Before to moving to the GSD in 2011, Davis served as the head of the International Development Group in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, where she also had a term as Associate Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. Trained as a sociologist, Davis’s research interests include the relations between urbanization and national development, comparative urban governance, socio-spatial practice in conflict cities, urban violence, and new territorial manifestations of sovereignty. Her books include Transforming Urban Transport (with Alan Altshuler) (Oxford University Press, 2018), Cities and Sovereignty: Identity Conflicts in the Urban Realm (Indiana University Press, 2011), Discipline and Development: Middle Classes and Prosperity in East Asia and Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2004; named the ASA’s 2005 Best Book in Political Sociology), Irregular Armed Forces and their Role in Politics and State Formation (Cambridge University Press, 2003), Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century (Temple University Press 1994; Spanish translation 1999).
A prior recipient of research fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the United States Institute for Peace, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Davis recently authored a study of Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Violence, prepared for USAID, which examines the coping and adapting strategies adopted by citizens and authorities to push back against violence in seven cities around the world. She has just completed two separate initiatives, for which she was Principal Investigator: a three year project funded by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) focused on the role of political leadership in transforming urban transport and a three year project funded by Mexico’s national workers’ housing agency (INFONAVIT) oriented toward developing more sustainable social housing policies for Mexican cities. Founder and curator of the Mexican Cities Initiative at Harvard’s GSD, Davis is Chair of the David Rockefeller Center’s Faculty Committee on Mexico, member of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) Executive Committee, and a contributing editor for the US Library of Congress, Handbook of Latin American Studies (Sociology: Mexico). She has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Planning Education and Research, City and Community, and the Journal of Latin American Studies.