Tracing progressive social and political activism in the United States


Datum: måndag 2 oktober 2023

Tid: 13.00 – 14.30

Plats: B600

Forskarseminarium med Jennifer Sandler från University of Massachusetts Amherst


Tracing progressive social and political activism in the United States through meetings, trainings, and pedagogical encounters



Until quite recently, the United States was a self-styled center of global neoliberal empire. What does “resistance” to such a hegemonic regime look and feel like? After a decade as a participant in various such projects, I spend about fifteen years interrogating this question as an ethnographer. This research involved engagement with a municipal reform coalition, with several federal evidence-based policy advocacy initiatives, and with many social movement project calling attention to various forms of neoliberal state violence. Until about 2020, the common thread among these diverse activist projects was their epistemic focus; they were each attempts to shift how social reality — and particularly how “progress,” the commonsense foundation of neoliberal hegemony — was understood. In recent years, as epistemic polarization has become a strong feature of the U.S. political landscape, the focus of social activism seems to be shifting toward relational interventions. My current research project aims to interrogate the emerging relational focus of contemporary social activism in the United States and Europe. I will conclude by sharing an outline of a participatory ethnographic methodology for engaging organizations with this research. 



Jen Sandler is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As a researcher, Jen has spent twenty-five years interrogating the politics of knowledge in diverse social change projects. Her scholarly projects include a collaborative project on Meeting Ethnography (with Renita Thedvall), a long-term ethnographic project on epistemic activism, and publications on evidence-based policy, critical pedagogy, and community organizing. She works primarily with social change organizations in the United States, with past projects in Latin America and emerging work with networks and organizations in Europe. 

Aside from her research, over the past decade much of Jen’s energy has involved developing innovative pedagogical and accompaniment partnerships with social change and activist organizations in the United States. She serves as Director of the UMass Alliance for Community Transformation, which is a home for many pedagogical partnerships with community organizations as well as related theory and practice courses for graduate, undergraduate, and community-based students. Jen is also a member-owner of The STOKE Collective, which accompanies social change organizations in developing strong relational cultures and building progressive power across many forms of difference.