiquette.”  Anne Monier and Ashley Mears.  Revise & Resubmit.


2022      Frédéric Godart and Ashley Mears. “Transitory Ties: A Network Ecology Perspective on Workers’ Opportunities in the Creative Economy.”  Social Networks

2021       Heba Gowayed, Ashley Mears and Nicholas Occhiuto.  “Pause, Pivot, and Shift: Responses to Sudden Job Loss.”  American Behavioral Scientist, edited by Jeremy Schulz and Laura Robinson.  

2019    “Des Fêtes très Exclusives. Les Promoteurs de Soirées VIP, des Intermédiaires aux Ambitions Contrariées.”  Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales (“Servicing the Rich” Special Issue), 230.   English pre-corrected version is here

2018    Bruno Cousin, Shamus Khan, and Ashley Mears. “Theoretical and methodological pathways for research on elites.” Socio-Economic Review 16(2): 225-249.

2017    Asaf Darr and Ashley Mears. “Local Knowledge, Global Networks: Scouting for Fashion Models and Football Players.” Poetics 62: 1-14.

2015    “Working for Free in the VIP: Relational Work and the Production of Consent.”  American Sociological Review 80(6): 1099–1122.

2015    “Girls as Elite Distinction:  The Appropriation of Bodily Capital.”  Special Issue on New Forms of Distinction, Poetics 53: 22–37.

2014    “Aesthetic Labor for the Sociologies of Work, Gender, and Beauty.”  Sociology Compass 8(12): 1330–1343.

2014    “Seeing Culture through the Eye of the Beholder: Four Methods in Pursuit of Taste.” Special Issue on Measuring Culture, Theory and Society 43(3-4): 291-309. 

2013    “Ethnography as Precarious Work.” The Sociological Quarterly 54(1): 20-34.

2012    Joanne Entwistle and Ashley Mears.  “Gender on Display: Performance and Performativity in Fashion Modelling.” Cultural Sociology 6(4): 1-16.

2012    Noah McClain and Ashley Mears.  “Free to Those Who Can Afford It: The Everyday Affordance of Privilege.”  Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research in Culture, the Media, and the Arts 40(2): 133-149.

2010    “Size Zero High-End Ethnic:  Cultural Production and the Reproduction of Culture in Fashion Modeling.” Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research in Culture, the Media, and the Arts 38(1): 21-46.

2009    Frèderic C. Godart and Ashley Mears.  “How Do Cultural Producers Make Creative Decisions: Lessons from the Catwalk.” Social Forces 88(2): 671-692.

2008    “Discipline of the Catwalk:  Gender, Power and Uncertainty in Fashion Modeling.”  Ethnography 9(4): 429-456.

2005   Ashley Mears and William Finlay. “Not Just a Paper Doll:  How Models Manage Bodily Capital and Why They Perform Emotional Labor.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 34(3): 317-343. 


2023  Review of Creative Control: The Ambivalence of Work in the Culture Industries by Michael Siciliano.  American Journal of Sociology.  Forthcoming.

2021  Review of Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, by Justin Farrell.  American Journal of Sociology.

2019    “Fashion and Its Gendered Agendas.” Oxford Handbook of Consumption.  Editors Frederick Wherry and Ian Woodward.

2018   Review of Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, by Brooke Harrington.  Contemporary Sociology 

2018     Cati Connell and Ashley Mears.  “Bourdieu and the Body,” Oxford Handbook on Pierre Bourdieu. Editors, Tom Medvetz, Jeff Sallaz.

2017    “Puzzling in Sociology: On Doing and Undoing Theoretical Puzzles.” Sociological Theory 35: 138-146.

2013    “The Cool Industries,” in The Sociology of Work: An Encyclopedia, ed. Vicki Smith.  Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

2013    Review of Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon, by Danielle J. Lindemann, 2012.  American Journal of Sociology