Liz McKenna

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I am a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Starting in the fall of 2019, I will begin a post-doc at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. I use multiple methods (ethnographic, interview, spatial, and network analysis) to study the relationship between disruptive and routine politics. My current research agenda asks: When do civil society organizations safeguard against authoritarianism, and when do they become the primary carriers of it?


For my dissertation, I investigated this question in the context of contemporary Brazil. (Some of my blog posts on this website reflect prospective parts of the five-year study.) Titled The Revolution Will Be Organized: Power and Protest in Brazil’s New Republic, 1988-2018, I show that power struggles among meso-level actors—specific capital fractions, political parties, and Pentecostal church networks—best explain how and why the political terrain shifted so dramatically in what was once the largest social democracy in the Americas.

P3 Lab research

In a separate project with Hahrie Han and Michelle Oyakawa, our book Of, By, For: The Political Logic of Collective Action (under advance contract with the University of Chicago Press) develops a theory of what we call strategic self-governance based on a multi-year, six state study of grassroots organizations in the United States. My first book, Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America (Oxford University Press, co-authored with Hahrie Han) analyzed how the Obama campaign turned a social movement into an electoral machine. Before grad school, I worked as a political and community organizer in Ohio and Rio de Janeiro and obtained a B.A. in social studies from Harvard.