Aida Tomeh Distinguished Service Award
Ruth & John Useem
Plenary Address
Friday, March 29

Francesa Polletta
Professor of Sociology, Department of  Sociology
University of California, Irvine

The Trouble with Stories

Francesca Polletta came to UCI from Columbia University, where she was an assistant and associate professor of sociology. She works in the areas of culture, politics, social movements, and law. Much of her work investigates how culture sets the terms of strategic action, but culture understood less as beliefs and worldviews than as familiar relationships, institutional routines, and conventions of self-expression. In her award-winning Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (2002), Polletta showed that activists over the course of a century have styled their radical democracies variously on friendship, religious fellowship, and tutelage—and fractured along the lines of those relationships. In her award-winning It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (2006), she investigated the political advantages and risks of telling stories, especially for disadvantaged groups. Popular conventions of storytelling have served to reproduce the status quo, she argues, less by limiting what disadvantaged groups can imagine than by limiting the occasions on which they can tell authoritative stories. Polletta’s current research focuses on new modes of citizen participation, and aims both to account for the new enthusiasm for participatory democracy and to determine whether popular participation has become effectively detached from power.                                                                                                                                               

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