Major Projects

Movement Campaigns during the Civil Rights Struggle: Origins, Dynamics and Consequences:

One of my major projects examines the campaigns to end segregation in public facilities like restaurants and movie theaters in the U.S. South. I focus on the period from the 1960 lunch counter protests by black college students to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I began this work with Michael Biggs (University of Oxford), and we have written three major papers together. We published a paper on the 1960 sit-ins in the American Sociological Review (2006), and we have written a new paper to gauge the impact of local protest campaigns in over 300 cities.

Currently, I am documenting local protest campaigns in approximately 75 cities  including the interactions with allies, authorities, and opponents. This research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant (summary) and several smaller grants.  Movements are constituted through numerous campaigns that make sustained challenges across a variety of targets. I argue that the peaks of movements can be best understood as the co-evolution of numerous more localized campaigns. In this case I am examining campaigns to desegregate public facilities to understand their emergence, development, and consequences.

How the US Became Dry:  Ethnicity, Religion, and Movement Organizations in the Diffusion of Prohibition, 1876-1919

Recently, I started a new project with Charles Seguin investigating the adoption of local prohibition laws in the decades before passage of the 18th Amendment, which was propelled by one of the largest, longest-lasting, and most successful movements in U.S. history. We have written the first paper that examines how the religious and ethnic composition of communities shaped legal change. With an NSF grant (summary), we are beginning work with Michael Lewis on the organizational dynamics of the movement and on the institutional mechanisms of diffusion.

We focus on demographic, economic, and institutional changes, as well as movement dynamics, to examine under which conditions movement support thrives and results in policy changes. In addition, our study examines whether movement support and policies diffuse across neighboring states and counties, and how these trends shape one another. The analysis involves an original dataset that contains information about the legal status of prohibition at the county and state level between 1890 and 1919, the year the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted. This dataset includes measures regarding population change, urbanization, economic trends, and activity, electoral context, and media communication that may have shaped movement growth and success.

National Purpose, Local Action: Explaining the Effectiveness of Local Sierra Club Organizations:

I have been studying the Sierra Club to understand why some civic associations are more effective than others at influencing their communities, engaging members, and developing leadership. This work is in collaboration with Marshall Ganz (Harvard), Matthew Baggetta (Indiana), Hahrie Han (Wellesley), and Chaeyoon Lim (Wisconsin),  Our study includes surveys with over 1,600 local leaders, interviews with the chair of over 90% of local groups, and broader information about the organization’s history and community.  In our first paper (American Journal of Sociology 2010), we develop a new framework for understanding group effectiveness. In our most recent paper (American Sociological Review 2013), we show how characteristics of an organization’s leadership team shapes the commitment of individual leaders.

 Local Environmental Mobilization: Structure, Dynamics, and Influence

In a related study, I have been studying environmental organizations, their strategies and activities, and their consequences. Bob Edwards (East Carolina University) and I collected surveys with leaders of almost 200 groups. In a recent paper (ASR 2010), Neal Caren and I examined media coverage of environmental groups and their activities finding that most organizations receive no media attention or only a trivial amount. Groups that work on local economic growth and well-being are more likely to garner attention because reporters already care about these issues, and newspapers favor professional and formalized groups rather than volunteer-led organizations.

Movement Infrastructures and Institutional Change: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement

In this study I developed an original theoretical account of movement consequences through a close historical analysis of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. I found that local movements brought about important and enduring transformations in the South. I argue that key gains hinged on the building of movement infrastructure including leadership, indigenous resources and organizational forms, and the development of strategic capacity.  By comparing across electoral politics, social policies, and school desegregation I found that the interaction among movements, counter-movements, and federal actors propelled distinct patterns of change in each institutional arena. This work included several top tier journal articles and culminated in my book – Freedom is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movements and Its Legacy (Chicago, 2004).

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