Global cultural stratification, referring to the multitude of systematically patterned ways of perceiving, being, and acting in the world, and its association with notions and practices of “civil” and “uncivil” society constitute the central themes of my scholarship.
1) Institutional Theory and Practice Theory in Light of Political Violence
My study, “World Culture, Uncoupling, Institutional Logics, and Recoupling: Practices and Self-identification as Institutional Microfoundations of Political Violence,” was recently published in Sociological Forum. It proposes the concept of global institutional logics as a useful approach to understanding within-country cultural stratification and shows how competing global logics can be a source of conflict. The study advances a micro-institutional theory of political violence, according to which citizens’ violent participation is partially an outcome of tight coupling of their practices and self-identifications with institutional logics opposed to central world-culture logics, such as the nation-state logic and the women’s rights logic. Fifteen-country survey data from early 21st century Sub-Saharan Africa support the theory. Participation in political violence is associated with the patriarchal logic, with an oppositional ethnic logic, and with a politicized oppositional religious logic. The work also contributes to the sociology of gender by specifying a mechanism−micro-institutionalization through coupling of practices and self-identifications with the patriarchal logic−that links persons with gendered social structures associated with violence while acknowledging women’s participation as well.
While the concept of global institutional logics can sensitize us to macro structures associated with global stratification, the habitus concept emphasizes its structured nature at the level of the person. I argue that practice theory can inform our understanding of political violence and that the theory can be enriched by examining it in light of political violence. In the paper “Behavior, Morality, and Institutions: A Habitus in Action Model of Political Violence” (R&R from Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour), I theorize about systematic differences among persons linked to violent political participation. Drawing from multiple cases of violent participation, I point out distinct aspects of habitus, develop a typology of habitus elements, and identify habitus components predisposing persons to participate in political violence. Habitus, as an embodied structure produced by a person’s involvement in multiple fields, is also a mechanism effecting a link between distinct domains, for example between the private sphere of family and gender relations and the public sphere of politics.
My new project in this area deals with low-intensity political violence in Chile known as “los encapuchados.” “Encapuchados” are persons who cover their faces to conceal their identities and participate in radical collective action. The phenomenon is theoretically and substantively important because it represents an intermediate category, the study of which can help us understand the differences between personal trajectories leading to violence and personal trajectories leading to nonviolent radical participation.
2) Global Cultural Stratification and Eastern European Civility
My dissertation, Esperanto, Civility, and the Politics of Fellowship: A Cosmopolitan Movement from the Eastern European Periphery, grew out of the discovery that organizations related to the Esperanto movement, which promotes language equality and international cooperation, were the most prevalent transnational social movement groups in state-socialist Eastern Europe. This discovery raised questions about the validity of prominent theories regarding the nature of global institutional processes, regarding the absence of civil societies under state socialism, and regarding the origins of democracies. Thanks to grants and fellowships from institutions such as the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I conducted a comparative mixed-method project involving interviews with Esperanto activists in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania, participant observation in these countries as well as in Slovakia, Denmark, and the United States, archival research in the Esperanto Museum of the Austrian National Library, and analyses of existent organizational and survey data.
This research documents the growth of a unique type of unofficial state-socialist civil society and highlights the need to develop a comparative study of civil societies. The existence of distinct norms of civility represents a second way in which culture is implicated in global stratification. The particular civil society norms instituted in a given region are associated, for example, with culturally differentiated approaches to social organizations, conflict resolution, and democratic governance. The unofficial state-socialist civil society in Eastern Europe, specifically, emphasized comprehensive socio-cultural development, personal friendships, and culturedness, and blurred distinctions between the global and the domestic arenas, between politics and culture, and between the public and the private spheres characteristic of Western modernity. This political culture served as an endogenous cultural precursor of democratization in the region.
A paper that builds on my dissertation research−”Aiming at the Equal Community, Producing Inequality: The Community Logic Meets the Logic of Practice in the Making of the Global Esperanto Field” (presented at the Junior Theorists Symposium-JTS of the Theory Section of the American Sociological Association in August 2015)−further examines the connection between institutional logics and inequality. A contradiction between the explicit community logic and the implicit logic of practice challenges the Esperanto movement’s solidaristic project as activists institute a global community. The paper identifies three mechanisms related to establishing organizations, principles, and a language standard through which inequality and exclusion are produced even in the least likely case of the Esperanto community.
I plan to continue building on my dissertation research to evaluate the thesis that Eastern European societies developed implicit political cultures during state-socialism and its implication that these political cultures continue to influence political developments in the region following the transitions to democracy. I am particularly interested in how transnational, regional, and domestic factors interact to produce distinct norms of civility and how these distinct norms of civility affect democracy. The objective is to produce one peer-reviewed article and a book manuscript.
The planned journal article is tentatively titled “Independent Political Culture behind the Iron Curtain: Explaining the Puzzling Case of the Bulgarian Democratic Transition.” In it I suggest that the existence of an implicit state-socialist political culture can explain the puzzling case of Bulgaria, which experienced a peaceful democratic transition in 1989 and whose democracy has persisted despite lacking a Western-style civil society.
In the book project to follow, I plan to examine the consequences of the existence of endogenous Eastern European political cultures. The importance of personal networks, for example, is likely associated with political corruption, as the logic of friendship meets and trumps the bureaucratic logic. Also, expectations associated with this type of political culture, as opposed to apathy or economic grievances, may explain the recent long-lasting anti-political protests in Bulgaria indicating discontent with the liberal democratic model.
3) Collaborative Research
I have also been involved in several collaborative research projects. I started learning how to do sociological research through participating in a research collective studying the organizational structure and principles of the World Social Forum process, a global civil society effort to challenge global capitalism. My two early publications are product of this research.
Currently, I am part of an interdisciplinary team investigating the relationship between collective action and subjective wellbeing.