Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research

Each spring, in conjunction with the John D. McCarthy Award celebration, the Center for the Study of Social Movements at Notre Dame hosts the Young Scholars in Social Movements conference. Conference participants come from around the world and include some of the brightest graduate students and assistant professors studying activism, social movements, and political conflict. Our team of Contributing Editors—the folks who write the blog’s Daily Disruption posts—is primarily drawn from this pool of talented young scholars. We are taking the next several weeks to shine the spotlight on these emerging stars and on their research.  New ideas often (perhaps usually) come from younger generations. So, in many ways, these posts represent where the field is headed and should be interesting to anyone seeking to better understand processes of activism and social change.

Many thanks to the Contributing Editors listed below—for allowing us to feature their work in the coming weeks, and for their contributions to the Daily Disruption. We plan to post a new essay from these authors every few days during the months of October and November, so check back often. Continue reading

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From French Resistance to hashtag activism: How our obsession with the extraordinary masks the power of the ordinary

I’ve become obsessed with “Un village français.” No, it’s not an idyllic town in Provence. It’s a French television series set during World War II. The show follows the residents of one French town as they navigate the German occupation.

"Un village français" is a French television series set during the German occupation during World War II.

“Un village français” is a French television series set during the German occupation during World War II.

I tell myself that I am already into the 6th season (thank you, Netflix) because it helps me learn the language. I have just started a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, based at the Toulouse School of Economics. And I do need to brush up on my French. But admittedly, I am fascinated with the drama and romance of the TV series.

But I have also realized that the show mirrors the way I approach my research on social movements, social media, and social class. It focuses not on the big heroes, or iconic giants of history, but on the average people. And rather than dwelling on extraordinary events like big battles involving thousands of troops, the shows unfolds slowly as we watch these regular people struggle with everyday circumstances.

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Mobilization as a Network Problem

The majority of my research interests seek to answer two of the big questions in social movements scholarship. First, I am a sucker for the “mobilization question.” While some scholars have grown tired of this pursuit, I still find great appeal asking why social mobilization occurs during some times and at some places, but not others. Questions like those offer one succinct way to address the difficult theme of collective agency. Second, I am also interested in understanding the underlying organizational forms of social mobilization. For example, once mobilization occurs, do the participants organize in manners that fall back upon existing social divisions in the wider society or do they instead collect themselves in novel ways that reflect their own ideology and tactical decisions? Continue reading

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Studying Social Movements in the South

I am very grateful for this invitation to present my research in Mobilizing Ideas. As a young scholar, I have been studying social movements, trade unions and other forms of political participation using a variety of methods depending on the research question I needed to answer. Ethnography, life stories and process tracing are the ones I used the most. In this short text, I will focus on the following topics of my scholarly production: 1. Public deliberation and urban movements; 2. The youth condition and political participation; 3. The role of social movements, trade unions and protest on democratization; 4. The struggle of the poor for their socio-political reincorporation; and 5. The multiple scales in the resistance to the globalization of neoliberalism. My aim is to very briefly introduce the core questions and answers I have researched.

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Tinkering [human rights, contemporary slaveholders, protest drones]

What fun to be asked about one’s own research! After finishing a PhD in sociology (Notre Dame, 2013) I took a job at a School of Public Policy in Europe. Best move ever. In what follows I sketch the three main veins of inquiry that have kept me busy recently.

A human rights approach to the contemporary anti-slavery movement
At present I am engaged in three primary lines of inquiry. The first involves the development of a human rights approach to contemporary slavery and human trafficking. A decade in the contemporary anti-slavery movement convinced me that current thinking within the movement was driven by Christian evangelical’s conceptualizations of salvation (here). But what’s the positive alternative? I initially sketched this out with one of my mentors (Alison Brysk) in a co-edited volume—From Human Trafficking to Human Rights (Penn 2012, here)—and developed more fully in two journal articles. Continue reading

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Collective Action and Civil War in Africa

Civil war is an everyday reality for many people across the globe. The impact for civilians is immense, both during and after conflict. Nonetheless, comparatively few sociologists have engaged in the study of civil war in recent years. In my research, I try to address this gap.

A great deal of action that occurs during civil wars – e.g., mobilization, desertion, defection, and collective violence – can be usefully studied from a collective action perspective. In my research, I often adopt such a perspective. By doing so, I do not only try to explain social behavior, but also attempt to generate new questions pertaining to the study of collective action. Watch the video to find out more about those questions, as they emerged from my research on the civil war in southern Sudan!

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The Scaffolding of Citizenship: Assembling a Nation from the Inside, Out

Social scientists, and particularly those interested in American political development, have long studied the legacies of citizenship policy on individuals. These studies interrogate such impacts from a broad range of theoretical foci and engage shifting and overlapping orienting questions. In her 2010 ASA Presidential Address, Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2011) calls for the development of a sociological conception of citizenship and, in doing so, outlines what sociology can contribute and how extant scholarship can be buoyed by an injection of sociologically-grounded theoretical insight. While political scientists and legal scholars tend to focus on the formal status of citizenship as codified by legal documents and investigate policy implementation in light of political institutional structures, historians and anthropologists focus on the textual and cultural meanings of citizenship and the processes by which these symbols and representations are discursively shaped. In this respect, sociology can augment these perspectives by illuminating that, at the core, citizenship is a process of boundary making through habituated interaction that takes place within a larger socio-political context. Yet, I’d like to push this a bit further and broaden the scope of how sociologists and social scientists, more generally, have historically conceptualized the topic. In doing so, I’ll attempt to underscore the theoretic payoffs associated with reframing sociological studies of citizenship in relation to my own dissertation research that investigates how varying modes of incorporation for pre-colonial populations in the U.S. shaped subsequent possibilities for collective action and consequent outcomes. Continue reading

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