Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

David Skarbek

Professor of Political Science and Political Economy


David Skarbek is Professor of Political Science and Political Economy at Brown University. His research studies how extralegal governance institutions form, operate, and evolve. He has published extensively on the informal institutions that govern life in prisons in California and around the globe. His work has appeared in leading journals in political science, economics, and criminology, including in the American Political Science Review, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Journal of Law, Economics & Organization, and Journal of Criminal Justice. His work has been featured widely in national and international media outlets, such as the Atlantic, BBC, Business Insider, the Economist, Forbes, the Independent, and the Times. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University in 2010.

His book, The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System (Oxford University Press), received the American Political Science Association’s 2016 William H. Riker Award for the best book in political economy in the previous three years. It was also awarded the 2014 Best Publication Award from the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime and was shortlisted for the British Sociological Association’s 2014 Ethnography Award.

Skarbek's second book, The Puzzle of Prison Order: Why Life Behind Bars Varies around the World (Oxford University Press), won the Outstanding Book Award from sections of both the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Studies. It was also co-winner of the Best Book Award from the International Association of Organized Crime.