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Paul Lichterman

Professor of Sociology and Religion, University of Southern California

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About Paul

Lichterman studies how and why people get involved in citizen advocacy and volunteering. His close-up, observational research has investigated environmental, gay rights and housing justice advocacy organizations, community service efforts and non-profit organizations that develop affordable housing. He also studies the political and civic roles of religious organizations. Paul’s observational research focuses a lot on the styles of working together and developing goals together that he sees in the advocacy and community service organizations he studies. He shares his findings with these organizations, encouraging members to reflect on what they affirm or would like to change about the ways they define issues, generate campaigns and create group cohesiveness.


No Jargon Podcast

In the News

"Why Voting for Clinton May Trouble Some Sanders Supporters," Paul Lichterman, The Hill, October 6, 2016.
"'Part' of What?," Paul Lichterman, Participation and Its Discontents, August 6, 2014.
Paul Lichterman quoted on Mitt Romney’s charitable giving by Beth Healy, "For Mitt Romney, Charity Centers on Mormon Church" Boston Globe, February 19, 2012.
Regular contributions by Paul Lichterman to The Immanent Frame.


"How a Housing Advocacy Coalition Adds Health: A Culture of Claims-Making" (with Kushan Dasgupta). Social Science & Medicine 165 (2016): 266-262.

Examines how a housing coalition previously uninvolved in health issues crafted appeals in a health-related campaign to prevent a local hospital’s demolition. Uses participant observation and archival evidence to identify dominant arguments and limits to the coalition’s rhetorical capabilities.

"Collaboration and Culture: Organizational Culture and the Dynamics of Collaborative Policy Networks" (with Christopher Weare and Nicole Esparza). Policy Studies Journal 42, no. 4 (2014): 590-619.
Uses research on affordable housing-related organizations (advocacy groups, governmental agencies, housing developers) to show how advocacy coalitions cohere or fracture. Argues that differences between organizations’ own styles of achieving goals can impede collaboration even when the organizations all agree on policy goals and share experiences working together.
"Civic Action" (with Nina Eliasoph). American Journal of Sociology 120, no. 3 (2014): 798-863.

Challenges the popular misconceptions that civic engagement is always uplifting and good for society. Clarifies what “civic” means, then uses extensive research to argues that civic action is shaped by markedly different organizational cultures that give citizens different capacities to influence government, reach out to fellow citizens, or even discuss opinions openly.

"Religion in Public Action: From Actors to Settings" Sociological Theory 30, no. 1 (2012): 15-36.
Uses observations of religiously based volunteering and social activism to argue that the same people express religious commitments differently, or not at all, depending on the setting. Argues that rather than assume a religion has consistent political or civic effects on its believers, we need to understand the effect of different everyday settings on believers’ likelihood of letting their religion influence their public engagements.
"Religion and the Construction of Civic Identity" American Sociological Review 73 (2008): 83-104.
Examines the role of religion in affecting public involvements in advocacy or volunteer projects. Argues that besides reasons, religion also gives people potent identity markers and reputations that make some other religious groups want to include or else exclude them, even when all concerned share the same basic religious reasons for civic involvement.
Elusive Togetherness: Church Groups Trying to Bridge America’s Divisions (Princeton University Press, 2005).
Uses close-up observations of liberal and conservative Protestant church-based community service projects to show how difficult it is for church groups to strengthen local social ties or supplant government aid programs. Argues that neither sincere compassion nor religious principles are enough to strengthen Americans’ social interdependence.