Liz McKenna

Postdoctoral Scholar

Liz McKenna is a postdoctoral scholar at the SNF Agora Institute and a 2019 Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She uses multiple methods (ethnographic, interview, spatial, and network analysis) to study the relationship between disruptive and routine politics. Her current research agenda asks: When do civil society organizations safeguard against authoritarianism, and when do they become the primary carriers of it?

For her dissertation, Liz investigated this question in the context of contemporary Brazil, a country that was—until recently—considered a bastion of democratic life. Data collection for this five-year prospective study began in 2013 during a wave of mass protests and ended with the election of former military paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right coalition.

In a separate project, Liz is working with Hahrie Han and Michelle Oyakawa on Of, By, For: The Political Logic of Collective Action (under advance contract with the University of Chicago Press), a book manuscript that develops a theory of how grassroots organizations build durable political power. Her first book, Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America (Oxford University Press 2014, co-authored with Hahrie Han) analyzed how the Obama campaign turned a social movement into an electoral machine. Before graduate school, Liz worked as a political and community organizer in Ohio and Rio de Janeiro and obtained a B.A. in social studies from Harvard.

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