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q&a with hahrie han: part deux

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We continue our Q&A with Hahrie Han on her new Oxford University Press book, How Organizations Develop Activists.

Question 3. A crucial distinction in your book is mobilizing vs. organizing? What does that mean?

 The highest engagement organizations in my study combined what I call “transformational organizing” with “transactional mobilizing.” The difference between mobilizing and organizing really comes down to the extent to which organizations invest in developing people’s skills, motivations, and such as they do the work. Mobilizers are focused more on breadth–getting more people to do more stuff–so they care only about the “transactional” outcomes: how many people wrote the letter? Organizers believe that they achieve breadth by building depth–how many people became more motivated or more skilled (“transformed”) as activists by being part of the letter writing campaign? So they design work that may be harder at first, but builds more depth over the long-term.

It might be easiest to describe the difference between “transformational organizing” and “transactional mobilizing” through some examples.

Let’s say an organization wants to generate a letter writing campaign to get letters to the editor published around a particular issue. Mobilizers would create letter templates and tools people could use to click a few buttons and send off a letter to their local paper. Organizers might ask people to compose their own letter, using trainings they provide. Or, organizers might match potential letter writers with a partner to compose a joint letter.

Mobilizers would have a few staff people organizing the entire campaign–those staff would create the templates, craft the messages asking people to write the letters, and coordinate any needed follow up. People themselves would not have to do anything more than click the buttons to indicate their willingness to write the letter. Organizers would set up the campaign so that staff people might design the trainings and the goals, but a distributed network of volunteers would be charged with generating letters in their local communities. Then, they would train and support those volunteers in getting those letters.

The organizations that had the highest levels of activism did both–they did organizing AND mobilizing to get both breadth and depth. It’s not that one is better than the other; it’s that organizations need both.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

q&a with hahrie han: part 1

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hanbook

This week, we are having a Q&A with our recent guest blogger, Hahrie Han. She is a political scientist at Wellesley College and has a new book out on the topic of how organizations sustain the participation of their members called How Organizations Develop Activists. If you want, put any questions you may have in the comments.

How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century

By Hahrie Han (@hahriehan)

Question 1. Can you summarize, for the readers of this blog, your new book’s main argument? How do you prove that?

 The book begins by asking why some organizations are better than others at getting (and keeping) people involved in activism than others. All over the world, there are myriad organizations, campaigns, and movements trying to get people to do everything from signing petitions to showing up for meetings to participating in protest. Some are better than others. Why?

To answer this question, I wanted to look particularly at what the organization does. There are so many factors that affect an organization’s ability to engage activists that the organization itself cannot control. What about the things it can control? Do they matter? So I set up a study of two national organizations working in health and environmental politics that also had state and local chapters operating relatively autonomously. I created matched pairs of these local chapters that were working in the same kinds of communities, and attracted the same kinds of people to the organization. But, they differed in their ability to cultivate activism. By examining differences among organizations in each pair, I could see what the high-engagement organizations did differently. I also ran some field experiments to test the ideas that emerged.

I found that the core factor distinguishing the high-engagement organizations was the way they engaged people in activities that transformed their sense of individual and collective agency. Just like any other organization, these organizations wanted to get more people to do more stuff, but they did it in a way that cultivated their motivations, developed their skills, and built their capacity for further activism. Doing so meant that high-engagement organizations used distinct strategies for recruiting, engaging, and supporting volunteers, which I detail in the book. By combining this kind of transformational organizing with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, they were able to build the breadth and depth of activism they wanted.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

feeding the bureaucratic machine: letters of rec and other documents

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At orgtheory, we’ve repeatedly discussed whether letters of recommendation (LOR) are useful or not.  For some committees and tasks, LOR can help decision-making a lot – for example, undergraduate admissions, graduate school admissions, and tenure for professors.  But for other committees and matters, LOR serve a per forma function and are less likely to impart information useful for decision-making.  Worse, LOR can increase workloads for letter-writers, especially when they are at institutions that do not offer support for this kind of bureaucratic task.*

Nonetheless, committed letter-writers dutifully carry out their responsibilities, especially since LOR can be consequential.**  As Fabio, olderwoman, David Meyer, and others have pointed out, writing effective LOR is an art, with carefully coded language that require fluency on the parts of both letter-writers and letter-readers.  Otherwise, what one letter-writer might view as effusive could be interpreted as a lukewarm endorsement by readers; hyperbolic letters with hierarchical rankings ( i.e., “best student ever”) might be considered suspect.  But what if LOR and related documents were brutally honest about their contexts, rather than merely following convention?

A recently published novel Dear Committee Members takes aim at these bureaucratic documents and their institutions’ crumbling support.  Julie Schumacher‘s novel unfolds as a series of documents composed by a professor for various audiences.  Check out the following reviews for tidbits.

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Written by katherinechen

November 11, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Posted in academia, books

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ed walker discusses astroturfing on c-span

Recently, former guest blogger Ed Walker appeared on C-Span to discuss his new book, Grassroots for Hire. The interview is very nice in that Ed discusses the main points of his book and there is an interactive feature of the website that allows you to directly click on specific segments of the interview. For previous posts from Ed, click here.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

September 15, 2014 at 2:19 am

book announcement: party in the street – the antiwar movement and the democratic party after 9/11

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It is my pleasure to announce the forthcoming publication of a book by Michael Heaney and myself. It is called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. It will be available from Cambridge University Press starting in early 2015.

The book is an in-depth examination of the relationship between the major social movement of the early 2000s and the Democratic Party. We begin with a puzzle. In 2006, the antiwar movement began to decline, a time when the US government escalated the war and at least five years before US combat troops completely left Iraq. Normally, one would expect that an escalation of war and favorable public opinion would lead to heightened  activism. Instead, we see the reverse.

We answer this question with a theory of movement-party intersections – the “Party in the Street.” Inspired by modern intersectionality scholarship, we argue that people embody multiple identities that can reinforce, or undermine, each other. In American politics, people can approach a policy issue as an activist or a partisan. We argue that the antiwar movement demobilized not because of an abrupt change in policy, but because partisan identities trumped movement identities. The demobilization of the antiwar movement was triggered, and concurrent with, Democratic victories in Congress and the White House. When push comes to shove, party politics trumps movement activism.

The book is the culmination of ten years of field work, starting with a survey of antiwar protesters at the Republican National Convention in August 2004. The book examines street protest, public opinion, antiwar legislation, and Iraq war policy to makes its case. If you are interested in American politics, political parties, peace studies, political organizations, or social movements, please check this book out. During the fall, I’ll write a series of posts that will explain the argument in some more detail.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

blogcation/grad skool rulz 2.0

I am taking a blogcation for about two weeks. But before I do, I’ll make one small announcement. The sales of Grad Skool Rulz are doing well and I think it’s time for an update. New cover, new content. I’ll work on it this coming semester, once some other projects are done. So if there is something you want in the new edition, put it in the comments. Also, once the new edition is released, the first 100 copies will be free.

PS. Don’t forget – if you have an idea for a guest post, feel free to send it in.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

July 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

is sociology a poor source of policy stories?

A few years ago, I bought a copy of Charles Tilly’s Why?, just for fun sociology reading. All the Important sociology reading got in the way, and I never read Why?

But while I was unpacking this week I came across it and thought I’d bring it along on a car ride to Providence over the weekend. Not only is it a fun read, as well as touchingly personal at times, it turned out to be surprisingly relevant to stuff I’ve been thinking about lately.

The book is organized around four types of reasons people give for things…any things: their incarceration in mental hospitals, why a plane just flew into the World Trade Center, whether the last-minute change of an elderly heiress’s will should be honored. In grand social science tradition, the reasons are organized into a 2 x 2 table:

Popular Specialized
Formulas Conventions Codes
Cause-Effect Accounts Stories Technical Accounts

 

Why? illustrates these types with a wide range of engaging examples, from eyewitness accounts of September 11th to the dialog between attending physicians and interns during hospital rounds.

Conventions are demonstrated by etiquette books: they are reasons that don’t mean much of anything and aren’t necessarily true, but that follow a convenient social formula: “I lost track of the time.” Stories are reasons that provide an explanation, but one focused on a protagonist—human or otherwise—who acts, and which often contain a moral edge: evangelist Jerry Falwell’s account of how he came to oppose segregation after God spoke to him through the African-American man who shined his shoes every week. Both conventions and stories are homely, everyday kinds of reasons.

Codes and technical accounts, on the other hand, are the reasons experts give. Reasons that conform to codes explain how an action was in accordance with some set of specialized rules. The Department of Public Works did not repair the air conditioning because they lacked a form 27B/6. While law is the quintessential code, Tilly shows that medicine follows codes to a surprising extent as well.

Finally, technical accounts attempt to provide cause-effect explanations of why some outcome occurs. Jared Diamond argues that Europe developed first because it had domesticable plants and animals and sufficient arable land, and lacked Africa’s north-south axis. Technical accounts draw on specialized bodies of knowledge, and attempt to produce truth, not just conformity with rules.


 

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months thinking about what experts do in policy, and thinking about the different paths through which they can have effects. Lots of these effects are technical, of course. Expert opinion may not determine the outcome in debates over the macroeconomic effects of tax policy changes or what standards nutrition guidelines should be set at, but there’s no question that they’re informed by technical accounts.

But at least as important in influencing a wider audience are the stories experts can tell. Deborah Stone wrote about these “policy stories” decades ago, though she wasn’t especially focused on experts’ role in creating them. Political scientists like Ann Keller, however, have shown that scientists, too, translate their expertise into policy stories—for example, that human activity was creating the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that produce acid rain, destroying fisheries and making water undrinkable. These stories are grounded in technical accounts, but are simplified versions with moral undertones that point toward a particular range of policy solutions—in this case, doing something about the SOx and NOx emissions that the story identifies as creating the problem.

Some kinds of expertise, or rather some kinds of technical accounts, are more amenable than others to translation into policy stories. Economic models, in particular, are often friendly to such translation. For example, although this isn’t the language I use there, my book in part argues that U.S. science policy changed because of a model-turned-story. Robert Solow’s growth model, which includes technology as a factor that affects economic growth (by increasing the productivity of labor), became by the late 1970s the basis of a powerful policy story in which the U.S. needed to improve its capacity for technological innovation so that it could restore its economic position in the world.

Similarly, a basic human capital model in which investment in training results in higher wages easily becomes a story in which we need to improve or extend education so that people’s income increases.

Sociological models, even the formal ones, seem less amenable on average to these kinds of translations. Though Blau and Duncan’s well-known status attainment model could be read as suggesting education as a point of intervention to improve occupational status, it seems fairer to read it as saying that occupational status is largely determined by your father’s occupation and education. While this certainly has policy implications, they are not as natural an extension from the model itself. It hearkens back to that old saw—economics is about how people make choices; sociology is about how they don’t have any choices to make.

Blau & Duncan

I guess part of the appeal of Why? for me was that it mapped surprisingly well onto these questions that were already on my mind. Mostly I’ve thought about this in the context of economic models becoming policy stories. I wonder, though, whether my quick generalization about the technical accounts of sociology lending themselves less readily to compelling policy stories actually holds up. What are the obvious examples I’m missing?

Written by epopp

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm

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