Activism and Lawmaking in the U.S. (SOC 392/LEGAL ST 376) [Northwestern University]

This seminar explored the numerous challenges that social movement organizations (and public interest groups more generally) face when they attempt to influence public policy in the United States, and encouraged students to think strategically about how these challenges might be overcome. We grappled with the question of why the U.S. federal government has taken so little action on issues such as climate change and gun violence, despite the vast majority of Americans supporting policy action, and despite massive social movements mobilizing in an effort to bring it about. We also examined when, how, and why social movement-backed policy that is adopted gets "watered down" during the policymaking process, and strategies activists can employ to minimize the likelihood of this happening. The course combined sociological perspectives on social movement mobilization and outcomes with political science perspectives on American political institutions to interrogate the bases of political power in the U.S. policymaking process. For the final assignment, students developed a Strategic Plan for how a social movement organization might go about effecting policy change on an issue of their choosing. We also had four guest speakers, including Daniel Biss, a former IL state senator and gubernatorial candidate (pictured here, talking with the students).


Student evaluation data for this course can be viewed here.


In Fall 2019, I was honored to receive the Robert F. Winch Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Lecturer.