Francesca Polletta, Professor

PhD, Yale University, 1994

political sociology, social movements, culture, narrative, democracy

Professional Bio

Francesca Polletta is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She came to UCI from Columbia University, where she was an assistant and associate professor. She received her BA in the Sociology of Law from Brown University in 1984 and her PhD in Sociology from Yale University in 1994. She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Open Society Institute, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Vreije Universitat, Amsterdam.

Professor Polletta’s research centers on the cultural dimensions of protest and politics. In particular, she has sought to show how culture sets the terms of strategic action, but culture understood less as beliefs and worldviews than as familiar relationships, institutional routines, and conventions of self-expression. In her first book, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (University of Chicago Press, 2002), she showed that activists over the course of a century styled their radical democracies variously on friendship, religious fellowship, and tutelage—and fractured along the lines of those relationships. The book won the Outstanding Book Award from the Collective Behavior/Social Movements Section of the American Sociological Association, and Honorable Mentions from the Sociology of Culture Section and the Political Sociology Section. In It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2006), winner of the ASA Collective Behavior/Social Movements Outstanding Book Award, Polletta investigated the political advantages and risks of telling stories, especially for disadvantaged groups. Popular conventions of storytelling have created obstacles to reform, she argued, less by limiting what disadvantaged groups can imagine than by limiting the occasions on which they can tell authoritative stories. In Passionate Politics, co-edited with Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (University of Chicago Press, 2001), she sought to integrate an analysis of emotional dynamics into more structuralist accounts of social movement mobilization.

In her new book, Inventing the Ties that Bind: Imagined Relationships in Moral and Political Life (University of Chicago Press, In Press), Professor Polletta explores how Americans think about what they owe others. She argues that people have acted together on the basis of diverse relationships, some of them imagined, and that their rich vernacular of solidarity offers possibilities for building a more inclusive politics.

Professor Polletta has published journal articles also on rights claims making, public deliberation, collective identity, collective memory, economic decision-making, and the Internet.

Current Research

Professor Polletta currently is working on two projects. With Edwin Amenta, she is writing a book on the cultural consequences of social movements. While scholars have often focused on movements’ capacity to change laws and policies, they recognize that movements’ most enduring impacts are on how people live and work, on how they talk and what they value. The book aims to identify some of the conditions for those kinds of movement impacts. In a second book project, The Trouble with Stories, Professor Polletta is examining when stories persuade–and why they often do not persuade.