Adam Seth Levine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government.
*The Big Picture*
He studies how and when ordinary people participate in public life. A vibrant democracy involves people being active in the public square — advocating for their concerns, working together to understand and solve problems, and so on. Yet that often does not happen.
Why not? What barriers arise, and how do civic organizations and other institutions help overcome these barriers? A common thread throughout his work is that there are often tensions between aspects of human psychology and what civic engagement entails. His research illuminates these tensions in order to improve our understanding of the various ways that people become civically engaged.
His initial work focused on one of the core challenges associated with organizing powerful new constituencies: persuading people to voluntarily spend money and/or time on the cause. Here a tension arises because many political issues directly refer to financial and/or time constraints that people are experiencing. Being reminded about these constraints diminishes their willingness to voluntarily spend resources.
He explores this tension with respect to economic insecurity issues (e.g. health care costs, education costs) in his first book, entitled American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction, published with Princeton University Press in 2015. The book was the subject of a NY Times op-ed immediately after its release, and also won a 2016 award from the American Political Science Association for how it used experiments and psychology to answer a politically-important question. The book was in part based on his dissertation, which won the 2011 E. E. Schattschneider Award for the best dissertation on American government.
Since publishing American Insecurity, he and several co-authors have found that this same tension arises when trying to build powerful constituencies to address other problems such as climate change, the national debt, and traffic congestion.
His current work focuses on other fundamental aspects of public life. He is studying how organizations cultivate leadership skills and support new civic leaders. Here a tension arises because leadership often entails taking actions that are new and outside people’s comfort zones. He studies how mentors build relationships with budding leaders to motivate and support them as they take these powerful, yet uncomfortable, actions.
He also studies how and when people with diverse forms of knowledge work together to ameliorate social problems. Here a tension arises because these relationships often entail strangers working together, yet many people are hesitant to interact with strangers. His focal examples come from studying new diverse working relationships between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Thanks to generous support from the Rita Allen Foundation, he’s devoting substantial time to a new book. The tentative title is When Strangers Work Together: How Researchers, Practitioners, Students, and Grant-Makers Build Relationships for Social Change.
*Public Engagement & Teaching*
He is deeply committed to broad public engagement. Many of his studies entail collaborating directly with nonprofit organizations, in which they work together to design and carry out studies. Thus far he has collaborated with six nonprofits to conduct research in six countries including the United States, Kenya, Nepal, Mexico, Ecuador, and Vietnam.
He is also the president and co-founder of research4impact, a nonprofit organization that connects researchers and practitioners with similar interests.
In addition to the books mentioned above, he has published peer-reviewed papers in a variety of political science, transportation planning, climate change, communication, law, and economics journals. He regularly gives talks on civic engagement to a wide variety of audiences, including researchers, practitioners, policymakers, students, and grant-makers. A list of recent talks appears on his CV.
His research informs, and is informed by, his teaching. Thus far he has taught courses on political campaigns, political communication and engagement, and the design of surveys and experiments. These are a combination of undergraduate and Ph.D. level courses.
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