Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Paul Attewell

Committee Members

Ming Xia

Stephanie Luce

Nadia Doytch

Subject Categories

Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Work, Economy and Organizations


US trade policy; bilateral investment treaties; NAFTA; TPP; political sociology


Previous sociological studies on U.S. trade policy institutions concluded that “free trade” political actors had durable power to determine U.S. trade policy. This conclusion was proven wrong when the Trump administration promised “a new direction” and to implement an “America First” trade policy. My dissertation serves to explain the U.S.’ political transition away from “free trade” and towards “nationalist” trade policy. I do this by examining the politics of U.S. international investment agreements, which are central to U.S. trade policy. As case studies, I use the investment agreements from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which are the first and most recent U.S. free trade agreements with developing countries, although the U.S. is no longer a member of the TPP. I use a qualitative method called “process tracing” to document their negotiations, in which competing actors became either policy-makers or policy-takers. I show how and why “free trade” political actors successfully negotiated and implemented the NAFTA, and how and why “free traders” unsuccessfully implemented the TPP in the U.S. I conclude that U.S. trade and investment agreements had polarizing effects in the U.S., which empowered “nationalists” and social movements to force major revisions to U.S. trade policy.