My overarching research agenda is focused on answering a simple question with a complex answer: how do people transform their social, political, and cultural contexts? My answers focus on the intersections of culture, power, and history in social action. I am concerned with how the actions of human agents interact with the reproduction of social structures, and how the two of them play off each other in times of massive change and unrest, leading to both planned and unplanned change.
My attempts to answer this question have led me to study revolutions and social movements. I approach them through the lens of cultural and political sociology, and use comparative and historical methods to unearth the common logics and grammar of social transformation in turbulent times. In the process of research, I have also come to appreciate the role of globalization and the media – both traditional and social – in social change.
Realizing Revolution: Culture, Contingency, and Change in Iran and Nicaragua, 1979-2009
My dissertation uses periodicals, archival documents, and secondary sources to examine the intersections of conscious attempts at social revolutionary change with structural realities, contingencies, and political opponents. It focuses on the evolution of revolutionary cultural politics as revolutionaries struggle to make their revolution a reality. Aspects of this project will be presented at the ASA annual meeting in Montreal this year.
Abstract: In 1979, two revolutionary movements ended decades of personalist rule and created openings for social transformation on opposite sides of the world, in Iran and Nicaragua. Though both of these “twin” revolutions quickly started down very different paths – one becoming an authoritarian theocracy with the trappings of a republic, and the other a liberal democracy – they also both followed strikingly similar patterns of change as revolutionary elites undertook projects to durably transform their nations’ social and political structures.
This project begins where most other studies of revolutions leave off. Instead of asking the question of why these revolutions occurred, it asks the question of how revolutionary actors struggled to create lasting social change by translating their revolutionary projects into reality. More specifically, this project seeks to answer two related questions: how did Iranians and Nicaraguans actually transform the social structures that made up their society, and which changes were durable and why? In answering these questions, this project seeks to move beyond simple narratives of revolutionary failures, betrayed alliances, and static ideologies, and instead to bring dynamic revolutionary culture to the center of attention by examining the interplay between revolutionary discourse, popular culture, ideology, and social structures.
This project adopts a method of “comparative eventful process-tracing,” in which changes in the frameworks, identities, and orientations found in revolutionary discourse in Iran and Nicaragua are tracked through an historical content analysis of national periodicals and propaganda from 1979 until 2009. This project will first explore how revolutionary cultures make sense of and deal with the inevitable contingencies that arise from the post-revolutionary process during the radical periods of both revolutions from 1979 until 1990, and explore how these new cultural understandings affect the realization of the revolutionary project. It will then examine the post-radical periods from 1990 until 2009, in which the reasons for the durability, or lack thereof, of the changes identified during the earlier period are explored. By comparing and tracing the relationship between evolving revolutionary cultural formations and social change through historical research, this project will identify those factors that shape and contribute to lasting revolutionary change.
This paper, emerging from my dissertation, was presented at the 2017 ASA conference in Montreal. It examines the transformation of Sandinismo and Miskito nationalism through their interactions during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Read a working draft of the paper here.
Abstract: The 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution both ended a brutal dictatorship and transformed ethnic boundaries between mestizos on the country’s Pacific Coast and indigenous groups on its Atlantic Coast. Though sometimes praised for its accomplishments on the Pacific Coast, the revolutionary Sandinista regime relegated the nation’s ethnic minorities to passive roles in the revolutionary process, or else excluded them entirely. This paper examines the transformation of ethnic boundaries in revolutionary Nicaragua by examining the evolution of two nationalisms in conflict – mestizo Sandinismo and Miskito ethno-nationalism – through a process of revolutionary boundary-making. By casting Miskitos (and other indigenous groups) as passive recipients of the revolution, the Sandinista regime actually opened up a space for Miskito nationalists to change the course of the Nicarguan Revolution, forcing fundamental changes in revolutionary discourse through periods of possibilistic partnership, paranoid conflict, and grudging cooperation.
The combination of two earlier papers, presented at the ASA and SSSP annual meetings in 2015, this paper examines the unfolding of collective action frames on social media (particularly Facebook) in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. Read a working draft of it here.
Abstract: On January 25, 2011, spurred on by the actions of online activists, tens of thousands of Egyptians turned out in the streets to protest Egypt’s police state, and eighteen days later, Egypt’s president resigned, bringing about a revolution. The Egyptian Revolution was conceptualized and organized primarily online before moving to the streets. This paper examines the role of social media in the Egyptian revolution through a content analysis of Facebook pages heavily involved in promoting the revolution, which provided a relatively safe space for politically active Egyptians to gather and discuss Egypt’s problems. These Facebook pages developed powerful collective action frames that both directed and inspired collective action, through emotional stories of martyrdom, escalating blame frames, and an inclusive apolitical identity. However, the strategies that these pages used to mobilize people also made it difficult for the Facebook youth who drove the revolution forward to take charge of the situation after Mubarak stepped down, and the framing employed failed to challenge the underlying logics of the Egyptian state system. As a result, the revolution brought only limited changes to Egypt, though it had remarkable affects on other protest movements worldwide.
Democracy through Revolution: Voice and Rights in the Revolutionary Process
This project examines the possibilities of achieving a democratic state through a revolutionary process, and takes a step towards untangling the complicated relationship between revolutionary goals and often less-than-democratic outcomes by looking at four “paths” revolutions take, embodied in four case studies: the Democratic (Poland/Czechoslovakia), Democratizing (Nicaragua), Path-Breaking (Mozambique), and Authoritarian (Iran) paths.
Abstract: Revolution and democracy have a complicated relationship. Revolutionary movements are often inspired by ideas of liberation and freedom, and revolutions have played important roles in long-term processes of democratization. However, revolutions often lead to authoritarian regimes and particularly violent, repressive states. This paper explores the tense relationship between revolution and democracy by first identifying the factors that contribute to and hinder democratization after a successful revolution, including both the structural conditions before and after the revolution, as well as elements of the revolutionary process itself. It argues that a successful revolutionary transition to democracy requires a complementary combination of structural and processual factors that build both the rights and voices of its citizens during and after the revolutionary transfer of power. It then analyzes four paths social revolutions can take towards democracy and dictatorship – authoritarian, path-breaking, democratizing, and democratic – and discusses these paths in relation to the cases of Iran, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Poland/Czechoslovakia, before ending with a consideration of the future of democratic and democratizing revolutions, particularly in the light of the Arab Spring.