Liz McKenna Photo

Liz McKenna

Assistant Professor of Public Policy

In an era of uncertainty about the state of democracy around the globe, people have poured into the streets to pressure governments to be more responsive to their needs. Yet the overwhelming response to these public outcries is stasis. Why are some forms of collective action more effective than others? What does it take to build and sustain a successful social movement?

This elective will combine aspects of a seminar and field lab course. Discussion-based lectures will provide an overview of the science of social change, examining historical and contemporary cases of social, labor, and political movements from around the world. We will cover findings that are generally viewed as well-established and questions that remain unsettled. Coursework will focus on key debates and distinctions, including: the difference between organizing and mobilizing, movement emergence, whether and how movements build sustained—as opposed to flash-in-the-pan—structures to contest power, and the role of culture, media, and technology in collective action.

A second element of the course is designed as an experiential learning lab. Students will explore how course concepts work in practice by selecting an existing social movement organization (domestic or international) and analyzing a challenge its leaders face. Projects may address movement narratives, organizational structure and governance, leadership development, strategy and tactics, learning and adaptation, political contestation, power mapping, data analysis, or other issues related to the course content.

A background or interest in social movements or organizing (demonstrated through prior experience or coursework such MLD-377 or MLD-378), mixed methods (API-203MB or C), or similar classes/applied work experience is recommended but not required. This course is well-suited for MPPs and MPA/IDs  interested in working with a civic, political, or advocacy organization for their PAE or SYPA.

Throughout the semester, we will have occasional guest speakers who will share their experience and insights from social movement organizing research and practice.