Trade Agreements and Democracy


Trade policy is currently politically and popularly salient. Few days pass without major media outlets offering analyses that blast or praise the Trump administration’s approach to the subject. The Trump White House is seeking to renegotiate The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 22 ½ years after its initial implementation. The U.S. – South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS, for the pundits) is also under review by the current administration. The United States has also placed the World Trade Administration (WTO) in a parlous position by refusing to accept appointees to the organization’s Appellate Body, its judicial organ, which hears disputes from members. If we add to this mix the announced intention of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union—Brexit—all of the ingredients necessary for an implosion of the current architecture of global trade are present.

Critics of trade agreements such as NAFTA, and of supranational organizations such as the WTO, argue that these legal arrangements and institutions have been implemented and managed to the detriment of workers and citizens of advanced nations in general and of the United States in particular. But what precisely do these trade accords and organizations do? Who benefits from them and what are their consequences?  This short essay briefly summarizes the state of the art of research concerning trade policy. I will argue that an important line of inquiry is still missing: the institutional consequences of trade agreements. Research on this concern could potentially shed at least partial light on the reasons for the current backlash among a share of the American population to free trade policy.

Trade Agreements

In the current public debate about trade, it is important to emphasize that these agreements are primarily instruments for liberalization whose purpose is the reduction of tariffs (taxes on imports) and quotas (limits on the quantities of a product that may be exported or imported). The goal of reducing barriers to trade is a more efficient system for exchanging goods among nations. There are many different types of exchange agreements and, as a group, they differ in content and scope. Relevant scholarship orders them in a hierarchy from “shallow” to “deep.” Shallow agreements are those, such as the KORUS, which include only measures at national borders. Shallow free trade accords reduce tariffs at borders, but domestic policies may remain untouched. Deep agreements also include rules and regulation beyond national borders, such as introducing standards and rules of origin for products and services (WTO 2011, p. 110). Some examples may help clarify these differences. As noted, KORUS is a shallow trade agreement, while NAFTA is a medium-deep agreement. The European Union is one of the deepest trade accords, as its provisions include a common market and a single currency for its members.

Taken together, all of these covenants are meant to create more efficient markets and to promote and simplify conducting business among their member countries. But what do they do actually? As past WTO director general, Pascal Lamy, has observed, “We need to look at the manner in which RTAs [regional trade agreements] operate” (Lamy 2007).

Economists: We are Better Off Thanks to Trade Agreements

Economists like numbers. Most of their research is dedicated to quantifying the benefits of trade and of its liberalization. Analysts have created a vast literature on the consequences of exchange agreements that, as a general proposition, argues that free trade is beneficial. There are welfare gains associated with freer trade for citizens across all income strata, but these may not be evenly distributed or occur immediately (Corcos, Del Gatto, Mion and Ottaviano 2012). In consequence, many citizens today, across the U.S. and Europe, do not perceive themselves to have benefited from many major trade compacts. In fact, empirical research demonstrates that the gains from such agreements have indeed been unevenly distributed among individuals and across time (Baccini, Pinto and Weymouth 2017). In particular, a share of U.S. blue-collar workers, for example, have suffered from employment off shoring and real wage decline due to some trade agreements, including NAFTA (Hakobyan and McLaren 2016). These facts help explain why some laborers have perceived that they were left behind by the globalizing efforts of encouraging more and freer trade. In fact, and as a result, many citizens in the Rust Belt region in the Midwest of the United States and the manufacturing regions of Northern England have strongly supported anti-trade agreement rhetoric à la advocates of Brexit or as articulated by Donald Trump.

Political Consequences of Trade Agreements

Political scientists have also researched trade agreements resulting in a vast literature on public opinion and trade (Kono 2008; Mansfield and Mutz 2009; Guisinger 2017; Jedinger and Schoen 2017). Recent research of this sort provides a mixed picture of the extent of public support for free and open trade, and of agreements that support those goals. Nonetheless, recent polls have suggested that the majority of Americans still support free trade and broad U.S. involvement in global affairs (Smeltz et al. 2017). Indeed, political scientists have found evidence that free trade agreements and the sustainability of democratic governments are related (Liu and Ornelas 2014). In fact, democracies tend to sign trade agreements with each other (Mansfield, Milner and Rosendorff 2002). Similarly, analysts have determined that economic liberalization and free trade follows regime change towards democracy (Milner and Kubota 2005).

That is, there is evidence of a positive relationship between trade agreements and liberalization and the resilience of democratic systems. Trade compacts, as well as international organizations, however, lack direct and clear democratic accountability, as they are not approved or enacted by a specific demos or democratic citizenry (Elsig 2007, Koppell 2010) and they suffer deficiencies in their legitimacy, since their procedures are sometimes not transparent and characterized by technocratic decision-making (Esty 2002). The point is that “global governance is neither democratic nor entirely undemocratic” (Strange 2011, 240). In fact, on the one hand, public opinion supports open trade, while on the other hand, many citizens express concerns about the democratic accountability of such accords and the institutions that oversee them.

I argue therefore that to examine the political legitimacy and the democratic accountability of trade agreements, analysts must add another factor into their investigative calculus. It is not enough to evaluate the economic, political and institutional consequences of trade accords against the electoral and participatory dimensions of democracy alone. In addition, to gauge their overall import and impact, the rules and procedures of democracies, often anchored in judicial and legislative checks-and-balance systems, also must be analyzed. This is not to say that it is not important to consider what people think about goods exchange deals, but an additional layer of concerns should also be considered when evaluating their implications, including their relative transparency, impacts on civil liberties, rule of law and import for horizontal accountabilities (veto rights, checks on rulers), to name a few (Coppedge et al. 2011). Researchers studying the consequences of trade agreements should consider these concerns seriously if they expect to understand why some workers and citizens support anti-globalization politicians. Put differently, those examining the implications of free trade need to understand better the implications of such agreements for these dimensions of liberal democracy. Investigating these matters will lead analysts to evaluate more fully the domestic political effects of such efforts.

The global economic system is fundamentally capitalist and trade agreements are part of the management of that market regime. This structure, often dubbed regulatory capitalism, is increasingly dominated and managed by a system of administrative rules that are neither obvious, nor readily transparent to the populations affected by them (Levi-Faur, 2005). Trade agreements have often been implemented to reduce or eliminate the anti-competitive effects of specific policies, such as tariffs, so as to allow freer exchange across national borders. However, as Vogel has argued, more open markets seem also to imply more rules (Vogel 1996). Scholars are not yet in a position to understand the consequences of trade agreements for the performance of such a regulatory capitalism regime and future research should seek actively to understand and examine those. Efforts to do so, I have argued, must investigate how international trade agreements are affecting the liberal character of the democratic states that agree to participate in them.


Analysts need to understand better the ways in which trade agreements have contributed to creation of the current regulatory capitalism global regime. Researchers have focused on the electoral and participatory dimension of democracy. In the U.S. case, the majority of Americans still support open and free trade, but paradoxically, a share of that group also back political leaders who are against such policies. This paradox might partially be a consequence of regulatory and administrative changes in the management of the global economy. Hence, it is necessary to study the impact of trade agreements on the liberal dimensions of democracy, which include judicial and legislative checks-and-balance processes. Such inquiry could shed light on the reasons why so many citizens in western democratic nations have supported a recent, and often unreflective, backlash against, trade agreements, international organizations and global governance.



Baccini, L., P. M. Pinto, and S. Weymouth (2017): “The Distributional Consequences of Preferential Trade Liberalization: Firm-Level Evidence,” International Organization 71(2): 373–395.

Coppedge, M. et al. (2011): “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach,” Perspectives on Politics 9: 247-68.

Elsig, M. (2007): “The World Trade Organization’s Legitimacy Crisis: What Does the Beast Look Like?” Journal of World Trade 41(1): 75–98.

Guisinger, A. (2017): American Opinion on Trade. Preferences without Politics. Oxford University Press.

Esty, D. C. (2002): “The World Trade Organization’s legitimacy crisis,” World Trade Review 1(1).

Hakobyan, S., and J. McLaren (2016): “Looking for labor market effects of NAFTA,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 98(4): 728–741.

Jedinger, A., and Schoen, A. (2017): “Anti-Americanism and Public Attitudes toward Transatlantic Trade,” German Politics, pp. 1–22.

Kono, D. Y. (2008): “Does Public Opinion Affect Trade Policy?,” Business and Politics, 10(2), 1–19.

Koppell, J. (2010): World Rule. Accountability, Legitimacy, and the Design of Global Governance. The University of Chicago Press.

Lamy, P. (2007). “Proliferation of regional trade agreements “breeding concern”” Speech at the opening of the Conference on Multilateralizing Regionalism. 10 September 2007. Available at:

Levi-Faur, D. (2005): “The Global Diffusion of Regulatory Capitalism,” The Annals of the American Academy 598: 12–32.

Liu, X., and E. Ornelas (2014): “Free Trade Agreements and the Consolidation of Democracy,” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 6(2): 29–70.

Mansfield, E. D., and D. C. Mutz (2009): “Support for Free Trade: Self-Interest, Sociotropic Politics, and Out-Group Anxiety,” International Organization, 63(3), 425–457.

Mansfield, E. D., Milner, H.V. and Rosendorff, B. P. (2002): “Why Democracies Cooperate More: Electoral Control and International Trade Agreements.” International Organization 56 (3): 477–513.

Milner, H. V., and K. Kubota (2005): “Why the Move to Free Trade? Democracy and Trade Policy in the Developing Countries,” International Organization 59(1): 107–143.

Smeltz, D.; Daalder, I.H.; Friedhoff, K. and Kafura, C. (2017): “What Americans Think about America First.” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Available at:

Strange, M. (2011): “Discursivity of Global Governance: Vestiges of “Democracy” in the World Trade Organization,” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 36(3): 240–256.

WTO. (2011): World Trade Report 2011 – The WTO and preferential trade agreements: From co-existence to coherence. World Trade Organization.


Simone Franzi is a doctoral student in the Planning, Governance and Globalization program at Virginia Tech. His current research interest is in the political economy of trade and, in particular, how trade and trade agreements play roles in shaping geographies and polities. More specifically, he is studying the consequences of trade agreements for different dimensions of democracy. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Simone earned a Bachelor and a Master’s degree in Political Science and Geography from the University of Bern, Switzerland. His baccalaureate thesis addressed conceptualizations of trust in the social sciences. For his Master’s degree, he studied the implications of commodity trading for sustainable development and wrote a thesis on the relationship between commodity abundance and international cooperation.


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Youth as a Social Construct


Youth as a subject of study has evolved from its consideration as a biological category to its conceptualizations as a social construct. In what follows, I explore the meaning of youth as a social construct. In doing so, I first examine the standard age-based definition of youth. To provide dimension to the latter understanding, I present the youth demographic imperative that has arisen in many developing nations in the essay’s second section. In the third and last part of this analysis, I seek to expand the definition of youth based on age to one that acknowledges first and foremost the concept as a social construct.

Youth as a transitioning phase

For statistical and record-keeping purposes, the United Nations (UN) has defined a youth as a person aged between 15 to 24 years old. The UN Secretary-General first referred to this definition of youth in 1981 in his report to the General Assembly concerning International Youth Year and thereafter endorsed it in ensuing reports (UNDESA, Fact Sheet). Nonetheless, defining this group precisely is quite challenging because what constitutes youth varies in different societies around the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website, for example, has suggested that a young person is,

A person between the age where he/she may leave compulsory education and the age at which he/she finds his/her first employment. This latter age limit has been increasing, as higher levels of unemployment and the cost of setting up an independent household puts many young people into a prolonged period of dependency (UNESCO Website).

Meanwhile, the African Youth Charter characterizes young people as individuals between 15 and 35 years old. In these definitions, the distinction between “youth” and “adult” is somewhat arbitrary. The fact that a 24-year-old or a 35-year-old is considered a youth, while a 25-year-old or 36-year-old is an adult is a social construct, based on the conventions established and promoted by organizations such as the UN, African Union and the International Labor Organization (O’Higgins, 2001). Such organizations’ definitions have characterized youth as a transition in life that is “neither childhood, nor adulthood,” comprising young people’s transitions from school and/or work, to forming families and securing independent status and households.

Sukarieh and Tannock (2015) have offered an alternate perspective on how to conceive of youth. These authors have conceptualized this demographic cohort as a social category in the context of the global economy. However, before delving into their argument, it is important to outline why youths have emerged as a focus of attention for policy-makers, international organizations and corporations.

 Youth Demographic Imperative

The first and most obvious reason for today’s increasing interest in young people is the fact that the world currently has the largest population of such individuals in its history. Earth now has about 1.8 billion youths between the ages of 10 and 24. Persons between the ages of 15 and 24 now number 1.1 billion, a figure that constitutes 18 percent of the global population.  Youths and children together, including those aged 24 years and younger, account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s inhabitants. The largest number of young people is concentrated in Asia and the Pacific. Approximately 60 percent of the world’s youths live in Asia; 15 percent, in Africa; 10 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and the remaining 15 percent, in developed countries and regions (Advocates for Youth, 2017). About 80 percent of the world’s young people live in developing countries. The following figures illustrate this point: more than half of Egypt’s labor force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s population of 167 million is between the ages of 15 and 34.  In addition, more than two-thirds of the population of Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia and Uganda is under the age of 25 (Foreign Policy, 2017).

Nearly half (45.9 percent) of the world’s youths live in low-income countries, while another third (34.1 percent) reside in lower middle-income countries. The remaining fifth (20 percent) live in upper middle-and high-income countries. Nevertheless, more than 30 percent of 15-24 year olds in the world live on less than $2 per day (Advocates for Youth, 2017). Understanding the importance of these demographic realities is essential to grasping the importance of how young people emerged as a salient demographic for policy-makers.

Youth as a Social Category

According to Sukarieh and Tannock (2015), the social category “youth” has always been double-sided, encompassing both negative and positive stereotypes. On the one hand, young people have been said by some analysts to constitute a “ticking bomb” that presents a threat to the security and fabric of society (UN Africa Renewal, 2017; NPR, 2015). In this view, young people represent potential denizens of unemployment, delinquency or extremism. On the other hand, for some writers, youth constitute the “promise of the future,” the hope for addressing the ills and flaws of their societies (Daily Nation, 2015). This binary stereotyping highlights the fact that who is considered a youth, as well as how they are imagined, are social constructs. Indeed, young people have been viewed as a resource that can either be mobilized ‘efficiently’ or emerge as a major social risk. Thus, youth may be a signifier that embodies both potential and negative risk simultaneously.

Young people today not only represent a significant demographic cohort globally, but they also are navigating many of life’s perceived crucial transitions in a relatively short time as they emerge as adults. A 2007 World Bank Report on Development and the Next Generation, for example, has identified six main transitions that many youths undergo: learning, working, migrating and staying healthy, forming families and exercising citizenship. These shifts suggest that a successful passage to adulthood involves navigating all or the major share of these transitions, laying aside the fact that some may conflict with one another.

It is useful to cite a few examples that illustrate the tension among these milestones. One might involve a situation in which a young person would have to work a low paying job and pause their studies at a university to support themselves and pay the costs associated with their education. In such cases, a tension exists between learning and working. Another example might occur when a young person is deterred from forming a family, despite the fact that they want to do so, for fear they cannot support a spouse and children, or from visiting a doctor because they are unemployed or fear they cannot pay the related costs. In these cases, youths’ transition to work and forming families, as well as remaining healthy, are in tension.

Simply citing these changes as markers or milestones for young people fails to take into account the structural conditions that can mediate each, including poverty, family violence, inequality, war or conflict. Indeed, the 2007 World Bank Report did not acknowledge the ability of young people to access work, school, healthcare, mobility and so on when it highlighted these (necessary) transitions to adulthood. Viewing youths as an asset and a resource tends to commodify them and suggest that they need to work to adapt their aspirations and capacities closely to the interests of employers, the workplace and the market economy if they want to avoid being regarded as a risk or detriment to society..

In light of this pervasive perspective, it is important to emphasize that youths are more than a grouping of individuals who constitute a more or less arbitrary assigned age category. Instead, they are a heterogeneous group that possess agency and may seek to chart their own course as individuals and as a group in ways that embody risk and potential in many different ways:

Young people are never simply passive dupes or empty vessels when they participate in youth programs that have been designed by other organizations and states, but actively contest, resist and rework such programming to their own ends (Sukarieh & Tannock 2015, p.29).

While it is essential to recognize young people’s potential agency to defy the socially constructed binary in which many find themselves enmeshed, it is also paramount to emphasize that the institutions shaping youth today, such as schools, corporations, the state, media and social media, foundations, NGOs, the military and youth experts, all play roles in shaping and constructing what it means to be young and successful.

Youth can be shaped and constrained by these entities’ discourses that too often fail to take into account the structural circumstances young people confront. That is precisely how a definition of youth as a social construct serves to bring to light the multiple ways of defining youth and their implications. The fact that we live in an era characterized by the largest youth population ever recorded evokes the importance of these social constructs. This is so not only because such constructs define how the experience of youth is understood by young people and society-at-large alike, but also because those views shape public policies and actions that materially affect young people’s life prospects.

References (2017). Available at:  [Accessed November 6,  2017].

Daily Nation. (2017). The youth are the pillars of development. Available at: [Accessed November 9, 2017]

Lord, Reiss, Hennessey, Wittes, Pauker, Schake, Boot and Zenko (2017). Here Come the Young. [online] Foreign Policy. Available at: [Accessed November 6, 2017]. (2017). Global Youth Unemployment: Ticking Time Bomb? Available at: [Accessed November 9, 2017].

Sukarieh, M. and Tannock, S. (2015). Youth Rising? The Politics of Youth in the Global Economy, New York: Routledge Publishers.

O’Higgins, N. (2001). Youth unemployment and employment policy: A global perspective. Geneva: International Labor Organization. (2017). Youth dividend or ticking time bomb? | Africa Renewal Online.
Available at: [Accessed November 9, 2017].

UNDESA, Definitions of Youth. Fact Sheet. Available at:
[Accessed November 6, 2017].

UNESCO. What do we mean by youth? Available at: [Accessed November 6, 2017]. (2017). Youth participation & leadership | UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. Available at: [Accessed  November 6,  2017].

World Bank. (2007). The World Development Report 2007 on Development and the Next Generation. Available at:
[Accessed November 6. 2017].

Nada Berrada is a native of Morocco and a Ph.D. student in the ASPECT program (Alliance for Social Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought) at Virginia Tech. She previously earned an M.A. in Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech and a B.A in Political Science and Economics from Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie de Rabat (EGE) in Morocco. She currently teaches for the Political Science Department. Berrada has worked for The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, the German Marshall Fund, the United Nations Development Program, the Foundation Orient Occident and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. She also served as a Youth Delegate representing Morocco during the 70th (2015-2016) United Nations General Assembly session.

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Strategic Use of Media in Mobilizing – Khunti Diaries

Members of a local advocacy grassroots group in Khunti, India, serve as a bridge between the poor and laborers in that community and its government administration. The group is comprised of local community members and student volunteers and its activities are focused on assisting the area’s population with bringing their concerns and grievances to the local government. Individuals, mostly of the Munda community with which I worked at the time, held a meeting with the national government’s Cabinet Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh Khunti, in Summer 2012, to discuss the grievances of the locals who were not receiving the food and minimum wages to which they were entitled from the local administration.

Many representatives of the national, regional and local media, and members of the community, including unarmed Maoists dressed as locals, and the District Magistrate (DM) responsible for the area, attended the gathering. The grassroots advocacy group’s members arranged the meeting to bring attention to an issue to which the DM of the area had proven unresponsive. As Magistrate, he was charged with ensuring dissemination of individual welfare benefits in the region. Nonetheless, the DM was not distributing those funds on time. Indeed, very often, the transfers were never completed and there was no information available concerning the whereabouts of the funds in the public domain. Eligible beneficiaries in Khunti had repeatedly requested their public entitlements for work on government-sponsored civil construction projects, but to no avail.

The grassroots advocacy group members convened the meeting to ensure that the responsible Cabinet Minister would question the DM with television staff and journalists present. The NGO’s leaders believed that simply sending the Minister the relevant data concerning alleged misappropriation of funds would not lead to timely and affirmative action without such overt public pressure.

There were two groups in the audience.  One consisted of local villagers who had not received their allocated entitlements for several months.  They participated in order to demand explanations and accountability from various government ministerial and bureaucratic officials, who made up the second group.  Overall, approximately 150 people attended the event. Beyond those participating, several dozen members of the paramilitary forces, assigned to protect the ministers, stood nearby.

Overall, this experience taught me the critical role that news media can play in mobilizing wider support outside the affected community for the concerns of a group seeking change or support. It also taught me the processes through which discourses may shape whether such demands are legitimated or validated by the wider society. Finally, this episode suggested that it can sometimes be useful for groups to seek to broaden the scope of awareness of a conflict.   In this case, that meant involving national officials in a local matter. This essay explores the relationship between social movements in India and the media in that nation by sketching the benefits and risks involved in seeking to involve news organizations in advocacy efforts.  I also briefly address how media actors affect the character and direction of social movements in India.

How does the news media affect social movement goals in India?

The members of the local advocacy groups had invited a range of electronic and print media representatives to the Khunti gathering from local, regional and national outlets because they hoped to ensure transparency for the outcomes villagers desired by helping hold public officials accountable. This was a strategic move to ensure that the issue received attention.  If such could occur, the members of the grassroots advocacy group  hoped that it would build hope among the villagers that they enjoyed options when selecting tactics to employ when approaching/lobbying government officials and that those could reap tangible benefits. Journalists asked the political officials questions about the alleged misappropriation of funds and how much longer it would be before an investigation was undertaken concerning the entitlement payments that might hold any individuals found culpable accountable. The media representatives asked the members of the grassroots advocacy group how long the missing funds had been a problem; which specific populations had been affected and how; and, finally, they asked the villagers for details on the effects of not being able to access their food entitlements, as well as how the drought at the time had exacerbated their life situations.

As a general proposition, the targeted government officials, who travelled with security forces, appeared unapproachable to the villagers. As a result, many local residents were frightened to assert their democratic rights in public.  After all the protests, strikes and marches and reports and inquiries shared with relevant Ministries, it was this meeting, with the presence of the media, that obtained effective government action.  More specifically, this gathering resulted in the case being taken up by the Central Ministry of Rural Development, whose leaders in turn summoned the DM to New Delhi to answer for the holdup in paying entitlements. Thereafter, the long-delayed funds arrived within two weeks.  Moreover, the government not only paid currently owed sums, but also cleared a backlog of non-payments owed to Khunti’s citizens.

The result of this action for the local advocacy group with which I volunteered was quite positive as it suggested to affected residents that collective mobilization involving the media could lead to successful advocacy on behalf of otherwise marginalized individuals and groups. Further, several of the communications outlets whose representatives had participated in the original briefing, continued to follow up with state officials in an effort to ensure their ongoing accountability to the citizens affected.  In retrospect, it was clear to all concerned that the media’s presence had brought widespread attention to an issue that otherwise likely would not have gained political salience (Williams, 1995).

Nevertheless, the advocacy group privately received pushback from national government officials in Delhi, who accused its members of not working collaboratively with local government representatives to address the issue. The group’s leaders disagreed and concluded that the presence of journalists had made it clear to public sector leaders that while it was happy to work with them, it was not beholden to them. The group could (and had, in fact, already done so) pursue other strategies to hold government actors accountable if need be.

The Relationship between the Media and Social Movements

The relative autonomy of a movement in its relations with a media outlet depend in part on temporal and spatial factors, as well as on what territories and populations its efforts address.  Long-lived and well institutionalized social movements tend not to challenge the status quo directly. In consequence, they are less dependent on journalistic coverage for their survival.  However, media attention can be crucial for less well-known or established movements that may not yet have acquired strong public legitimacy. Their outsider status, their marginalization from central political decision-making processes and the fact that they are often resource-poor, may make it more difficult for such groups to garner publicity. The situation may also force them to rely on alternative methods to obtain popular support for their concerns.

Ultimately, this challenge translates in practice into social movement leaders identifying strategies to align their goals with public concerns in ways that capture media attention and thereby increase the likelihood of reaching larger groups of people and galvanizing action. Many social movement leaders have found this imperative easier to address during election campaigns. These provide moments for such entities to pressure government officials and candidates to include their concerns on their agendas.  For instance, India’s Right to Food movement was successful in using media salience strategically to press elected officials to enact poverty alleviation acts in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.   The type of advocacy used by a movement is also key.  Certain spectacular strategies, such as hunger strikes, can quickly draw widespread public attention to an issue but, to succeed, all concerned must perceive that those employing this approach are completely serious concerning it.  Further, where advocacy occurs may matter as much as how it is undertaken.  Demonstrations and acts occurring in very visible, public areas, such as outside Parliament, government offices, etc. are much more likely to receive media attention than private meetings in offices or community/village gatherings.

Positives and Negatives

Broadly speaking, social movements gain in several ways from positive media treatment of their efforts. First, press, radio and television coverage can legitimize a movement’s claims and processes.  Second, the media offers frames that the broader population can adopt to understand the causes and potential solutions for an issue.  Third, journalistic coverage can bring a much broader audience’s attention to a local concern or specific community.  Fourth, media salience provides social movements opportunities actively to shape public understanding of important issues.  Fifth, strong sympathetic media coverage of a topic can serve to mobilize support among the larger public.  Sixth, media may serve as an important resource for publicizing messages when social movements are cash-strapped.  Finally, and as the example outlined above suggested, media coverage can serve to press State and corporate actors to behave in more transparent and accountable ways.

However, engaging with the news media can also result in adverse effects. Outlets may frame a social movement and its attendant issues negatively. This has occurred at times with several movements in India, including anti-nuclear activists, as well as Right to Food advocates.  In one famous incident in 2012 in India, several media organizations depicted a member of a missionary group as part of an effort to obtain land illegally in Jharkhand.  In fact, she was a part of a local advocacy group that was actually fighting corporate land grabbing efforts.  Sadly, the erroneous coverage prompted some members of the affected community to murder her.  In this case, corporate actors persuaded journalists of an untrue narrative in an effort to delegitimize resistance to their actions.

This example demonstrates how important the nexus of state, corporate and media can be to social movements.  State and corporate actors often seek to frame social movements and issues for media representatives in a negative light so as to delegitimize them.  Media actors can also adversely affect an issue by simply not publishing or publicizing it for any number of reasons.    Reporters may also frame the strategies used by social movements in a negative light.  For example, the media has often condemned the destruction of State property by members of the Maoist insurgency in one state in India, while not mentioning why the group is pursuing such measures.  Also, owing to concerns with gaining the largest audience possible, media outlets are selective concerning the social movements and issues they cover.  Overall, movements working in urban centers and affecting upper and middle-class individuals are more likely to be covered than, for example, those aimed at assisting rural villagers located in the middle of a jungle.

Media can strongly influence how movements are popularly perceived and thereby affect their possible direction and action strategies. The India Anti-Corruption Movement, for example, was based on Gandhian ideology in India, which gained high media coverage, that consistently discussed its non-violent strategies and in turn, implied a direct tie between the Movement and Gandhiji, a celebrated figure.  In terms of actors and issues, while corruption in public offices is widespread and affects all communities, the Indian media focus primarily on issues affecting the middle and upper classes, such as delays in passport processing and receiving business permits.  In contrast, the vast majority of people affected by corruption are poor.  The Anti-Corruption movement received widespread attention because of the way the media elected to characterize it. Journalistic accounts concerning the movement suggested that all corruption could be eliminated, if the movement’s aims could be fully realized.  Many media and political actors touted a “corruption-free India” as a way of achieving much higher economic growth, a goal desired by people of all classes.  This, emphasis however, obscured how deeply corruption is enmeshed in the government’s bureaucracy.   Nevertheless, the news media played an active role in “creating legitimacy and [a] favorable discourse” in support of the movement (McCarthy and Zald, 1977; Williams, 1995).

In short, the way that such activities are reported in the media is fundamental to the effectiveness of the feedback loop between the public and its government leaders, elected and appointed. Public officials are often openly critical of social movements that undermine their authority.


There is a paucity of scholarship that studies the relationship between the media and social movements in India, especially in a time when major communications outlets are generally held privately by for-profit firms in that country. I have sought to use Indian examples to illustrate the fact that social movements can be greatly benefited by their strategic use of media coverage. The scholarship concerning this topic is becoming ever more important, as social movements not only seek to influence public actors within states, but also transnationally.



McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (1977). “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory,” American Journal of Sociology, 82(6), 1212–1241.

Williams, R. H. (1995). “Constructing the Public Good: Social Movements and Cultural Resources,” Social Problems, 42(1), 124–144. Accessed October 30, 2017.

Pallavi Raonka is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at Virginia Tech. She received her BA- Psychology from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Vadodara, India, and her M.A. in Rural Development from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India.

Her research interests include the political economy of globalization and development, social movement theory, and Indian politics.




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“Disabled Femininities” in Paralympic Sport: Exploring the Narratives of Brazilian Female Paralympians*

Gender in sport is deeply contradictory and complex: women are oppressed by men in sport; both women and men are oppressed in sport; and women and men experience freedom in sport. But definitions of oppression and freedom are not straightforward – they relate to the values which people hold and the context which they are in, which, in turn, affects what they do.                                         (Hargreaves, 1990, p.302).


The international Paralympic Games have evidenced a history of unequal representation of the male and female athletes.  Although the number of female Paralympians has increased significantly during the last two decades, as the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPG) data show in the table below, there still was a substantial participation gap between males and female athletes at the most recent Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Table 1. Female athletes at Paralympic Games

Event Sydney 2000 Athens 2004 Beijing 2008 London 2012 Rio de Janeiro 2016
Women 990 1,165 1,383 1,501 1,671
Total number of athletes 3,879 3,808 3,951 4,237 4,238
Percentage of Female Participants 25.5 30.6 35 35.4 39.4

Sources: IPC (n.d. a; b; c; d; e)

This discrepancy has historically characterized Brazilian Paralympic delegations as well. During the Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000, for example, Brazil was represented by 11 women on its Paralympic team of 64 athletes (Wikipedia, n.d.). At the event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil competed with its largest Paralympic delegation since its first participation in the games. Of the nation’s 287 Paralympians in 2016, 102 were women, or about 35.5 percent of the total delegation CPB, 2016),

The reasons a large discrepancy between male and female Paralympic participation exists are highly complex and the topic is under researched (DePauw, 1997; Hardin, 2007; Hargreaves, 2000; Olenik, 1998). As DePauw (1999) has argued, sport, as a social institution, has been transformed by the presence of women, individuals with disabilities and female athletes with disabilities. Nevertheless, ableist ideologies, gendered relations of power, social and cultural barriers and women’s personal choices have all shaped a relative lack of representation of women in disability sport (Hargreaves, 2000, p.211).

More than 45 million Brazilians live with impairments and they experience a variety of physical and social barriers that prevent them from participating in sports. For example, their access to sporting opportunities is constrained by inaccessible infrastructure, as well as transportation and attitudinal barriers (DataSenado, 2010; Pereira et al. 2013). Although prejudice against people with disabilities has decreased in recent years in Brazilian society, many such Brazilians remain the target of preconceptions that they are incapable of participating in sports activity (DataSenado, 2010; Ferreira and Miranda, 2013). Furthermore, Brazilian women in general and women with impairments in particular, have not enjoyed the support of policies and programs aimed at increasing their participation in organized sports (Miragaya and DaCosta, 2007). These reasons, among others, have led to the fact that half of Brazilians with disabilities do not participate in sports (SAGE/COPPE/UFRJ Research Team, 2014, p.115).

This short essay seeks to illuminate the issues and experiences of Brazil’s female parathletes in order to highlight the inequities and barriers such women now confront in disability sport in the country. Following this brief introduction, we sketch the sociopolitical context of Paralympic sport in Brazil and then examine more closely the experiences of women participating in it.. That section offers the reflections and observations of four Brazilian female athletes who competed in the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Paralympic sport in Brazil

Involving people with impairments in sports began at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Salisbury, England in the 1940s, with the goal of assisting the rehabilitation of WWII veterans with disabilities. Sir Ludwig Guttmann, director of Salisbury’s Spinal Injuries Centre, organized the First Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralyzed in 1948 for 26 British veterans (including three women) who competed in archery (DePauw, 2012). In 1960, Rome hosted 400 athletes from 23 countries in the first international Paralympics, and in 2016, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted 4,350 athletes from 170 countries in a Latin American nation’s first-ever hosting of the Paralympic Games (Craven, 2016).

Although disability sport initiatives began in Brazil in the late 1950s with wheelchair basketball clubs in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil’s formal participation in the Paralympic Games began almost two decades later in Toronto, Canada, in 1976 (Junior, 2012). The Brazilian Paralympic Committee,  created in 1995, which propelled the development of high performance Paralympic sport in Brazil (Marquez and Gutierrez, 2014). Thereafter, national congressional enactment of the Agnelo/Piva Law in 2001 was crucial for sustaining the Paralympic movement in the country. The statute mandated that two percent of federal lottery funds be set aside for the Brazilian Olympic and Paralympic Committees, distributed in a proportion of 85 percent and 15 percent, respectively. In 2015, the nation’s Senate changed the Agnelo/Piva Law’s proportion of lottery revenues designated for the Olympics from 2 percent to 2.7 percent, as well as the percentage of revenue assigned to Paralympic sports within that sum from 15 percent to 37.04 percent (Fontenelle, 2016).

This shift has allowed the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) to establish a national sports team, members of which receive financial support, including bonuses for medals won, for the duration of the Paralympic cycle (Mauerberg-deCastro et al., 2016). However, many of those we interviewed for a forthcoming book noted that this financial support has been unstable, resulting in some Brazilian parathletes having to work full-time during the day and train in the evenings and on weekends.

Although the federal and state governments in Brazil have been investing in adequate training facilities and coaches for Paralympic sport, access to these is still  limited to large urban centers, where most such professionals and infrastructure is located. This fact requires many athletes to relocate for professional training and rehabilitation services, which implies a long-term commitment and dependence on sponsorships and state support (Mauerberg-deCastro, et al., 2016). One way to demonstrate regional disparities in opportunities to participate in Paralympic sport in Brazil is to chart the number of medals won per state in the 2016 Paralympics: a little more than 40%, or 56 of 135 medals were attained by athletes from just two states—Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Passos, 2016).

Although Paralympic sport in Brazil has grown significantly in recent decades, it still confronts major challenges including, inadequate infrastructure of sports clubs, spotty sporting facility accessibility, insufficient equipment and materials, lack of public awareness of disability sport and an insufficient number of qualified coaches and other professionals (Marques and Gutierrez, 2014). Additionally, disability sports organizations are often led by volunteers without impairments (Mauerberg-deCastro et al., 2016). Withal, despite the advances of the Paralympic movement in Brazil, women, particularly, participating in Paralympic sport in the nation still face major impediments and inequities.

Women in the Paralympic sport

Although gender inequity has been identified in previous work within the world of mainstream conventional sport, Olenik et al. have rightly pointed out that making generalizations from able-bodied sport to disability sport ignores, denies or erases the significance of women’s experiences within the latter, as it ignores the historical and political context of those experiences (1995, p.54). Recruitment of female Paralympians remains a significant challenge in many world regions. At an elite level, in comparison to the Olympic Games, the proportion of female athlete participation in the Paralympic Games lags by approximately ten percent. Blauwet has attributed this difference to a lack of access to sport rather than an insufficient number of potential participants (2015, p.126).

Available research suggests that women with impairments who aspire to participate in high-level sport competitions may indeed face the greatest discrimination of all. There are individual differences in whether the disability is congenital or acquired later in life, how long they have been living with their impairment(s) or unique manifestations of loss or reduction of functional ability, as well as differences in age, social class, education, race, ethnicity, etc. However, insufficient research makes it difficult to develop an accurate picture of the specific reasons why so few disabled women participate in sport and the obstacles they face if they do participate. The interviews and personal conversations we have conducted with 2016 Brazilian female parathletes have confirmed some of the challenges treated in the available literature, including, lack of awareness of opportunities to become involved in sports, lack of financial means, high opportunity cost of engaging in disability sports compared to other activities, lack of financial incentives to become involved in disability sport, high cost of sporting equipment, lack of adequate transportation and public safety, inaccessibility of many athletic facilities and attitudinal barriers.

The complex and contradictory position that sportswomen with and without impairments find themselves is illustrated in this statement by a Brazilian goalball player, when discussing maternity:

In sport, women face prejudice and difficulties with the issue of maternity and child-rearing. The sporting milieu is not ready to accommodate a mother athlete. She would have to take time off if she wants to breastfeed and spend more time with her child. I think there is a possibility to work out strategies that would allow a woman to exercise her professional activity in sport and spend time with her child, if there was more sensitivity to this issue (Individual interview conducted on June 7, 2017).

Participation of women with impairments in the world of elite sports is often accompanied by other barriers, as suggested by this sitting volleyball player:

I do not know how it is in other sports, but in sitting volleyball, our team was clearly disadvantaged. But we overcame it with much struggle and dedication. For example, we did not have the opportunity to train at the Olympic Stadium, we had to find another venue to train before the Paralympics. We only trained once on the official court, while the male team trained there regularly. We had the opportunity to train with the Japanese team in Volta Redonda [a city two hours away from Rio de Janeiro], which in the end helped us gain more experience. We also had several scrimmages with the Chinese team, and we made the most of our experiences (Individual interview conducted on May 22, 2017).

Another female sitting volleyball player commented on the different marketing and promotion treatment that Brazil’s male and female sitting volleyball teams received during the Rio Paralympics:

I feel the difference in the promotion and in the opportunities between female and male sport [of sitting volleyball]. During the Rio Paralympics, there was a banner promoting men’s sitting volleyball team on the Rio-Niteroi bridge [that connects the city of Rio de Janeiro to the rest of the state]. In case of the female team, we only had an image of one of the players on a subway car on Line 2… We also needed to be treated as someone who had conditions to be among the best in the world … Our medal was the first in team female sport that Brazil has ever won, but it did not bring an increased return to us in terms of media attention, sponsorship or promotion (Individual interview conducted on May 23, 2017).

A female shooting parathlete noted that she has confronted similar challenges in recognition and expectations during her sporting career:

Shooting is a male-dominated sport, and I have always felt that. It was not explicit, but I always felt that I had to prove that I was better, that I was capable of achieving more. I felt this pressure because I am a woman. If I win in a mixed competition [with male and female participants competing together], men usually joke about the one who lost, ‘wow, aren’t you ashamed, you lost to a woman!’ (Individual interview conducted on March 22, 2017).

Overall, women participate less than men in disability sport for a complex array of reasons that affect those who wish to become involved and those already engaged in elite Paralympic sport alike, as exemplified by one female goalball player we interviewed:

I had some competitions canceled because of insufficient number of active women in goalball. It is a larger issue, as there is a greater number of national male goalball teams around the world than national female teams. In Brazil, we also have more male than female goalball teams. And because of this, sometimes we do not have the same number of competitions among the female teams as the male teams do. There are social factors at the basis of this, such as, for example, the difficulty of women accessing sport and often higher vulnerability of blind women in social settings. She may leave home less frequently, practice less sport and sometimes end up in a more over-protected situation by her family (Individual interview conducted on June 7, 2017).

This essay has outlined some of the obstacles that Brazilian female Paralympians face in obtaining recognition for their achievements, especially those who compete in less popular or male-dominated sports. Issues such as insensitivity to the maternity and child-rearing needs of sportswomen, unequal recognition in comparison to their male counterparts and fewer competitive opportunities because of the lack of female athletes with impairments involved in elite sports, all contribute to the unequal representation of women in such activities. As Hargreaves (2000) has argued, we lack full understanding of the particular problems that women face because of insufficient research. However, “the increasing visibility of sportswomen with disabilities helps to transcend the idea that the body is a burden and encourages other disabled women to focus on their sporting abilities” (Hargreaves, 2000, p.198). In keeping with this contention, the women we interviewed suggested that their experiences as participants in Paralympic sport have made them more resilient. As Seal has observed, “rather than operating as a ‘double disadvantage,’ gender and disability dynamically combine to offer them a different set of opportunities” (2014, p.191). Although this is a positive conclusion, these possibilities are not available to all women with impairments aiming to compete in elite athletic events due to socioeconomic, cultural, political and ideological barriers.



(*) We borrow the term “disabled femininities” from Emma-Louise Seal’s study of the intersection between gendered and disabled identities of elite female athletes in disability sport. Her idea of “disabled femininities” denoted the complexity underlying how these individuals desired to be seen as strong and tough, while at the same time maintaining their sense of embodied femininity (Seal, 2014, p.205).


Blauwet, C.A. (2015). The paralympic female athlete. In M. L. Mountjoy (Ed.), The Female Athlete. 1st Ed. John Wiley & Sons, pp.120-127

CPB – Comitê Paralímpico Brasileiro. (2016, August 31). Atletas paralímpicos brasileiros começam a chegar ao Rio de Janeiro e têm recepção no Boulevard Olímpico. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from

Craven, P. (2016). The Paralympic Games and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN Chronicle, 2, 10-13.

DataSenado (2010). Condições de vida das pessoas com deficiência no Brasil. Pesquisa de opinião pública nacional. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from

DePauw, K. (1997). Sport and physical activity in the life-cycle of girls and women with disabilities. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 6 (2), 225-234.

DePauw, K.P. (1999). Girls and women with disabilities in sport. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, 70(4), 50-52, 61.

DePauw, K.P. (2012). A historical perspective of the Paralympic Games. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 83(3), 21-31, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2012.10598739.

Ferreira, A. and Miranda, A. (2013, December 2). Três cidades do ABC oferecem programas de esporte para deficientes. Retrieved from: esportes/2013/12/tres-cidades-do-abc-oferecem-programas-de-esporte-para-deficientes-o-projeto-tem-como-objetivo-promover-a-inclusao-social-e-buscar-novos-talentos-santo-andre-sao-bernardo-e-sao-caetano-oferecem-programas-de-esportes-adaptados-para-deficientes-da-regiao.4.

Fontenelle, A. (2016, August 1). Aprovada em 2001, Lei Piva acabou com carência de dinheiro no esporte olímpico. Senado Noticias. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from

Hardin, M. (2007). “I consider myself an empowered woman”: The interaction of sport, gender and disability in the lives of wheelchair basketball players. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 16(1), 39-52.

Hargreaves, J. (1990). Gender on sports agenda. International Review of Sociology of Sport, 25(4), 287-307.

Hargreaves, J. (2000). Heroines of sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

IPC (n.d., a). Sydney 2000. Retrieved from:

IPC (n.d., b). Athens 2004. Retrieved from:

IPC (n.d., c). Beijing 2008. Retrieved from:

IPC (n.d., d). London 2012. Retrieved from:

IPC (n.d., e). Rio de Janeiro 2016. Retrieved from:

Junior, E. (2012). A história do esporte praticado por pessoas com deficiência no Brasil. Special Report, Radio Câmara. Retrieved from materias/reportagem-especial/411044-a-historia-do-esporte-praticado-por-pessoas-com-deficiencia-no-brasil-bloco-1.html

Marques, R.F. and Gutierrez, G.L. (2014). O Esporte Paralímpico no Brasil: Professionalismo, administração e classificação de atletas. São Paulo: Phorte editora.

Mauerberg-deCastro, E.; Campbell, D. F.; and Tavares, C.P. (2016). The global reality of the Paralympic Movement: Challenges and opportunities in disability sports. Motriz, 22(3), 111-123. DOI:

Miragaya, A. and DaCosta, L.(2007). Women in sport for all from multicultural perspectives. Paper presented at the Conference “From Greece to China: West meets East through Sport,” in Beijing, China. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from

Olenik, L. M; Matthews, J. M.; and Steadward, R. D. (1995). Women, disability and sport: Unheard voices. Canadian Woman Studies, 15(4), 54-57.

Olenik, L.M. (1998). Women in Disability Sport: Multidimensional Perspectives. PhD thesis, University of Alberta, Canada.

Passos, G. (2016, September 18). Paralimpíadas: confira o ranking de medalhistas brasileiros por estado e região [Press release]. Retrieved from:

Pereira, L.F., Neves, J.M.J., Albuquerque, M.S., and Fonseca, M.P.S. (2013). A Influência do Transporte e dos Espaços Urbanos no Acesso de Deficientes Físicos à Prática Esportiva. Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

SAGE/COPPE/UFRJ Research Team (2014). Olympic Games Impact (OGI) Study — Rio 2016 Initial Report to measure the impacts and the legacy of the Rio 2016 Games.

Seal, E.L. (2014). Juggling Identities: Elite Female Athletes’ Negotiation of Identities in Disability Sport. PhD thesis, University of Bath, UK.

Wikipedia (n.d.). Brazil at the 2000 Summer Paralympics. Retrieved from:

Lyusyena Kirakosyan currently serves as a Senior Project Associate at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance and a governance and development consultant for nongovernmental organizations. Her research interests focus on critical disability studies, particularly in the context of Paralympic Games and Paralympics legacy. Since January 2016, she has been a research member of the Brazilian Paralympic Academy that focusses on inquiry into paralympic sports in Brazil and is formally a part of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee. She earned her Ph.D. in Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) from Virginia Tech in 2013, her master’s degree in Management from the Hult International Business School in Boston, Massachusetts in 2001, and her bachelor’s degree in Economics from Yerevan State University in Armenia in 1997. She is the co-editor with Max Stephenson Jr. of the forthcoming edited book, RE: Reflections and Explorations: A Forum for Deliberative Dialogue, Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance, 2017, Paper and ebook formats.



As a sports manager and social scientist, Sam Geijer is passionate about the power of sports and is dedicated to research the effects of sports on excluded groups. As such, he intends to pursue his doctoral research at the University of Amsterdam where his research will focuse on social inclusion of people with a disability as part of the legacy of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Sam received his Bachelor’s degree in 2011 in Sport, Management and Business from the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam and concluded his pre-Master’s program in 2014 in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Sam has recently authored and published the first volume of the Paralympic Stars Magazine that focused on adapted sports in Brazil:





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Planning for Communication with Non-English Speakers in Disaster Situations

Empathy for underserved communities is vital to planning and making decisions that will be inclusive, particularly during emergency situations and disasters. Hurricane Harvey is now in the history books as one of the most damaging storms the United States has experienced in decades. Thousands of Houston, Texas-area residents, for example, are now addressing its effects, which included more than 50 inches of rain, when that city typically only receives 48 inches of precipitation in an entire year (Erdman, 2017). More than 31 people in Houston died as a result of the storm (, 2017). Many homes in its path were damaged or washed away completely, some individuals lost family members and friends and there is a long road ahead for many whose properties were devastated by wind, rain or flooding. As those directly affected continue to assess the damage, public officials at all levels of government and nonprofit organization leaders have begun to ask, “What could we have done better?”

In that spirit, this essay will focus on one vital aspect of emergency management and planning; communicating with residents with limited English proficiency. Specifically, it will discuss the following concerns related to this imperative and use Houston’s emergency management planning efforts as an example:

  1. Language barriers to emergency communication
  2. Distrust of law enforcement and government representatives within communities with language barriers, which include unauthorized immigrants
  3. Solutions that combine community feedback and emergency management best practices.

Communicating with residents who may not speak or understand English entails more than translating English into their native language or offering an interpreter’s services when necessary. It requires sensitivity to the cultures and specific needs of the residents of such communities. These populations frequently have legitimate cultural concerns that make their members nervous about trusting local authorities. Meanwhile, municipal and county governments have often made assumptions about communities’ needs, in lieu of asking those affected to share them. How can policymakers and communities work together to address the unique challenges linked to natural disaster preparation and recovery amidst lingual and cultural heterogeneity?

Recognizing and Addressing Language Barriers

Spanish and Vietnamese are two of the top five languages spoken in Houston. Houston has the fourth highest population of Hispanic residents (2.3 million) among cities in the United States and about 39 percent of that number are foreign-born (Pew, 2017). The city also has the third highest population of Vietnamese residents (120,000) among cities in the United States. Approximately 37.9 percent of Vietnamese-speaking residents in the Houston metropolitan area have limited English proficiency, defined as having difficulty reading, writing, speaking or understanding English (City of Houston, 2013).

The U.S. Census defines a household as “linguistically isolated” if its members 14 or older evidence difficulty with English and speak a different native language (Shin, 2003). People with limited English proficiency may struggle or adapt differently to tasks than fluent English speakers. For example, they often navigate public transit by memorizing symbols on signs and notable features of a station, since they are unable to read the words on them (Community Transportation Association of America, 2016). City transit officials should work to communicate changes in bus or subway routing or timetables broadly and in multiple languages in areas where different languages are spoken. Appropriate transit information sharing is necessary to ensure that all can adjust. Emergency management efforts are no different. They, too, must be offered and planned in ways that seek to involve all of a community’s population, regardless of its members’ capacity to speak or write English.

Existing language barriers in a community can be exacerbated during natural disasters when government officials assume high-level English fluency when sharing emergency information. In an interview with Good Magazine in 2014, for example, Thomas Phelan, an emergency management researcher, suggested that emergency messages and warnings are often written at the college level, which is far too complex to be understood by non-English speakers, children and a share of the elderly (Hennefer, 2015). Moreover, most people do not know how to read a satellite image, irrespective of their relative language proficiency. If fluent speakers struggle with messages such as the one below, one may well imagine how much more challenging they are likely to be for those with limited English skills:

It is especially difficult for those with limited English proficiency to obtain medical help during times of emergency. Meischke, et al. (2010) surveyed professionals at health call centers and found that 80 percent of respondents encountered callers with limited English skills more than once a week. Meischke, et. al. (2010) also found that during these calls, dispatchers had to repeat information. In consequence, these researchers found a significant difference in the time it took to dispatch different types of emergency medical technician crews to those with limited English skills compared to those who were fluent, the consequences of which will need to be investigated further. Mieschke et. al. (2010) did suggest, however, that dispatchers’ techniques for communicating with callers of limited English proficiency may not be as effective, since the language barrier can negate the usefulness of a technique, such as repeating a question or statement, in order to calm a distressed caller.

Understanding distrust and gaining trust are important

Another barrier in Houston and other cities that arises during and following natural disasters between those with no or limited English facility, including unauthorized immigrants, and government representatives, is distrust. The Migration Policy Institute has reported that a majority of Houston area immigrants lack English proficiency, which means there is significant overlap between those populations and unauthorized immigrant populations on this critical criterion (Capps, et. al., 2015). These two factors together exacerbate distrust of government representatives. Put yourself in an unauthorized immigrant’s shoes and imagine you had just lost your home and belongings or had otherwise suffered catastrophically from a storm or fire and a complete stranger with a government-agency logo on their shirt walked up to you speaking a language you do not command. During a vulnerable time, such as in the aftermath of such a disaster, how would you know whether that person is trustworthy?

The Department of Homeland Security has defined unauthorized immigrants as, “foreign-born non-citizens who are not legal residents” (Department of Homeland Security, 2017). There are about 575,000 unauthorized immigrants in the Houston area (Sacchetti, 2017). This translates to 1 in 10 Houston metro residents being unauthorized (Florido, 2017).

For this reason alone, it is important for Houston’s emergency managers to consider how immigrant communities could be apprehensive and fearful of government activities, rather than assume that public officials will be received with open arms during relief and recovery efforts. Residents may not know how to identify official emergency responders, they may be unauthorized to be in the country or they may have previous life experiences that have sown a distrust in police or other government representatives (Florida Department of Health Office of Minority Health, 2013). For example, many unauthorized immigrants in Houston were afraid to seek shelter following Hurricane Harvey because they feared U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees, who were assisting with search and rescue. As a result, many residents waited in contaminated water for the storm to abate, when they could have obtained warm and dry shelter. Indeed, representatives of Familias Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha (Spanish “For Families and Their Education,” or FIEL), a Houston, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group, received dozens of calls from residents asking whom they could trust, as relief efforts were underway (Florido, 2017).

As a general rule, non-English speakers did not trust federal immigration and emergency management officials. More, many did not trust Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, even as he insisted that those receiving assistance would not be subject to identification checks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection also announced they would not check immigration documents at shelters. Nonetheless, these statements did little to allay residents’ fears predicated on the fact that prior to Hurricane Harvey, there were widespread reports of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arresting and detaining at least 6,500 immigrants in the Houston area (Straw, 2017).

      Solutions for local governments

Language and cultural barriers can exacerbate a complicated recovery. Houston officially provides services in five languages, including Spanish and Vietnamese, but interpreters are often stretched thin during emergencies. Families may have members who are fluent in English, but these may be children and it is unrealistic to rely on young people to interpret information accurately and convey it to their families. Local governments should focus their planning on programs that will increase language proficiency in both directions.  For Houston, this implies that the city should work to provide opportunities for its residents needing to acquire more English proficiency and, also, train responders fluent in English to speak and read Spanish and Vietnamese.

City officials should also focus on partnering with radio, television and other media companies already serving immigrant communities to distribute important emergency messages in their native languages and to build trust by engaging with them outside of disaster situations to describe city structures and programs aimed at relief and recovery. That is, put more generally, Houston should work with firms with ties to non-English speaking communities to help them develop and maintain emergency communication programs. Vietnamese Americans in Houston, for example, have access to only one radio station that broadcasts in Vietnamese. And that outlet, Saigon Radio (KREH 900-AM), briefly stopped broadcasting during Hurricane Harvey. If Saigon Radio had not been able to resume service, many members of the city’s Vietnamese community would have been unable to obtain information and receive updates from public officials in their preferred language (Lam, 2017). The Houston Police Department cooperated with Saigon Radio in summer 2017 to discuss crime prevention efforts in the community, suggesting that such collaboration can occur. Such efforts should be expanded (Kragie, 2017). To help alleviate the burden on a single broadcasting outlet when only one such exists, Houston and other cities confronting a similar scenario should work to incentivize new forms of emergency broadcasting targeted to non-English speaking residents.

To address the distrust among residents arising from the language divide and unauthorized immigration status, public officials need to work with churches, community centers and local immigrant advocacy organizations, such as FIEL Houston to develop ties and ongoing communication channels. Words need to be backed up with actions. In 2011, Houston’s Department of Health and Human Services partnered with community organizations to explore ways to communicate more effectively with citizens and residents. Today, many of the city’s preparedness guides are published online in several languages as a result. For its part, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has recommended community mapping as a way to investigate empirically a neighborhood’s resources and capabilities. Such efforts involve documenting critical infrastructure, resident makeup and types of buildings and businesses that could store supplies or be used to feed responders and residents during or following emergencies (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2011). Houston should also recruit members of the community to be trained in emergency response as bridges between government representatives, first responders and residents. This step is key because when disaster strikes, residents are often the first to help other residents. Houston has conducted disaster preparedness classes in Spanish for several years and began to do so in Vietnamese in 2014 (Ready Houston, 2014).  These initiatives should be strongly supported and expanded.

Finally, any city-sponsored emergency management planning should reflect the needs of Houston’s immigrant communities and address them in practical ways, including continuing efforts to address the lingual divide. Communities with low English proficiency and significant populations of unauthorized immigrants in Houston are especially vulnerable to natural disasters, and public safety requires that city officials take this situation into consideration in their planning. Indeed, emergency response planning for communities evidencing language and cultural barriers requires managers to think beyond an English language-centric perspective. It requires them to consider the many reasons why they must work harder to gain the trust of community members, and how vital those efforts are for effective response to emergencies.


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Florido, A., 2017. Advocates struggle to help undocumented immigrants find relief after Harvey. NPR. [Online] [Accessed October 1, 2017]

Lam, A., 2017. Saigon-Houston radio: Our community rescued itself when Harvey came. New America Media. [Online] [Accessed October 1, 2017]

Kragie, A., 2017. Houston police reach out to Vietnamese community on local Saigon Radio. Houston Chronicle. [Online] [Accessed October 1, 2017]

Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2011. A whole community approach to emergency management: Principles, themes, and pathways for action. [Online] [Accessed October 1, 2017]

Ready Houston, 2014. First Houston-area Vietnamese CERT class. [Online] [Accessed October 1, 2017]

Joanne Tang is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security. During her time at Virginia Tech, she has begun to explore the connections among affordable housing, environmental protection and emergency management. She is particularly interested in city resilience and protecting critical infrastructure from natural and human-made disasters. She currently works in strategic communication and policy within the homeland security community. In addition to her professional focus, she enjoys writing, hiking and photography. She can be found on Twitter at @joanneliveshere.




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A (Hopeful) Pre-Professor’s Ponderings on the Potential of Critical Pedagogy

When people ask me what I want to be when I “grow up,” I have become comfortable with telling them I want to be a professor. After all, I see a career in higher education as one in which I can engage in what is professionally most meaningful to me: transformative research, critical pedagogy and collaborative community engagement. When I imagine myself as a scholar, I envision striving to engage students in critical thinking, assumption-questioning and engaging in difficult, but meaningful conversations, concerning important issues of difference, oppression, privilege and social justice. Thus, I have become an aspiring critical pedagogue. However, current events in my personal life, our country and around the world, have prompted me to reflect afresh on the potential of critical pedagogy.

I recently revisited the central tenets comprising my teaching philosophy and some of the authors who have informed those, including bell hooks and Henry Giroux. Reviewing hooks again has reignited my desire to engage students of all social strata in education for liberation by creating a “space for constructive confrontation and critical interrogation” for each of them (hooks, 1994, p. 36-37). Rereading Giroux has renewed in me an appreciation and respect for critical pedagogy as “a moral and political practice” that can contribute to a much-needed “discourse of educated hope” (2011, p.6). At the same time, and in line with critical pedagogy’s spirit of generative critique, Giroux’s text has also stirred in me a revitalized awareness of the potential of the “cultural apparatus” that is pedagogy to be “largely hijacked by the forces of neoliberalism” (2011, p. 7). Similarly, Giroux’s discussion of Gramsci’s concept of “the organic intellectual” has renewed my hope that multiple forms of knowledge can receive broad social recognition, particularly with understanding that is created and experienced outside of academic institutions.  Still, I am wary of the possibility that this intrinsic or experiential way of knowing can be coopted and used to patronize and subliminally degrade “other” knowledges.

Thus, I felt hopeful as I recently revisited the liberatory possibilities inherent in education that reading Giroux, Freire (2000) and hooks have inspired me to ponder since my undergraduate years. Yet, I remain unable to ignore the despair I feel as I am reminded daily how recurrent and seemingly embedded are the perspectives and assumptions that maintain oppressive forms of “education”—or more precisely, ensure cultural reproduction of dominance. This said, reading Giroux once more reminded me that, “critical pedagogy has always been responsive to the deepest problems and conflicts of our time” (2011, p. 8). As a result, I have lately found myself wondering whether critical pedagogy has the power to do more than critique. Criticism, however powerful and apt, may not be enough to overcome the longstanding oppression now assaulting public and higher “education,” whose “teachers and faculty [have been] increasingly removed from exercising any vestige of real power in shaping the conditions” in which they work (2011, p. 7).

I do sometimes wonder whether critical pedagogy will ever stimulate educators to challenge the status quo and establish, as Giroux has framed the issue, a

politics of educated hope, responsive to the need to think beyond established narratives of power, prevailing ‘commonsense’ approaches to educational policy and practice, a widening culture of punishment, and the banal script of using mathematical performance measures as benchmarks for academic success (Giroux 2011, p. 9).

I am deeply saddened by how frequently I witness in practice Gramsci’s view that today’s schooling too often “surrenders pedagogy to dull routine” (Giroux 2011, p. 56). Giroux has similarly suggested that today’s education institutions at all levels work to acculturate learners to become “cheerful robots” (Giroux 2011, p. 2). I am also keenly aware that this educational model allows those now in power to maintain oppressive control of the public (particularly marginalized “disposable populations”), on the basis of a claim that doing so represents a “commonsense” approach to maintaining law and order.

Reflecting on the potential of critical pedagogy has reaffirmed for me that education can constitute a “site of struggle” and hope, but it may also serve as a seemingly immutable mechanism for reproducing dominance and oppression. I am thankful that learning can and does occur outside of schooling, in social justice movements, the arts and community-based projects as, even when formal education fails to liberate, these contexts harbor potential to engage the public in knowledge-creation, celebration, healing and cooperation. Nevertheless, I dream of one day undertaking transformative and liberating work on the “inside” of the formal higher education system.

Though my hope is enduring, it is not naïve. I wonder what the role of critical pedagogy is for our particular era, which has been crippled by inequality, hate and institutional racism. I wonder how that approach can work to support all students in their development and questioning of ideas, while recognizing that,

all voices within the classroom are not and cannot carry equal legitimacy, safety, and  power  in  dialogue  at  this  historical  moment, [and that] there are  times  when  the  inequalities  must  be  named  and  addressed by  constructing alternative ground rules  for communication (Ellsworth 1989, p. 317).

I grapple continuously with issues related to “voice” and “safe space” as a part of my pedagogical stance and will continue to strive to continue to develop and interrogate my understanding and realization of these aims.

As I reflected recently on critical pedagogy and my own teaching philosophy, I was reminded that hooks (1994) has argued that to engage in liberatory pedagogy, educators must work to understand their students as well as themselves. hooks has suggested that many professors are “not the slightest bit interested in enlightenment,” but are rather “enthralled by the exercise of power and authority within their mini-kingdom, the classroom” (1994, p. 17). She has contended that educators concerned with teaching to liberate must be prepared to move away from notions of neutral “safe” spaces and work instead to create caring spaces. In hooks’ view, professors must also abandon a “condescending devaluation of experience” (1994, p. 88), as well as their “collective academic denial and acknowledge that the education that most … received and were giving was not and is never politically neutral” (1994, p. 30). hooks has challenged academics to go beyond the ways they were taught and to recognize that they must work instead to “build community in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual rigor” (1994, p. 40). It is only when the professoriate confronts its “complicity in accepting and perpetuating” disempowerment in the classroom, a microcosm of society, that its members can teach to liberate—in their classrooms and beyond (hooks, 1994, p. 44).


Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297-325. doi:10.17763/haer.59.3.058342114k266250

Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000, 30th Anniversary Edition). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Giroux, H.A. (2011). On critical pedagogy. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. New York: Routledge.

Natalie E. Cook, from Brooklyn, NY., is a PhD student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership and Community Education at Virginia Tech.  She is interested in the intersections between program evaluation, cultural relevance and social justice. Natalie earned her MS in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership and Community Education at Virginia Tech in 2015. She received her BS in Human Development from Cornell University in 2012, where she studied youth development, cultural identity and intervention. As an undergraduate, Natalie served as a research assistant in the Cornell University Office for Research on Evaluation. Her experience in that role inspired her to share her evaluation knowledge with the broader Ithaca community by creating an evaluation capacity building program for aspiring leaders. Natalie is currently developing her dissertation proposal, which will involve social justice-centered evaluation capacity building with family service workers. Natalie aspires to become a professor who engages in transformative research, critical pedagogy and collaborative community engagement.

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What lessons can Hurricane Harvey teach us?

Harvey was definitely not the first hurricane to cause devastation on American soil. Indeed, Harvey follows several such major storms that caused billions of dollars in damages including Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012), Ike (2008), Wilma (2005) and Andrew (1992). Hurricanes are certainly not a new phenomenon. In fact, Christopher Columbus encountered one in 1495 near Hispaniola (SunSentinel, 2017). We have had 522 years to prepare more effectively for huge storms and, yet, we are often not ready or, at least, not as prepared as we ought to be. The question is why that is so.

Hurricane Harvey is said to have caused a once in 500,000-year flood in parts of Texas that are already flood-prone, such as Houston (Ghose, 2017). Some have argued that no measures could have been taken to soften the blow of such a rare disaster. I would beg to disagree. It is true that the amount of rainfall dumped by Harvey was epic, but the damage that precipitation wrought did not have to be as bad as it turned out to be.

In a nutshell, Harvey’s massive rain fall in low-lying Houston had nowhere to go, which is why so much of the city experienced such damaging flooding. This geographic challenge was only exacerbated by the approach, or, rather, non-approach, to urban planning taken by city officials for roughly a century: e.g. “let’s build anywhere we can and THEN we can think about the consequences and take corrective measures.”  For instance, the city had long permitted building in low-lying flood-prone areas (Grabar, 2017) and also broadly increased impermeable surfaces across the community in the name of expansion. That choice alone made it difficult for rainwater to permeate, which led to widespread flooding. Remarkably, in modern-day city planning (as evidenced in Houston), too often, the potential impact of natural disasters remains an after-thought.

More generally, ongoing climate change all but guarantees that the number and intensity of major storms and hurricanes that will affect Houston will rise in the future at an increasing rate. In light of this growing likelihood and past political unwillingness to stop construction that would help to allay the future consequences of that likely trend-line, what can analysts learn from Harvey that will help to prepare Houston for its next super-sized storm?

There is no single solution to address effectively what happened in Houston when Harvey hit and deluged the city and its metropolitan area with 33 trillion gallons of water that ultimately covered at least 444 square miles of surrounding Harris County and caused at least 60 billion dollars in economic damages (Witthaus, 2017). Nonetheless, it seems likely that a more holistic view of disaster preparation and mitigation could have helped the City of Houston and its surrounding environs at least soften the hurricane’s blow to some degree. Here are some possible steps that might help the nation’s fourth most populous city manage future hurricanes more effectively:

Stop building in flood zones

City officials must begin to limit and, in some cases, disallow, construction in low-lying and flood prone areas and concentrate instead on encouraging expansion on higher ground. More, when building permits are issued in such locations, Houston’s public decision-makers must ensure that business owners and residents fully understand the risks they are taking by building or living there. Such a step would at least modestly diminish losses from flooding damage.

Pervious = impervious

A pervious surface, such as an undisturbed plat, allows rainwater infiltration. Pervious = impervious indicates that one acre of green space should be allotted for every acre of building footprint. In addition, single family/multifamily residential housing, office buildings, commercial and industrial spaces should make use of “green roofs,” rainwater harvesting systems, raingardens and open green spaces whenever possible. Such an initiative would require public and private sector cooperation and implies shared responsibility for storm response planning between city officials and property owners of all sorts in the city. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has tried multiple times to encourage land-use controls to avert or diminish flooding in Houston, but local officials and politicians have rejected those proposals (Vartabedian, 2017).

Increasing Houston’s resilience in the face of major storms

In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assigned the state of Texas a D grade for its flood control planning overall as part of a review of the state’s infrastructure. That body assigned a C- to Houston’s efforts to plan for flood control and ensure effective drainage of heavy rain and run-off  (Infrastructurereportcard, 2017). The main culprit for the D grade was the lack of a “central authority” in Texas to manage the state’s flood preparation plan. The report argued that the City of Houston and Harris County flood management infrastructure needs to be updated, such as, planning for more frequent storms and more rainfall.

While resilience and some measure of self-reliance normally go hand-in-hand to strengthen and sustain a community, the ASCE report contended that making Houston more resilient to major storm events will also require increased collaboration with neighboring counties and, indeed, the state, in planning and preparation for flood control and mitigation. The City, should also upgrade its existing storm infrastructure by increasing the number of existing channels and creating new ones in flood sensitive areas  (Vartabedian, 2017). City efforts to raise residents’ awareness of potential flooding and needed storm water mitigation would also increase the likelihood of their compliance with, and support for, major infrastructure projects.

City, county and state officials need to be prepared by shifting from the “old” mantra of “we can do this on our own” to “we have to get public-private cooperation in the planning and preparation for major storm events” hat happened to the City of Houston could very well happen to any coastal community prone to hurricanes, including many urban areas along the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, mainly because 1) most of the infrastructure in the U.S. is old and not well maintained, hence the ASCE D+ overall grade for storm water infrastructure in the country and 2) even when large investments are made to upgrade flood control measures, officials too often fix on engineering as a solution rather than involving all affected stakeholders to effect significant change. For evidence, one need only observe that New Orleans flooded in 2017 despite the 14.5 billion dollars spent on fortifications to prevent that possibility since 2005 (Burnett, 2015; Domonoske, 2017). Hurricanes are increasing in number and intensity; a Harvey-scale storm will happen again and planners and elected officials in affected communities need to work together to prepare their communities better for these calamitous events. 


Burnett, J., 2015. Billions Spent On Flood Barriers, But New Orleans Still A ‘Fishbowl”. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Domonoske, C., 2017. Hit By Flooding And Pumping System Crisis, New Orleans Braces For More Rain. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Ghose, T., 2017. Hurricane Harvey Caused 500,000-Year Floods in Some Areas. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 2017 September 2017].

Grabar, H., 2017. Houston wasn’t built for a storm like this. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Infrastructurereportcard, 2017. 2017 Report Card GPA: C-. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

SunSentinel, 2017. Hurricane timeline: 1495 to 1800. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Vartabedian, R., 2017. For years, engineers have warned that Houston was a flood disaster in the making. Why didn’t somebody do something?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 2017 September 21].

Witthaus, J., 2017. Harvey’s impact: This is how much it’s going to cost Houston. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Mary Semaan is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Design and Planning at Virginia Tech. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Computer and Communications Engineering at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and her master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Miami. She is interested in changing current water infrastructure planning processes by involving residents in all elements of such decision-making. She also loves traveling and hopes to visit all of the countries in Latin and South America during the next five years. She is seen in her photograph accompanying this essay at the top of the pre-Hispanic pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

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WWII Nazi Germany and White Supremacy in America: Father and Son?

The recent act of white-supremacy terrorism in Charlottesville and the Nazi flag I saw on TV carried by many of the Charlottesville marchers prompted me—or rather, terrified me—into contemplating the similarities between the German Nazi party and American white supremacism. White supremacists in America use Nazi symbolism and self-consciously evoke an association with the original German Nazi party. I wondered exactly what similarities American white supremacists and neo-Nazis might share with their historic German predecessors. Besides identifying with the belief in evolutionary Aryan superiority, today’s U.S. white supremacists seemed to me upon reflection to share additional social and economic similarities with Germany’s Nazis, so I decided to conduct some preliminary research to test my hunches.

Familial resemblance

Madden, by bringing together many previous and contradictory studies on Nazi profiles in Germany, has offered a thorough analysis of the social and economic factors closely associated with Nazism (Madden, 1987). He has argued that support for the Nazi party arose from Germans of differing social and economic strata, but was always most closely associated with the middle and working class. Even as he suggested that the common idea that the Nazi party took root among the middle class, called the “Mittelstand” thesis, had been blown out of proportion by previous scholars, Madden emphasized working class support for the Nazi party, or NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei):

From the beginning of the party to at least 1928 the leadership of the NSDAP made concerted attempts to attract the working class into the movement (Kele, 1972; Noakes, 1971:104; Nyomarkay, 1967:26; Orlow, 1969:123). During this period, there was never an issue of the main party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, which did not carry a minimum of one article appealing to German workers to join and lead ‘the movement.’ Another important party organ, Der Angriff, concentrated on appeals to workers above all other groups. Hitler’s speeches often contained direct pleas to the workers to join and support his movement, even though he insisted that the party transcended class and social barriers (Baynes, 1942) (Madden 1987, p. 274).

Madden also provided data showing that propaganda alone did not explain the higher propensity of members of the working class to become NSDAP members:

Propaganda alone cannot account for the sizable percentage of workers in the NSDAP. Other factors which must have attracted some workers into Hitler’s movement, including nationalism, anti-Semitism, and despair over the perceived failure of the Social Democrats and the Communists to adequately address the problems of workers. The super-nationalism of the NSDAP was attractive to workers who had been infused with patriotism since childhood (Langsam, 1950) and felt, along with other Germans, a deep sense of humiliation because of the lost war and the Treaty of Versailles (Madden 1987, pp. 274-5).

While certainly not as pervasive as it has often been portrayed, Nazism’s seduction of the working class, or Germans who faced, as Madden labeled them, “problems of workers,” was nevertheless a critical factor in the Party’s success. Both the prevalence of the working class in the Nazi ranks and the idea that Hitler’s Party addressed “the problems of workers” strike me as significant, when considering the fact that those most willing to join American white supremacy groups today are associated with the working class. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who has undertaken pioneering research in the area of masculinity, has also connected white supremacy in America with members of the working class (Foste, 2014).

According to a summary of Kimmel’s book, “Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era,” published in the Journal of College Student Development, Kimmel examined neo-Nazism and white supremacy in America in his final chapter, and concluded that there are indeed certain ways in which “social class, particularly downward mobility, unites such groups” (Foste 2014).  Yet, like the German Mittelstand thesis, labeling racists as generally working or lower-class citizens oversimplifies and misrepresents the reality that they come from other backgrounds as well (Coleman 2017; Cox et al. 2017). In fact, it is difficult to determine with certainty the extent of, and reasons for, the connection between racism and members of the working class. Here, I seek only to highlight that this appears to be a relationship worth contemplating, especially considering the relatively high level of working-class participation in the NSDAP and in the modern American white supremacist movement.

American white supremacists also share an ardent nationalism with their German predecessors, as evidenced in the U.S. by individuals such as Billy Roper, who sought to unite fragmented white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups beginning in 2004 by means of his nationalist party (Dentice, 2011 and Newsweek, 2004). Another notable similarity between today’s American white supremacist extremists and Germany’s Nazis is one which garners special caution: a sensationalized leader. A plethora of recent articles have argued that Donald Trump has either inadvertently or consciously bolstered support for white supremacists. A certainly thought-provoking article published by UNWIRE entitled, “White nationalists are America’s ISIS” pointed out: “The Alt-Right and the Ku Klux Klan believe Trump’s presidency has made huge advances for the white nationalist community, and this passion is dangerous … these are the people our democracy has to fear” (UWIRE 2016). This is a tricky comparison; without Hitler, there would arguably have been no Nazism. He was literally and figuratively the head of that movement. The issue with Trump is more difficult, as he has not intentionally or overtly (depending on whom you ask) led any facet of the white supremacy movement in the U.S. What can be said is that white supremacists have usurped the image of President Trump, employing the president as a means of recruiting support and encouraging boldness. A conservative myself, I propose that this fact highlights the need for conservatives across America, especially those in public positions, such as President Trump, to distance themselves energetically from and condemn human rights violators who use their ideological agendas for sinister purpose, and to keep in mind that Hitler was able successfully to use and abuse the socialist party as a vehicle for his own aims.

Lastly, there is the issue of women. Overwhelmingly, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America are anti-feminist. Although German women supported the Nazi regime in many different ways and were even in many cases deeply involved, those individuals were both understood to be and treated as “politically invisible;” their job being to support men (Nelson 2014; 2, 91). Similarly, Kimmel’s research revealed that white supremacists often disapprove of immigrants, individuals of other ethnicities and women in the workplace (Foste 2014).

What do these broad similarities mean? Do the discontent and strongly nationalist outlook of many working-class men in the United States constitute significant elements for the emergence of racism? What role do various levels of support from authority figures play in mobilizing white supremacy terrorism? How do treatment of and the role of women factor into and provide an indicator for potentially racist groups? More expertise than I possess, and extensive, thoughtful research certainly are needed to address these concerns. I have just skimmed the surface of potentially significant similarities and differences between Nazi party members and their modern American counterparts.

The Holocaust stands in world history as a reminder of the horrific darkness of which the human heart is capable, a darkness that knows no borders or boundaries. It is easy to hope that the Holocaust could not be repeated. But while America is not 1930s Germany, the similarities I have sketched suggest that we collectively must remember that past evils could surely be replayed on the modern stage, and that fresh atrocities similar to the Holocaust in aims, if not in scale, are not impossible, to imagine. To ignore any similarities might give genocide a proverbial foot in the door, and that potential is what I aim to emphasize here. An effective hedge against racism and genocide is always worth examination. It is surely worth contemplating more deeply, too, the apparent relationship between an animosity toward non-white races and the economic factors that may possibly fuel its ugliest expression (Madden 1987, Foste 2014), the potential dangers of nationalism (Madden 1987, Dentice 2011), leaders’ roles in mobilizing racist aggression (UWIRE 2016) and the connection between the abridgement of women’s rights and deeper anti-democratic actions (Nelson 2014, Foste 2014) as these phenomena were reflected in Nazi Germany and are now afoot in modern America.

Two differences that offer hope

To end this essay with the point just suggested, would be to leave the comparison between Nazi Germany and the current U.S. situation only half sketched. I would like to conclude by pointing out two striking differences that came to mind as I considered Nazi German perpetrators and modern American white supremacists. First, our nation was explicitly founded on the principle that all people are created equal and our laws and regime rest on that foundation. Irrespective of religious, social or cultural background, Americans are bound by the belief that all individuals are created equal, with unalienable rights and entitled to the dignity owed any and every individual. Our nation’s most fundamental ideals and values contradict the doctrine of white supremacy that has nonetheless plagued America since its birth.

From the Declaration of Independence onward, we have charted a course toward and fought in the interest of achieving a greater expression of equal rights and guarantees of human rights. If their adoption of Nazi flags were not already an indicator, we must insist to racist groups that although they may claim to be patriotic and nationalistic, they are betraying the very foundations of the nation they purport to love. As Cunningham has observed, “You can be Nazi or you can be American. You can’t be both” (Cunningham 2017). Nonetheless, slavery, (an evil so embedded that it was originally included in the U.S. Constitution), displacement and genocide of Native Americans (the Trail of Tears, was just one example) as well as other human rights infringements (Japanese internment camps, unjust persecution of Germans and communists, among others), highlight the continuing shortcomings of the American attempt to secure equal rights for all. They also remind us that a country’s intentions and ideals may be one thing, and its deeds quite another. With history as our guide and the admission that we have repeatedly and sometimes miserably fallen short of our noblest ideals, the importance of condemning any movement that refuses to recognize the human and civil rights of every person must always be recalled.

A second difference between the Nazis and today’s home-grown white nationalists, is that the nascent Nazi party was largely ignored, while millions in our nation (and many others, including many citizens of modern Germany) were outraged at the recent Charlottesville act of white-supremacy terrorism. Today’s general citizenry is surely more educated about the cruelty of genocide and racism than Germans were in the early 1930s prior to the Holocaust. The public outcry following Charlottesville ought to give Americans hope, as it implies that most U.S. residents know better than to embrace the hate on offer there. The outrage many Americans voiced in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy is exactly the kind of patriotism and expression of free speech that keeps our nation good and betters her.

In sum, it is worth reflecting on the similarities and connections between Nazi Germany and American white supremacy in order to remind our nation’s citizens that hate and its most horrific product, genocide, must start somewhere. While offering a lecture during my undergraduate studies, scholar and historian Lady Ester Gilbert observed, that if there is one lesson to take away from the Holocaust, it would be that, “there is no such thing as a small encroachment on human rights” (lecture at Hillsdale College, 7 February 2017). We cannot fail to be vigilant.



Cox, Daniel Ph.D., Rachel Lienesch, Robert P. Jones, Ph.D. 2017. “Beyond Economics:   Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump    PRRI/The Atlantic Report.” PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and The  Atlantic. (9 May 2017). Accessed September 2, 2017.                                                 attitudes-economy-trade-            immigration-election-donald-trump/

Cunningham, Paul. 2017. “Cunningham: You can be Nazi or you can be American. You        can’t be both.” 18 August. Accessed September 13, 2017.

Dentice, Dianne. 2011. “The Nationalist Party of America: Right-Wing Activism and              Billy Roper’s White Revolution.” Social Movement Studies 10, no. 1: 107-112.               SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

Foste, Zak. 2014. Review of Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an     Era by Michael Kimmel. Journal of College Student Development 55, no. 6 (2014): 633-635. Project Muse. Accessed 2 September, 2017.

Gilbert, Lady Ester. “Moral Dilemmas of Those Under Siege: Three Examples from the        Holocaust.” Lecture at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI. 7 February 2017.

Madden, Paul. 1987. “The Social Class Origins of Nazi Party Members as Determined by      Occupations, 1919-1933.” Social Science Quarterly 68, no. 2 (1987): 263-80.

Nelson, Courtney D. 2014. “Our Weapon is the Wooden Spoon: Motherhood, Racism,      and War: The Diverse Roles of Women in Nazi Germany.” M.A. Diss., East Tennessee State University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Accessed    September 2, 2017.

Newsweek staff. 2004. “A Racist on the Rise.” 9 May. (accessed 17         September, 2017).

Ross Coleman, Aaron. 2017. “Timid Reporting On Racism Skews Our Political And                Economic Debates: The truth behind ‘economic populism’ and ‘identity politics.’” The Huffington Post, 30 May. Accessed September 2, 2017.                      american-political_us_592c1e0ee4b0a7b7b469cc17

“White Nationalists are America’s ISIS.” UWIRE Text, November 9, 2016, 1. Infotrac           Newsstand (accessed August 28, 2017).   .do?p=STND&sw=w&u=viva_vpi&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA469579567&si            d=summon&asid=c2ffd9e4aade79fa75b0d4f792d57137.


Rebekah Molloy is now pursuing her Master’s degree in Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. She also serves as a graduate assistant for the program and, in that role, assists Dr. Joel Peters, its Chair. She obtained her B.A., majoring in English and German, from Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan in 2017. While at Hillsdale, she was involved in the International Club as secretary, foreign language coordinator and also served as its English and essay-writing tutor for international students. She is interested in Just War Theory, national defense, conflict resolution and Holocaust commemoration. Rebekah grew up in a military family and is deeply grateful to have had the eye-opening opportunity to live overseas and experience other cultures.



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After Cairo 2050: The Spatial Politics of Regime Security in Umm Al-Dunya

The popular mobilization that brought the resignation of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, on February 11, 2011, injected new hope among many of that state’s citizens, especially those in its sprawling capital, Cairo. While many believed Mubarak’s removal would result in a transformed city, government and country, this brief article traces the continuity of Mubarak-era urban plans for Cairo. I argue each of the three successive administrations following Mubarak’s fall—those of Mohamed Tantawi (2011-2012), Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013), and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (2013-Present)—adopted strategies outlined in the Cairo 2050 masterplan, first released by Mubarak’s government in 2008.



Tahrir Square Protests, The Guardian Available at:]

This continuity in urban management goals and practice suggests that, despite the revolution and different administrations, Cairo urban planning continues to be guided largely by priorities and logics first articulated during the Mubarak years.

Cairo as Gauntlet and Proposed Solutions

Cairo, home to more than 20 million inhabitants, is characterized by “high population density, traffic congestion, continuous increase of unplanned and unsafe areas [informal settlements], high air pollution rates and other environmental problems” as well as the intense urban sprawl beyond the Nile River Valley that creates and accompanies these conditions (MHUC & UN Habitat, 2012, p.10). The ever-expanding borders of the city have contributed to, and generated, a range of issues, including fast growth in informal housing, overburdened and often inadequate water and sanitation systems, overcrowded transportation infrastructure and the sprawl of “ghost” cities beyond the Nile River Valley, among others.


Googlemaps Screenshot of Nile River Valley and Greater Cairo Region.]


These deeply interwoven issues constituted some of the kindling that eventually led to mass mobilization to oust Mubarak from office.

The General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) office in the Ministry of Housing first released Cairo 2050, a 200-page document outlining a master plan for the city, in 2008.



Cairo 2050, Cairo 2050 Vision, p. 1]




The foundational principles of that vision were “decentralization” and “de-densification.”



Decentralization objectives from Cairo 2050 Vision, p.44]


The Mubarak administration pursued these objectives through “megaprojects;” large-scale “priority developments of regional and national importance (GOPP, 2008, p. 36).” These included relocation of government ministries and public institutions to areas beyond the city’s core (GOPP, 2008, p.36). While the Mubarak administration succeeded in developing the Six of October City and New Cairo megaprojects outside the boundaries of Cairo, the major ministry buildings—many that would-be sites for protest in 2011—were never relocated, perhaps due to the financial crisis of 2008 or the competition of other priorities.

The Mubarak administration employed public-private partnerships to lure Persian Gulf state investment as the fuel to expand the city. Indeed, by early 2012, half of the 26 most valuable real estate developments in Egypt were majority-owned by Gulf-based conglomerates (Deknatel, 2012).

 Post-Revolution Urban Management of Cairo

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) administration shifted the focus of the city’s planners from Cairo’s periphery to its urban core as they sought to manage post-Mubarak Cairo. Mohamed Tantawi’s SCAF erected concrete barriers around the Interior Ministry and police stations throughout the traditional core of the city. The military also actively regulated population flows in and out of centrally located Tahrir Square, particularly in the aftermath of the Mohammed Mahmoud Street standoff between Egyptian police and protesters that resulted in the deaths of 40 people in November 2011.


Barrier near Interior Ministry from NPR: ]




SCAF Barrier Map from Ahram Online:


The June 2012 transition to civilian rule following the election of Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s Presidency, brought new salience to the Cairo 2050 masterplan. The Morsi administration maintained many of the walls erected in downtown areas during the SCAF era and also embraced Mubarak-style megaprojects once more. For Morsi’s government, the showcase piece was the Nahda project, whose architects promised would “redistribute the population density of Egypt’s 80 million to 90 million people” and “get out of the Nile Delta Valley to new regional growth areas (Deknatel, 2012).” The government did not realize these aims as it was removed from office in the Egyptian Armed Forces coup d’état in July 2013.

For its part, the Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi administration announced two megaprojects on a scale that dwarfed Mubarak’s earlier aims: a Suez Canal expansion and a “New Cairo” Capital City. Al-Sisi’s public 2014 announcement of planned construction of an additional lane for the canal led to a series of contracts with European, Persian Gulf and American companies to collaborate with Egypt’s Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces to dredge for the expansion (Kalin, 2014).



Screenshot South of Ismalia, Egypt, Google Maps]



The New Cairo Capital City, announced in early 2015, fostered still more vigorous economic ties with China, Egypt’s largest trade partner, and looks set to contribute to additional sprawl in its planned location, twenty-eight miles outside of the city in the eastern desert (Kirk, 2016). China’s state-owned construction company has pledged $15B, and the China Fortune Land Development Company has pledged $20B to help to underwrite the proposed effort. Egypt must still raise its own share of the funds needed, an additional $10 billion (ibid.). Construction has begun. If completed, this new city will be located beyond the fertile Nile River Valley, prompting questions of whether sufficient water, sanitation and basic infrastructure can be made available to sustain it in systems already operating beyond their design capacity



Screenshot from The Capital Cairo website: ]



The new Capital City and Suez Canal expansion initiatives garnered headlines for the new administration and helped to shore up its legitimacy with Egypt’s residents, even as each effort helped the state expand its financial ties and networks in tough economic times.

The Cairo Capital City project also embraced the Mubarak-era goal to move the state’s principal ministries to the periphery of the city to make it more difficult for residents to mount major protests at them. The al-Sisi administration moved the symbolically contentious Interior Ministry to New Cairo in April 2016. All other major government ministries are slated to follow suit and will eventually be moved to the new Cairo Capital City on its completion between 2020 and 2022.

 Regime Security and Management of Cairo

The continuity in aspiration and content across the otherwise disparate recent Egyptian regimes highlighted here, points to close connections between urban planning and leaders’ perceptions of the security of their rule. While it would be too reductive to suggest that Egypt’s leaders’ self-interest alone has driven Cairo’s planning choices across the four administrations, there is little doubt that this motive appears and strongly, in their selected means to manage the city.

The various regimes’ attempts since Mubarak’s fall to manage Cairo through continued sprawl and internal partitions reveals the intimate relationships between space and power across geographies, institutions and the wider society. Power is always situated in space, and this brief examination of development and development policy in Cairo has sought to foreground the material manifestations of regime power. However, the nation’s mass mobilization during 2011 reminds analysts that the regime’s power is never absolute. Given this reality, it becomes possible to conceive of the projects of the recent successive Egyptian national government administrations less as arbiters of absolute control and power over land use and populations and instead, as evocations of the fear, insecurity and uneasiness within which their rulers have operated. Cairo’s stubbornly persistent urban transformation plans—both imagined and achieved—reveal more about the fears and psychoses of those leaders than about whether any of the efforts conceived might actually better serve the Egyptian citizenry.


 Allam, Hannah (2 Feb 2011). “Wednesday’s Crackdown was Vintage Mubarak,” McClatchy Newspapers. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Bel Trew, Mohamed Abdalla, and Ahmed Feteha, (9 Feb 2012). “Walled in: SCAF’s Concrete Barricades,” Ahram Online. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Cambanis, Thanassis (24 Aug 2010). To Catch Cairo Overflow, 2 Megacities Rise in the Sand,” The New York Times. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Daily News Egypt (19 Jan 2017). “Impact of Egypt’s Mega Projects Revealed at Cityscape Business Breakfast,” Daily News Egypt. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Deknatel, Frederick (31 Dec 2012). “The Revolution Added Two Years: On Cairo,” The Nation. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) (2008). Cairo 2050 Vision.

Kalin, Stephen (18 Oct 2014). “Egypt Signs with Six International Firms to Dredge New Suez Canal,” Reuters. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Kirk, Mimi (13 Oct 2016). “Egypt’s Government Wants Out of its Ancient Capital,” CityLab – The Atlantic. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Kennedy, Merrit (30 Mar 2012). “To Keep Protesters Away, Egypt’s Police Put Up Walls,” NPR. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities (MHUC) & UN Habitat (2012). “Greater Cairo Urban Development Strategy.” United Nations Habitat. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Rios, Lorena (2016). “Egypt’s Capital Mirage,” Roads and Kingdoms. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Sims, David (2011). Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control. The American University in Cairo Press. The Capital: Cairo (2015). Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

 Rob Flahive is a second-year PhD student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT). His research focuses on tensions in the preservation of international style architecture in North Africa, the Middle East and East Africa. He holds a Master of Arts in Political Studies from the American University in Beirut and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.

Rob values learning from personal experience as well as from conversations with others possessing different perspectives. He cannot imagine life without espresso, pizza (manoushe) or Fairouz.


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Academic Freedom and Shared Governance: Does one protect the other?

In 2004, Delaware State University President Allen Sessoms suspended and initiated dismissal proceedings against Wendell Gorum, a tenured professor in the Mass Communications Department.  During a routine audit the university registrar had discovered that Gorum, “without the professor-of-record’s permission, had changed withdrawals, incompletes, and failing grades to passing grades for 48 students in the Mass Communications Department,” which he chaired from 1997 to 2004 (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 182).  While Gorum admitted making the changes, he asserted that he had sufficient authority to do so and that such alterations by department chairs were common practice at the University (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009).  After further investigation and multiple hearings, an ad hoc disciplinary committee concluded that “Dr. Gorum’s actions undermine the very tenets of the educational profession and rise to a level deserving condemnation by the academic community” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).  The group proposed that Gorum be severely disciplined, but not fired. President Sessoms, citing Gorum’s “unprofessional” and “highly reprehensible” conduct, nevertheless recommended to the University’s board of trustees that the professor’s employment be terminated, and the board unanimously approved the action and dismissed him (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).

Gorum subsequently filed suit in federal district court alleging that his firing “was a retaliatory action to punish him for engaging in speech … protected by the First Amendment” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).  Specifically, Gorum claimed that Sessoms retaliated against him not for the acts investigated, but instead for three unconnected speech-related actions:

  • For his objection to Sessoms’ candidacy and selection to the university’s presidency;
  • For his actions as an advisor to a student athlete facing suspension; and
  • For his withdrawal of an invitation for Sessoms to speak at a fraternity’s prayer breakfast, for which committee he had served as chair (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, pp. 183-184).

When the federal district court granted summary judgment for Sessoms concerning these allegations, Gorum appealed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Even though it considered the professor’s arguments unrelated, “makeweight attempts to counter his dismissal for doctoring student grades,” the appellate court nevertheless examined the professor’s speech-related claims (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 188).  Applying analysis described by the U. S. Supreme Court in the Pickering-Connick-Garcetti (1968, 1983, 2006) line of cases, the appellate court upheld the district court’s judgment, arguing that Gorum had not engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment in the three matters under consideration, since he did not speak “as a citizen” on “a matter of public concern” in any of them (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 185).  Put another way, the Appeals court concluded that Gorum’s speech related to internal university matters, those remarks directly related to his “official duties” as a professor and department chair, and “the First Amendment does not shield the consequences of ‘expression employees make pursuant to their professional duties’” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 185).  In short, the professor’s claim failed.  Relying particularly on the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Cellabos (2006), the appellate court reasoned that the

official duty test [applies] because Gorum’s actions so clearly were not ‘speech related to scholarship or teaching,’ and because we believe that such a determination here does not ‘imperil First Amendment protection of academic freedom in public colleges and universities’ (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 186).

Because of legal decisions such as Gorum, professors at some public colleges and universities in the United States question whether speech expressed in their governance role(s) is protected by academic freedom. That is, scholars within the profession differ concerning whether academic freedom affords protections to professors’ intramural speech undertaken as part of their responsibilities for governance of their institutions. Notably, the Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue, and so the question of whether academic freedom reaches shared governance remains unaddressed.

This essay examines the literature that has investigated the question of whether academic freedom protects intramural speech that arises as a result of a faculty member’s exercise of responsibilities on behalf of institutional governance.  The literature is, at best, mixed concerning this issue. Some analysts have contended that such professional activity is “inextricably linked” to academic freedom (Gerber, 2001, p. 22).  Other authors have refuted that argument, suggesting that expanding the concept of academic freedom to include shared governance goes too far and renders the construct meaningless (Yudof, 1988). At this writing, the issue remains far from settled.

Defining Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

In the United States, academic freedom is almost universally accepted as a valued principle of higher education (Kaplin and Lee, 2007).  However, “there is little consensus regarding the meaning of [the concept] although there is agreement that it is something worth protecting. … It is, at best, a slippery notion, but a notion worthy of analysis” (Kaplan, 1983, p. 6).  Indeed, Fish (2014) recently argued that five “schools of thought” concerning academic freedom exist and each defines the character and scope of the idea differently.

Scholars have determined the meaning and reach of academic freedom by examining norms related to it that have been established through custom and usage and by analyzing the public statements concerning it developed by relevant professional organizations, such as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (Kaplin and Lee, 2007).  For example, the AAUP has sought to describe and ensure academic freedom throughout its long history as an organization representing the academy in the United States (AAUP, 2015).  In its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, for example, the Association declared that faculty are:

(a) entitled to full freedom in research and in publication of the results, … (b) entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, … and (c) are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution.  When they speak, or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline (AAUP, 2015, p. 14).

In short, the AAUP has suggested that faculty capacity to research, publish and teach as they wish, within very broad boundaries, as well as enjoy free speech as citizens constitute core elements of academic freedom (AAUP, 2015). The AAUP’s 1940 Statement did not address the question of intramural speech—i.e., professorial speech linked to a university’s internal affairs or governance.

Universities typically operate two systems of governance simultaneously:  one is legal: it grants authority to trustees and the administration; the other is academic: it rests on the professional authority of the faculty (Birnbaum, 2004).  The term “shared governance” denotes “a tripartite arrangement among three major stakeholders—governing boards, administration, and faculty” (Austin and Jones, 2016, p. 138).  According to Hirsch, “Ideally, shared governance in universities assigns specific rights and responsibilities to its three stakeholders i.e., provides for a separation of powers, and establishes a structure and process for stakeholders to interact in specific undertakings” (2001, p. 147).

As with academic freedom, the AAUP has articulated what it considers to be a compendium of best practices of shared governance in its Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, adopted in 1967 (AAUP, 2015).  The Statement addressed each of the three major stakeholders involved—governing boards, administration and faculty—and suggested, “The variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence” among these stakeholders (AAUP, 2015, p. 118).  Within this arrangement, faculty maintain primary responsibility for core academic matters such as curricular quality, rigor and content, teaching methods, faculty personnel matters and student-related issues directly related to the educational process (Dill, 2014).  The governing board and administration are obliged to secure and maintain adequate financial resources and to implement institutional policy and procedures effectively and equitably. Faculty, board members and administrators share responsibility for strategic planning, budgeting, establishing immediate and long-term program goals and participating in the presidential selection process (Dill, 2014).

Yes and No:  Scholars Debate Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

The AAUP’s position on academic freedom and shared governance notwithstanding, scholars have continued to debate whether that principle protects faculty members engaged in shared governance activities.  Some analysts, such as Gerber (2001), Finkin (1988, 1993) and Finkin and Post (2009), have argued that academic freedom necessarily includes professors’ role(s) in institutional governance.  According to these scholars, academic freedom protects faculty members from administrative discipline for their speech concerning internal university concerns.  Other analysts, such as Brest (1988), Fish (2014), Olivas (1993) and Yudof (1988), are not so sure. They have argued that academic freedom shields only the “core” scholarly activities of teaching, research and publication and faculty member rights of public speech as citizens.  Thus construed, the construct falls short of protecting professorial engagement in shared governance and intra-institutional (intramural) speech. I turn next to an examination of these competing perspectives.

Academic Freedom Protects Intramural Speech and Shared Governance

Intramural speech refers to faculty remarks that concern any action, policy or personnel decision of their university (Finkin and Post, 2009).  The term is frequently linked with the idea of shared governance, as Gerber employed it in a widely-read essay: “It is hard to imagine effective governance if faculty do not enjoy the right to speak freely without fear of reprisal on issues related to their own institutions and policies” (2001, p. 23).  For its part, the AAUP in a statement approved by its Committee T on College and University Governance in 1994, asserted that shared governance and academic freedom “are closely connected, arguably inextricably linked” (2015, p. 125).

One argument scholars assert for viewing the faculty role in institutional governance as protected by academic freedom involves whether professors are employees or enjoy another status in relationship to the university (Finkin and Post, 2009).  Since issuing its 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure (AAUP, 2015), the AAUP has contended that faculty members are more than mere employees with limited rights, but also appointees with broad freedoms, including academic freedom and its twin protections, tenure and a role in institutional (shared) governance.  In this view, as appointees and not employees, scholars possess a status independent of the university’s trustees and administration: in a university, “trustees hold an essential and highly honorable place, but … the faculties hold an independent place, with quite equal responsibilities—and in relation to purely scientific and educational questions, the primary responsibility” (AAUP, 2015, pp. 6-7).  Such standing “renders any institutional policy or decision a fair subject for faculty comment or criticism” (Finkin and Post, 2009, p. 124). In short, in this view, the status of faculty as independent appointees ensures their freedom of speech when engaged in university governance.  While not explicit in the 1915 Declaration and the 1940 Statement, the AAUP nevertheless sought to establish this contention through its committees’ investigations and via reports it issued throughout the 20th century (Finkin and Post, 2009, p. 116).

Another argument for including a broad conception of professorial speech under the protection of academic freedom suggests that faculty members may be seen as modern-day professionals analogous to the journeymen artisans of the early American Republic who were highly skilled, independent, professional and self-governing (Finkin, 1993). These early artisans, the argument states, practiced their craft in complete freedom, including the exercise of freedom of speech, intra- or extramurally.  College and university professors began to organize their profession at the turn of the 20th century, forming associations such as the AAUP that sought to codify and assert similar freedoms for the professoriate. Indeed, in 1940 faculty achieved a standing that journeymen artisans enjoyed in the early Republic with publication of the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (AAUP, 2015) jointly issued by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges.  Thus, just as “the mechanic of the new Republic asserted simultaneously an independence of craftsmanship that brooked no supervision, a vigorous defense of workplace rights—of artisanal dignity and self-respect—and a robust liberty of political association and expression” (Finkin, 1993, pp. 378-379), faculty now argued for their right to academic freedom: to teach, research and publish, speak as private citizens and engage intramurally as “officers of an educational institution” (AAUP, 2015, p. 14).   Accordingly, “the 1940 Statement resonate[d] against an older ideal” (Finkin, 1993, p. 379).

A third argument concerning affording academic freedom protection to intramural speech and shared governance asserts that American faculty are citizens not only of the nation, but also of the university with which they are affiliated (Finkin, 1988).  Within both realms, residents enjoy certain rights.  Much as a national citizen enjoys freedom of speech, a university faculty member enjoys academic freedom, including in their activities linked to institutional governance. Those pressing this view contend that since that right is a scholarly professional prerogative, professors enjoy protection for their intramural speech, the core claim of which, “concerns … freedom of professional utterance not shared with the citizenry at large” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1323).  As such, these advocates suggest that academic freedom protects faculty speech related to any matter of professorial concern, including, but arguably not limited to, admission standards, administrative leadership, appeals to accrediting agencies, awarding degrees, athletic policy, library policy, salary policies, presidential selection and petitions to the AAUP.

Furthermore, in this view, conceding that academic freedom did not cover intramural speech and “reserving the profession’s claim of freedom of expression only to narrowly defined disciplinary discourse, [i.e., only to teaching or research and publication,] … would produce a profession in a sense ‘half slave and half free’” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1341). Moreover, these analysts contend that the academic freedom of intra-institutional speech also flows from the principle of equality:  faculty are peers with and ought to share the same freedom of speech that trustees and administrators enjoy.  Additionally, limiting faculty speech within the organizations in which they work would inhibit institutional operations, since universities seek not only truth, the focus of research, but also wisdom, the object of governance.  The administration cannot possibly possess all knowledge when developing and implementing its educational policies.  Therefore, faculty engaged in governance-related speech ought to be considered “institutional citizen[s]” and not “officious intermeddler[s]” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1342).

A final argument some commentators have offered states that shared governance serves the needs of civil society and is necessary for two special reasons. First, it enables the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. Second, it provides a liberal education.  Notably, citizens require both such understanding and capabilities to engage actively in democratic civil society (Gerber, 2001). As a result, this perspective suggests that academic freedom and shared governance are “inextricably linked” and faculty members should enjoy the same protection in their workplace speech that they do when engaged in teaching, research and publication and their roles as private citizens.  Furthermore, these analysts argue, effective institutional governance requires that faculty have the freedom to speak “without fear of reprisal on issues relating to their own institutions and policies” (Gerber, 2001, p. 23).  Additionally, in the absence of a shared faculty role in university governance, especially in academic affairs, “liberal education, with its emphasis on the development of critical thinking and humane values, may eventually become an arcane concept” (Gerber, 2001, p. 24).

Academic Freedom Only Includes and Protects Core Scholarly Activities

However, some commentators do not accept these arguments.  They contend instead that faculty speech linked to internal university governance should be seen as separate from academic freedom and beyond the protections that construct affords faculty.  Brest (1988), for example, has suggested that “the claim that the penumbra of intramural speech is inextricably linked to the core of true academic freedom of inquiry needs a stronger argument” (p. 1361).  For Brest, employing a core and penumbra approach used in some legal arguments has been stretched too thin when applied to academic freedom and intramural speech.  Despite the “tendency to travel further and further from the core [scholarly activities]” that academic freedom protects (e.g. teaching, research, and publication), “at some point, most of us get off the train” (Brest, 1988, p. 1361). Analysts, such as Brest, contend that there is a significant difference between criticizing a university president “for her parking policy or the paint color she chooses” and making an unpopular or controversial argument within one’s scholarly discipline (Brest, 1988, p. 1361).  Engaging in the former encroaches on administrative rights and responsibilities, while the latter represents an appropriate focus, well within the realm of the professional activities of a scholar.

Some analysts have contended that extending academic freedom to the faculty governing shields “the scholarly enterprise from outside interference …, but only grants limited protection to professors’ intramural speech … against institutional interests” (Olivas, 1993, p. 1837).  This is so, these scholars argue, because academic freedom applies only to professorial speech that adheres to professional standards and is the product of “training, developed expertise, and scrupulous care” (Olivas, 1993, p. 1835).  That is, for these analysts, academic freedom should apply only to speech related to “scholarly” matters.  Furthermore, when protected, “non-professorial” speech should be shielded for all—scholars and staff alike.  In this view, professors engaged in non-academic speech should not be able to claim any more or less protection for such communication than can any other member of the university community (Olivas, 1993).

Similarly, another group of scholars has suggested that a conceptualization of academic freedom that includes intramural speech separates the idea from its conceptual moorings to the point of rendering it meaningless (Yudof, 1988).  In other words, placing all speech within the university under the shelter of academic freedom corrupts that umbrella concept by making it more about professional autonomy than pursuit of truth. Regarding this conceptual extension of the construct, one commentator has asked, “why [do] academics, with respect to matters not directly related to teaching and scholarship, have a higher order of liberty in the workplace than others?” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1355).  Questions about salary, working conditions, office space, parking and many other concerns are necessary to sustain a university.  But why, this argument continues, should faculty have a right to protected speech on these intramural affairs when others do not?  This question leads to the logical suggestion that any group claiming a professional status should also be accorded the measure of autonomy analogous to faculty academic freedom (Yudof, 1988).  Seen in this way, assertions of academic freedom become just one more way to promote “a progressive view of labor-management relations” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1355). That said, these commentators also caution that professors enjoy “academic” freedom because of their unique professional roles—discovering new knowledge and disseminating analyses of existing understandings—that require freedom that other occupations do not.  Therefore, “the temptation” ought to be resisted, “to bring all talk about conditions that have an impact on professional autonomy, no matter how far removed from teaching and research, under the umbrella of academic freedom” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1356).  To summarize this argument, “Academic freedom is what it is. … If academic freedom is thought to include all that is desirable for academicians, it may come to mean quite little to policy makers and courts” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1357).

Finally, some scholars have argued that the attempt to afford the protections of academic freedom to shared governance represents an assertion of faculty supremacy (Fish, 2014).  According to one such analyst, “professors cling to medieval privileges while demanding modern trade union benefits,” the effect of which creates “a status with the autonomy of a community member, the security of a corporate employee, and the obligations of neither” (Keller, 2004, p. 169). Furthermore, in this view, whether the management of university governance is top-down, shared or bottom-up is immaterial to the production of quality scholarship.  Rather, “teaching and scholarship could flourish or fail” regardless of the nature of the system of university governance (Fish, 2014, p. 41).  That is, for these critics, faculty members rightly have a responsibility for participating in governing the affairs of their profession and the institutions with which they are aligned, but the scope of those activities is limited as they relate to organizational governance.  Administrative decisions related to the greater university environment may affect academic work, but such decisions are secondary to faculty responsibilities and are appropriately the province of the administration (Fish, 2014).  It is enough for professors to engage in the academic work of their profession through teaching, conducting research and publishing (Fish, 2008).


Overall, commentators favoring the separation of intramural speech and shared governance from academic freedom appear to have a stronger case than those arguing that intramural speech and shared governance fall under the protection of academic freedom.  This is so in good measure because the claims for including intramural speech and shared governance under the rubric of academic freedom raise difficult questions. Two examples suffice:  Must all speech protected under academic freedom be academic?  If, as university citizens, intramural statements are protected for faculty, why not protect them for other university citizens, especially students and staff?  Moreover, while it may be laudable for faculty to enjoy freedom of speech as they participate in shared governance, that right can and should stand on its own, apart from academic freedom.  Free speech and participatory democracy are touchstones of American government.  Perhaps these freedoms should also be accorded to faculty (and others) within the university community, but it is not necessary to attach them to the concept of academic freedom to do so.

Given this reality, it would be better to declare that faculty have a general right of free speech, including intramural utterances, or a delimited freedom of speech when fulfilling a specific role in university governance and discharging their governance responsibilities.  By securing these freedoms separately, in addition to, but apart from academic freedom, faculty would avoid muddling important distinctions. Ensuring these rights independently would also provide stronger support for claimants such as Gorum, who argued that the administration retaliated against him for his activities while engaged in intramural speech and university governance.  As Gorum discovered, judges currently decide such cases in accord with existing First Amendment jurisprudence.  Under these precedents, judges are inclined to view faculty members at public colleges and universities as they do other public employees, who neither benefit from academic freedom nor freedom of speech when speaking or acting within the scope of their “official duties,” leaving faculty intramural speech and shared governance unprotected.  Today’s faculty seeking to protect speech offered in their governance role can surely articulate mechanisms that would afford such protection, but stretching the concept of academic freedom to do so should not be among them.


American Association of University Professors [AAUP]. (2015). Policy documents and reports. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Austin, I., and Jones, G. A. (2016). Governance of higher education: Global perspectives, theories, and practices.  New York: Routledge.

Birnbaum, R. (2004). The end of shared governance: Looking ahead or looking back. In W. G. Tierney and V. M. Lechuga (Eds.), Restructuring Shared Governance in Higher Education (pp. 5–22). doi:10.1002/he.152

Brest, P. (1988). Protecting academic freedom through the First Amendment: Raising the unanswered questions. Texas Law Review, 66, 1359-1362.

Connick v. Myers, 461 US 138 (1983).

Dill, D. D. (2014). Academic governance in the U.S.: Implications of a ‘commons’ perspective. In M. Shattock (Ed.), International trends in university governance: Autonomy, self-government and the distribution of authority (pp. 165-183). London: Routledge.

Finkin, M. W. (1988). Intramural speech, academic freedom and the First Amendment. Texas Law Review, 66, 1323-1349.

Finkin, M. A. (1993). “A higher order in the workplace”: Academic freedom and tenure in the vortex of employment practices of the law. In W. W. Van Alstyne (Ed.), Freedom and Tenure in the Academy (pp. 357-380). Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

Finkin, M. W. and Post, R. C. (2009). For the common good: Principles of American academic freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Fish, S. E. (2008). Save the world on your own time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. (2014). Versions of academic freedom: From professionalism to revolution. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).

Gerber, L. G. (2001). “Inextricably linked”: Shared governance and academic freedom. Academe, 87(3), 22-24.

Gorum v. Sessoms, 561 F. 3d 179 (3rd Cir. 2009).

Hirsch, W. Z. (2001). Initiatives for improving shared governance. In W. Z. Hirsch and L. E. Weber (Eds.), Governance in Higher Education: The University in a State of Flux (pp. 143-154). London: Economica.

Kaplan, C. (1983). Introduction. In C. Kaplan and E. Schrecker (Eds.), Regulating the intellectuals: Perspectives on academic freedom in the 1980s (pp. 1-13). New York: Praeger.

Kaplin, W. A., and Lee, B. A. (2007). The law of higher education, student version. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Keller, G. (2004). A growing quaintness: Traditional governance in the markedly new realm of U.S. higher education. In W. G. Tierney (Ed.), Competing conceptions of academic governance: Negotiating the perfect storm (pp. 158-176). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Olivas, M. A. (1993). Reflections on professional academic freedom: Second thoughts on the third “Essential Freedom,” Stanford Law Review, 45, 1835-1858.

Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968).

Yudof, M. G. (1988). Intramural musings on academic freedom: A reply to Professor Finkin, Texas Law Review, 66, 1351-1357.

Jerald H. Walz completed his PhD in Higher Education at Virginia Tech in May 2017.  His dissertation research focused on academic freedom in colleges & universities.  He has earned a B.A. from Asbury College, a M. A. from the Johns Hopkins University, and two graduate certificates from Virginia Tech.  While serving as the Vice President of Operations at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Jerald taught public policy in Pepperdine University’s Washington, DC program.  With his wife, Anita, he enjoys reading, classical music, light gardening, travel, and activities at The River Anglican Church.

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