Planning Commissioner

Durham Planning Commission

Jul 2016 – Present Durham, NC

Senior Research Assistant

The Brookings Institution

Jan 2010 – Aug 2012 Washington, DC

Recent Publications

In this chapter, the authors investigate the degree to which organizational ecology (OE) had a long-term impact on the way scholars …

Academic research has become increasingly collaborative, not just in the hard sciences and engineering but also in the social sciences. …

Scholars of nonprofits, interest groups, civic associations, and social movement organizations employ samples of organizations derived …


Under Review (Available Upon Request)

  • Al-Turk, Akram. “The Effects of Resource Dispersion and Policy Implementation on New Policy Adoption: The Case of Affordable Housing in the U.S.” Revise and Resubmit.

    Abstract: How are resources mobilized to effect policy change? And how does the implementation of old policies shape the ways in which those resources are mobilized? Drawing on different theoretical traditions in sociology, political science, and organizational studies, I examine the case of affordable housing policy adoption in the most populous cities in the United States from 1996 to 2010 to address these questions. Using Cox regression and fixed-effects models, I find that the dispersion of financial resources among affordable housing organizations in a city, rather than organizational density, is positively associated with the likelihood of a local affordable housing ordinance being passed. I also find that the implementation of a past, federal housing policy has no effect on the likelihood of a new, local policy being adopted but does have a positive effect on the growth of the affordable housing nonprofit sector in a city. Taken together, these findings build on the policy feedback literature by suggesting that policy changes are often not simply a response to the way an old policy is implemented but are instead a response to the collective action that an old policy sets in motion.

    Keywords: resource mobilization; policy implementation; policy feedback; nonprofit organizations; affordable housing

  • Al-Turk, Akram. “The Supply and Demand of New Ideas: How the Federal Government and Academics Shaped Education Policy in the U.S., 1965-1983.”

    Abstract: How does a new policy paradigm – a coherent set of problem definitions and policy prescriptions – emerge? A new paradigm in education policy in the U.S. emerged in the 1980s that shifted the focus from inequitable access to education toward the need for effective schools and high standards. I draw on government documents, data on changes in academia, and text analysis of academic research to advance an argument about how policies, government agencies, and academics drive the demand for and supply of new ideas that shape new paradigms. I find that the demand for new ideas was driven by the government’s funding of policy-focused and program evaluation studies. In conjunction, many academics in education were dissatisfied with the findings and methods in the field, shifting the focus of how to improve student achievement from socioeconomic conditions to school efficiency. The supply of new ideas was driven by education agencies’ increasing funding of studies of assessment and classroom instruction and by an increasing focus, in academia, on school curriculum and educational psychology. While scholarship on policy paradigms often focuses on interest groups, political elites, and public opinion, my findings contribute to an understanding of how political institutions and knowledge regimes shape those paradigms.

    Keywords: policy paradigms; policy feedback; scientific-intellectual movements; education policy; text analysis

  • Al-Turk, Akram. “Political Partisanship and Collective Action: Explaining the Growth of Interest Groups in the United States.”

    Abstract: What explains the growth in the number of interest groups in the United States? While scholars have proposed a number of broad theoretical explanations for this rise (and for determinants of collective action, more broadly), a systematic analysis of interest group growth in the U.S. is lacking. In this paper, I test the effects that four broad sets of explanations (resource mobilization, policy changes, political partisanship, and issue salience) have on the growth of interest groups. My analysis spans a time period (1970-2005) in which the number of interest groups increased threefold and in which policy changes are increasingly determined by the interests of these groups (Gilens and Page 2014). Using data broken down by policy domain (e.g., health, environment, macroeconomics), I find that, in addition to resource mobilization, high partisanship on an issue – as measured by Congressional roll call votes – is consistently associated with interest group growth. These findings suggest that highly partisan and, therefore, competitive policy domains provide a signal to potential groups that their work may shape that domain.

    Keywords: partisanship; collective action; interest groups; public policy

Works in Progress (Available Upon Request)

  • Al-Turk, Akram. “Effectiveness in the Service of Equality: Paradigm Bridging and the Passage of Major Legislation in the United States.”

    Abstract: What role do policy paradigms play in legislative change? Focusing on two dominant paradigms in American politics—equality and effectiveness—I analyze the text of all public laws from 1973 to 1994 to assess the effect that each of the two paradigms has on major legislation. Using word embedding models, I find that laws—especially in social policy domains—that engage with both paradigms are more likely to be major pieces of legislation than laws that only engage with one or the other. I then use education policy as a case study to show that one explanation for this finding is that interest groups that were best at combining and focusing on these two seemingly contradictory paradigms were more likely to be part of the agenda-setting process (e.g., organizations that testified at Congressional hearings) of an important policy change in the mid-1990s and were influential in shaping the Democratic Party’s newfound support for standards-based reforms in education.

    Keywords: policy paradigms; policy adoption; education policy; word embeddings

  • Levy, Brian L. and Akram Al-Turk. “Stratification in the Storm: How Residential Segregation Produces Inequality in Outcomes of ‘Natural’ Disasters.”

    Abstract: We use block group level administrative data on Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to analyze race, class, and gender inequalities in hurricane damage. Disasters provide a new realm to join the residential segregation and environmental justice literatures. The former highlights demographic inequalities in spatial sorting and housing attainment, whereas the latter emphasizes concentration of toxins and noxious facilities in locations occupied by vulnerable populations. An emergent literature explores environmental injustice in the context of disasters, but this research is hampered by the inability to make causal conclusions of injustice. We estimate fractional heteroscedastic logit models of the relationship between neighborhood composition and hurricane impacts that provide a firmer basis for conclusions of environmental injustice than previous research. We then exploit the random path taken by the hurricanes to design a quasi-experimental test of our initial findings. One disaster exhibits a strong interactive effect between race and class with traditionally-disadvantaged populations segregated into neighborhoods at greater risk of devastation. The other disaster displays a more complicated pattern. These findings indicate that along with overall inequalities faced by disadvantaged groups, there exists important heterogenetiy across settings.

    Keywords: neighborhoods; residential segregation; place stratification; environmental injustice; disasters

  • Al-Turk, Akram. “Assessing the Effects of Policy and Temporally Proximate Threats on Mobilization: The Case of Nonviolent Resistance in the Palestinian Territories, 2003-Present.”

    Abstract: When and how do different types of threats lead to mobilization? While social movement scholars have examined how the costs of action influence collective action – largely by focusing on the effects of state repression – less attention has been paid to the costs of inaction. A few scholars, however, have argued that two dimensions of threat due to inaction may lead to mobilization. The first is a policy threat – a state action that affects a broad swath of the population and that may potentially serve as a focal target for collective action. The second is a physical, temporally proximate threat to a group that is potentially existential. A fuller understanding of how the costs of inaction affect mobilization requires examining the interplay between these two dimensions – broad policy threats and oftentimes localized, temporally proximate threats. Using a dataset I have compiled on nonviolent resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories since 2003, I argue that while local, proximate threats (e.g., home demolitions, the construction of the separation barrier) may have spurred this latest wave of Palestinian resistance, policy threats (e.g., announcements of settlement expansions, the breakdown of peace negotiations) both expand the scope of the movement and sustain it.

    Keywords: social movements; policy threats; nonviolent resistance

  • Al-Turk, Akram and David Rigby. “Framing Contests and Salience: The Emergence and Transformation of Policy Issues in the U.S. Congress, 1948-2015.”


I have taught the following courses while at UNC. For short course descriptions, a list of other things I’ve taught, and more about my teaching, click here.


Other Writing

For policy-related and non-academic writing, click here.

Data and Code

Below is some code (usually in Python or R) that I’ve used to collect or analyze data for research projects I’ve worked on or am currently working on. My goal is to add more in the coming months. Email me if you have questions or suggestions!

Scraping and Parsing Electronically Filed IRS 990 Forms Since 2011

Using Structural Topic Modeling in R

Parsing XML Files to Create a Dataset of Articles from the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)

Using Python to Get Nonprofit Data from the National Center For Charitable Statistics