David Kyle

David Kyle

Position Title
Associate Professor


2265 SS&H

Following pioneering work in the areas of transnational migration, migrant smuggling, and human trafficking, David Kyle became intrigued by the central role of how we construct a future, but mostly how others construct it for us in ways that may still project an image of voluntary agency or freedom. He concluded that until we understand this dimension of the social management of everyday imaginative thinking, no state policies or programs would prevent further trafficking into slavery – they may even be contributing to it inadvertently. In addition, such notions as human capital or talent so central to mobility narratives, also have a highly imaginative, even illusory nature. But how should we think about creativity, talent, and the imagination beyond a highly individualistic psychology? Sociology and the social sciences beyond mainstream psychology were critical to the construction and popularization of these concepts, a story mostly forgotten in the popular psychological and business literatures since World War II. This lack of understanding of the recent past of creativity as an idea, and embodying a set of practices, contributes to the kind of managerial-friendly American "meritocracy" (originally coined as a kind of future dystopia by sociologist Michael Young) that has led to levels of inequality not seen since the Jazz Age, one that places the onus of survival on (institutionalized) individual subjects.

To uncover and reinterpret the historical and political foundations, uses and abuses of these intriguing concepts of imagination, creativity, talent and social entrepreneurship – and their often hidden impacts on our lives – David Kyle is engaged in four inter-related historical and contemporary research agendas, with national and international collaborators, which are described below.

Research Focus

(1) The historical institutional invention and management of "creativity," especially the role of the social sciences applied to business interests and labor management during the first half of the 20th Century, culminating in a mid-century reformulation; 

(2) Collective big decisions or leaps and how we come to make them, with special attention to the role of “cognitive migration” and prospective thinking (via mental time travel) and the consequences for both low- and high-skilled labor mobility; 

(3) The growth of the measurement of creativity and innovation as new forms of knowledge production and distribution among social entrepreneurs, social impact investors, and activists as a growing global culture and set of networked institutions. This project, with John Dale, is based on ongoing research in Mexico, Myanmar, and the United States, among others, and partly builds on an ongoing project in Oaxaca, Mexico, with UC Berkeley economist, Federico Castillo, concerning innovative community adaptations to the effects of climate change; 

(4) An original digital humanities research project at UC Davis that has compiled all of the historical newspapers in the United States from 1850 to 1920 (7+ terra-bytes) with the purpose of describing the evolution and diffusion of the creative(ness) meme and the corresponding absence of the noun “creativity,” or its underlying managerial meaning in other related concepts (e.g., inventiveness). This dataset, now being analyzed by a team co-led by the UCD Director for Digital Scholarship, Carl Stahmer. The resulting corpus is 1.5 times the size of Wikipedia’s—including its hidden notes. 

Selected Publications

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. (In Preparation). Inventing Creativity: Managing Creative Tensions in the Space Age. Stanford University Press.

Kyle, D., & Dale, J. (Forthcoming) 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