My research focuses on understanding the dynamics of social movements, particularly those with strong religious or politically conservative dimensions.
One strand of my research program examines the role of the abortion issue in American politics. I’m particularly interested in the history of the debate over abortion, the constituencies for this debate, the role of the pro-life and pro-choice movements in party politics, and the ways in which all of these factors have led to dramatic changes in public understanding of abortion over more than a century of conflict. My book Abortion Politics (Polity, 2018) provides an overview of the abortion debate, as well as arguing that the meaning of abortion has shifted many times to incorporate changing social anxieties of Americans.
The Pro-Life Movement
Another strand of my research focuses on understanding how some individuals become mobilized into social movements while others do not. My book The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works (Chicago, 2008) examines this question using life-history interview and ethnographic data on the pro-life movement. Based on this research, I have developed a model of individual social movement mobilization that I believe is generalizable to many different social movements.
The Political Geography of the Suburbs
The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to most observers and upended a great deal of conventional wisdom in political sociology. Since Trump’s election, scholars have focused on understanding what has come to be termed his “base” — white, working class voters, especially in rural areas, with relatively little education and declining social prospects. The most recent strand of my research goes in a different direction. I am focused on understanding the (far greater number of) Trump supporters who live and work in America’s suburbs. Interviews with suburban voters on this and related issues offers a window into the larger, global rise of populism in recent years that remains poorly understood.
Conservative Organizing on College Campuses
College campuses are routinely identified as bastions of progressive ideas and organizing. While the students, faculty, and staff of American colleges and universities are are undeniably more liberal than the general population in many respects, the extent of this difference is often overstated. My research on campus activism examines the important role conservative organizing on college campuses has played in the rise of the larger conservative movement in the United States. This strand of my research is detailed in the journal article “Mobilizing on Campus: Conservative Movements and Today’s College Students.”
I have worked on a variety of other research projects focused on issues of civic engagement, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, international terrorism, pregnancy resource centers, and the homeschooling movement.