The following is a selection of some recently published or forthcoming books, volumes, and papers.

Working papers are available by email request.

Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy.

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press (Forthcoming March 2014).

Preorder: Amazon; Cambridge

Although “grassroots” conjures up images of independent citizen organizing, much mass participation today is sponsored by elite consultants working for corporations and powerful interest groups.  This book pulls back the curtain to reveal a lucrative industry of consulting firms that incentivize public activism as a marketable service.  Edward Walker illustrates how, spurred by the post-sixties advocacy explosion and rising business political engagement, elite consultants have deployed new technologies to commercialize mass participation. Using evidence from interviews, surveys, and public records, Grassroots for Hire paints a detailed portrait of these consultants and their clients. Today, Fortune 500 firms hire them to counter-mobilize against regulation, protest, or controversy.  Ironically, some advocacy groups now outsource organizing to them.  Walker also finds that consultants are reshaping both participation and policymaking, but unethical “astroturf” strategies are often ineffective.  This pathbreaking book calls for a rethinking of interactions between corporations, advocacy groups, and elites in politics.

-- Read the New York Times op-ed about Grassroots for Hire.

Democratizing Inequalities: Pitfalls and Unrealized Promises of the New Public Participation.

New York: NYU Press (Forthcoming 2014). (edited with Caroline W. Lee and Michael McQuarrie; foreword by Craig Calhoun)

Modern societies are undergoing nothing less than a renaissance of participatory projects. Stakeholder dialogue sessions, crowdsourcing, town hall meetings, web-based open government initiatives, and deliberative democracy are celebrated as revolutionary antidotes to the decline of civic engagement and the thinning of the contemporary public sphere. Opportunities to “have your say,” “get involved,” and “join the conversation” proliferate at an exponential rate. Many argue that given the combination of new technologies, flexible organizational cultures, and a supportive policymaking context, we now hold the keys to large-scale democratic revitalization. Yet over the same period there has been a rapid expansion in socio-economic inequality and political polarization. How, then, does the turn toward new, elite-supported participatory projects fit into the highly unequal, polarized, and conflict-ridden modern public sphere? Democratizing Inequalities brings questions of power, inequality, and politics back into the study of public participation. Resisting an oversimplified account of participation as “empowerment,” this volume brings together a diverse range of leading scholars of politics and organizations in order to understand the particular institutional configurations that undergird what we call the “new public participation.” With counterintuitive insights about astroturfing, participatory campaigning, new movement tactics, and the changing nature of authority, the book contributes historical context and in-depth analysis to contemporary public debates about the politics of expertise, the contradictions of professionalization, and the role of new industries. These cutting-edge topics are compared across a diverse range of domains, including public sector budgeting, international development, corporate politics, health policy, community organizing, workplace engagement, professionally facilitated deliberation, and more. In an era when publics and public intellectuals are facing new questions about the power and promise of new technologies and new movements, rigorous empirical research on the real impacts of the new public participation is long overdue.

The Political Mobilization of Firms and Industries.

Annual Review of Sociology (Forthcoming 2014) 40. (with Christopher M. Rea) (PDF)

Corporate political activity is both a long-standing preoccupation and an area of innovation for sociologists. We examine the limitations of investigating business unity without focusing directly on processes and outcomes, then review studies of five types of business political action that offer lenses into corporate power in the U.S.: engagement in electoral politics, direct corporate lobbying, collective action through associations and coalitions, business campaigns in civil society, and political aspects of corporate responsibility. Through these, we highlight four shifts since the 1970s: (1) increasing fragmentation of capitalist interests, (2) closer attention to links between business lobbying and firms’ social embeddedness, (3) a turn away from the assumption that money buys political victories, and (4) new avenues of covert corporate influence. This body of research has reinvigorated the classic elitist/pluralist debate while also raising novel questions about how business actors are adapting to (and generating changes within) their socio-political environments.

Signaling Responsibility, Deflecting Controversy:

Strategic and Institutional Influences on the Charitable Giving of Corporate Foundations in the Health Sector.

Research in Political Sociology (2013) 21: 201-33.

Corporate foundations – entities established to regularize corporate giving at an arm’s length removed from the firm – command substantial resources, root companies in the nonprofit sectors of their host communities, indirectly augment perceptions of corporate responsibility, and help firms to deflect controversies in an attentive global media environment. Despite these important roles, relatively little research has examined the institutional and strategic factors that influence such proximate charitable giving by firms. Using systematic data on foundations linked to S&P 3,000 firms in the health sector – a growing domain in which public trust in high-stakes products and services is critical – fixed-effects models illustrate the primary role of network influences on giving: corporate foundations give substantially more in years following higher contributions by other (non-corporate) foundations in the health sector in a firm’s headquarters locality and also following increased contributions by industry peers through their corporate foundations. Giving also appears to reflect strategic reputational concerns, in that foundation contributions increase significantly following controversies associated with the corporate parent’s products and/or services. By contrast, giving tends to decline as the presence of outside directors on a firm’s board increases, as well as when firms carry heavier debt loads.  Combined, these findings suggest that corporate foundations serve as a strategic proxy for the firm, reflecting both the firm’s position in community and inter-firm networks while also mitigating the threat of reputational challenges.

Putting a Face on the Issue: Corporate Stakeholder Mobilization in Professional Grassroots Lobbying Campaigns. (Lead article)

Business & Society (2012) 51(4): 619-59. (PDF)

Business scholars pay increasing attention to the expanded influence of stakeholders on firm strategies, legitimacy, and competitiveness. At the same time, analysts have noted that the transformed regulatory and legislative environments of recent decades have encouraged firms to become much more politically active. Surprisingly, relatively little research has tied together these two trends. The present study integrates perspectives on stakeholder management with research on Corporate Political Activity (CPA) in order to develop an understanding of the structural sources of stakeholder mobilization in professional grassroots lobbying campaigns. This study employs a unique, original data source to consider how the adoption of grassroots lobbying by a firm relates to its industry, degree of inside lobbying, partisan PAC contributions, and more.  This research shows that corporate grassroots lobbying is shaped most significantly by a firm’s degree of inside lobbying, as highly active firms take a diversified strategy for gaining influence. Firms in industries with a heavy public presence, as well as those concerned with taxation, government appropriations, and economic development also adopt these strategies readily. PAC contributions to Republican, but not Democratic, candidates also heighten firms’ propensity to lobby the public.

Social Movements, Organizations, and Fields: A Decade of Theoretical Integration.

Contemporary Sociology (2012) 41(5): 576-587. (PDF)

This essay emphasizes three central ways that social movement and organization theoretic approaches have been fruitfully integrated in sociological monographs published since 2000. I begin by describing efforts at conceptual integration, continue by reviewing significant works on how social movements accomplish institutional change and create new fields, and conclude by discussing the importance of understanding strategy in movement fields and reviewing potential areas of future research. Social movement perspectives on organizations have shown in myriad ways how the innovations and challenges brought forward by contentious actors can be translated and repurposed in facilitating organizational change.

Replacing Members with Managers? Mutualism among Membership and Non-Membership Advocacy Organizations in the U.S.

American Journal of Sociology (2011) 116(4): 1284-1337. (with John D. McCarthy and Frank R. Baumgartner) (PDF)

Associations with a professional staff but no members (nonmembership advocacy organizations, or NMAOs) are the subject of lively debate. Many argue that their proliferation has allowed an expansion of advocacy without an accompanying growth in civic engagement. This article asks if there has been significant recent growth of NMAOs and if those organizations have displaced membership advocacy organizations (MAOs). The authors find no evidence for a proportional increase of NMAOs since the 1960s. Further, among all organizations in three populations—peace, women’s issues, and human rights—NMAOs have not displaced MAOs. In particular, the authors find that MAO density shapes NMAO founding, as membership groups provide a base for professional advocacy. These findings challenge the notion that U.S. civic life has undergone a systemic transformation away from organizational forms that promote civic engagement.

Industry-Driven Activism. Contexts (2010) 9(2): 44-49. (PDF)

Sociologists who study social movements know that grassroots organizing tactics, as social change tools, tend to be favored by institutional outsiders. But recent scholarship and developments in the health care debate suggest that these “weapons of the weak” are increasingly used by powerful insiders.

Legitimacy, Strategy, and Resources in the Survival of Community-Based Organizations. (Lead article)

Social Problems (2010) 57(3): 315-340. (with John D. McCarthy) (PDF)

Organizations active in mobilizing low- and moderate-income communities make considerable efforts to combat inequalities and build voice for citizens, despite inherent challenges of obtaining resources, maintaining member interest, and retaining staff.  How, then, do such groups remain viable – even thriving – organizations? Building upon research on organizational theory and social movements, we examine patterns of survival among a sample of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) between 1990 and 2004, thus providing the first systematic study of their long-term mortality processes.  More specifically, we test how organizations’ socio-political legitimacy and resources (and strategies for cultivating both) influence survival, finding that the legitimacy of organizations in low-income areas is a double-edged sword, as embeddedness in resource-deprived local environments confers both benefits and disadvantages. In particular, we find the strongest support for the notion that, beyond the considerable effects of externally obtained resources, CBOs also benefit considerably by engaging in even a small amount of grassroots fundraising.  Further, although we find significant effects of extra-local legitimacy in the baseline models – through organizations’ affiliation with national or regional organizing networks – we find evidence in additional analyses that the survival benefits of network affiliation are largely mediated by resources.  We also find sizable but marginally significant effects of local legitimacy, and significant positive effects of organizational age and urban location. Overall, our findings suggest that although cultivating resources is the surest path to survival, organizations that build their legitimacy will be in a better position to compensate for structural resource deficits. 

Privatizing Participation: Civic Change and the Organizational Dynamics of Grassroots Lobbying Firms.

American Sociological Review (2009) 74(1): 83-105. (PDF)

This article highlights the shifting boundaries between the public and private spheres in advanced capitalist societies through an examination of grassroots lobbying firms. These organizations, which became a fixture in U.S. politics in the 1970s and have grown in number and prominence since, subsidize public participation on behalf of corporations, industry groups, and associations using direct mail, telephoning, and by mobilizing members and stakeholders. I examine the dynamics of this organizational population—whose existence calls attention to broad transformations in civil society—with reference to dramatic growth in the organizational populations of civic and trade associations. Results, derived from a Generalized Estimating Equation panel regression of firm founding events across U.S. regions from 1972 to 2002, suggest that the increasing formal organization of civil society has supported the development of a field of organizations that subsidize participation.

Confronting the State, the Corporation, and the Academy: The Influence of Institutional Targets on Social Movement Repertoires.

American Journal of Sociology (2008) 114(1): 35-76. (with Andrew W. Martin and John D. McCarthy) (PDF)

Analysts have shown increased interest in how social movements use tactical repertoires strategically. While the state is most often the guarantor of new benefits, many movements—from labor to the environmental movement—target corporate, educational, and other institutions. Employing a unique data set of protests reported in the New York Times (1960–90), this research examines how repertoires are, in part, contingent on the institutional target a movement selects. In particular, the authors consider the role of each target's vulnerabilities and its capacities for response—repression, facilitation, and routinization—as explanations for the degree of transgressive protest each target faces. The results provide strong evidence for considering targets as a central factor in shaping forms of social protest.

Contingent Pathways from Joiner to Activist: The Indirect Effect of Participation in Voluntary Associations on Civic Engagement.

Sociological Forum (2008) 23(1): 116-143. (PDF)

While many analysts of civil society argue that the path from voluntary associational activity to political participation is largely mediated – membership leads to unintentional political socialization, which then leads to participation – others have argued for a direct effect. This article tests these competing claims, while also considering the extent to which the mediation process relies upon negative social capital (targeted requests for activity). Employing a series of Structural Equation Models, I find support for the mediation argument, as well as for the claim that negative social capital is a significant mediator in the pathway from social joiner to political activist.

Alternative Organizational Repertoires of Poor People’s Social Movement Organizations.

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (2004) Supplement to 33(3): 97S-119S. (With John D. McCarthy) (PDF)

This article contrasts the organizational structure, goals, and tactics of congregation-based organizations (CBOs) with individual membership organizations (IMOs) that represent alternative organizational repertoires for groups aiming to empower poor communities in the United States. Organizational records of 86 CBOs and 125 IMOs are evaluated. It was found that CBOs mobilize substantially more community members and are more likely to devote their efforts toward leadership development and organization building. On the other hand, IMOs are far more likely to employ aggressive social change tactics, whereas CBOs focus more on consensus issues. Finally, IMOs employ a far more diverse array of grassroots funding strategies. The generalizability of these findings is discussed.


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