I am a Latin Americanist specializing in social mobilization and how cultural and religious practices facilitate it. I originally went to Caracas, Venezuela for my dissertation research on Evangelical conversion in the 1990s. I did fieldwork in the barrios of Caracas and cities in the interior during Venezuela’s neoliberal period when popular religious groups were the most robust, sometimes the only, forms of civil society that were active. I published my dissertation as Reason to Believe: Cultural Agency in Latin American Evangelicalism (California 2007). It received the 2008 book award from Section on the Sociology of Religion of the American Sociological Association.
Having witnessed the rise of Hugo Chávez during my dissertation project, I began to focus more squarely on the phenomenon. I had previously researched and written a book on street protest during the first year of Hugo Chávez’s presidency with Margarita López Maya and Keta Stefany Protesta y Cultura en Venezuela: Los Marcos de Acción Colectiva de 1999 (UCV 2002). Subsequently, Daniel Hellinger and I published Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution: Participation, Politics and Culture under Chávez (Duke 2012), an edited volume which brought together chapters from social scientists and humanists looking not only at social movements and social policy, but media, poetry, and religion.
In 2012 I began to curate the blog Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights for the Washington Office on Latin America where I am a Senior Fellow. Since 2012 we have published approximately 100 pieces per year that seek to sift through the wildly polarized information on Venezuela to make sense of complex events for journalists, policy-makers and activists. Blog pieces lead to media contacts and I frequently comment on the Venezuela crisis for the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and National Public Radio, among others. I have also written op eds and analytic pieces for the New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill and The Conversation.
I currently have several book projects. With my colleagues Verónica Zubillaga and Rebecca Hanson I am finishing an edited volume called The Paradox of Violence in Venezuela that seeks to understand how and why, during the Chávez government, violence soared at the same time that poverty and inequality declined. I am working on a two volume book called Venezuela’s Failed Transition to Socialism. Volume I looks at the second term of Chávez in which socialism became his governing metaphor. Volume II will look at the Maduro presidency. Both books will look at issues of participation, democratic institutions, crime and violence, corruption and international relations. While most of my previous work has been ethnographic, this project is an exercise in comparative historical sociology and uses Michael Mann's neo-Weberian framework. I also have a project with my colleague Hugo Pérez Hernáiz on students and socialism in Venezuela. We interviewed 80 socialist activists in Caracas over several years, to understand how they became active and what socialism means to them. We seek to demystify and demythologize activism in illiberal movements.
I still work on religion as well. I co-edited Religion on the Edge: Decentering and Recentering the Sociology of Religion (Oxford 2013). In 2014 I published, with Jeffrey Rubin and Benjamin Junge, a special issue of Latin American Research Review called “Lived Citizenship and Lived Religion in Latin America’s Zones of Crisis,” which brought together articles presented during three conferences on this topic at Boston University. I was also one of the authors of the chapter on religion for Rethinking Society for the Twenty-First Century: Report of the International Panel of Social Progress (Cambridge 2018). I am currently working with Hugo Pérez Hernáiz on the Catholic church during the Venezuela crisis for Cambridge University Press’s new Elements series “Politics and Society in Latin America.” I also have a translation project with Hugo Pérez Hernáiz in which we are translating into Spanish twelve articles published in Qualitative Sociology during my period as Editor-in-Chief (2011-18).
At Tulane I teach undergraduate social theory, and seminars called Latin American Social Mobilization and Comparative Historical Sociology of Latin America.