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Shai Dromi

Lecturer on Sociology, Harvard University
Chapter Member: Boston SSN
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About Shai

Dromi’s research focuses on the ways cultural perceptions and religious traditions shape policies on poverty, development, human rights, and international relations. His first book, Above the Fray: The Red Cross and the Making of the Humanitarian NGO Sector (Univ. of Chicago Press), traces how humanitarian relief NGOs became a common outlet for relief work and how they gained extraordinary prominence in international affairs. In additional work, Dromi has looked at how religion, culture, and politics intersect in the Middle East, in particular in Israel, Palestine, and Turkey.

In the News

Opinion: "January 6 Should Be Remembered as a Story of Triumph, Not Trauma," Shai Dromi, The Hill, January 9, 2021.
Opinion: "COVID-19 is Spreading in Africa. How Should Philanthropy Respond?," Shai Dromi, Inside Philanthropy, March 30, 2020.


"Above the Fray: The Red Cross and the Making of the Humanitarian NGO Sector" (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Provides a historical analysis of contemporary humanitarian NGO policies and challenges. Examines the origins of humanitarian relief organizations emphasis on neutrality and avoidance of politics. Highlights central role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in developing these policies. 

"What Does Trauma Have to Do with Politics? Cultural Trauma and the Displaced Founding Political Elites of Israel and Turkey" (with Gülay Türkmen). The Sociological Quarterly (forthcoming).

Focuses on founding political elites, which are groups that found new political systems and dominate them for extended periods in new democracies. Claims that these groups face difficulties conceding democratic electoral defeat, and develop long-lasting perceptions of having been unfairly removed from power. Shows that both the Israeli Labor Party and the Turkish Republican People's Party experienced similar trajectories as founding political elites, and that both are limited in their public maneuvers by persisting resentment toward much of the voting public.

"Love of Land: Nature Protection, Nationalism, and the Struggle over the Establishment of New Communities in Israel" (with Liron Shani). Rural Sociology (forthcoming).

Claims that environmental activists often harbor ideas about nature protection that are drawn from national culture. Analyzes opposing groups in Israel — ideological settlers and green activists — and shows that despite harboring different ideas on environmental activism, both interlink their ideas on nature protection and their sense of commitment to their country, and both draw on national discourses in order to promote environmentalism.

"Advertising Morality: Maintaining Moral Worth in a Stigmatized Profession" (with Andrew C. Cohen). Theory & Society 74, no. 2 (2018): 175-206.

Shows that advertising professionals also tie job satisfaction to their beliefs about the positive effects of their work on society. Claims that employees need to perceive themselves as moral individuals, and experience frustration when they believe their industry is stigmatized. 

"Soldiers of the Cross: Calvinism, Humanitarianism, and the Genesis of Social Fields" Sociological Theory 34, no. 3 (2016): 196-219.

Shows that the values humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) use to justify their policies, such as impartiality and neutrality, originate from a mid-nineteenth-century Protestant movement. Focuses on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a leader in the humanitarian relief sector. Claims that current ideas governing humanitarian interventions rely on culturally-specific beliefs that have predominated over the past 150 years. 

"For Good and Country: Nationalism and the Diffusion of Humanitarianism in the Late Nineteenth Century" The Sociological Review Monographs 64, no. 2 (2016): 79-97.

Focuses on the role national belief systems and patriotic sentiments have had for the worldwide adoption of humanitarian policies and organizations. Analyzes the late-nineteenth-century development of national Red Cross societies. Claims that the spread of the Red Cross movement and the ratification of the Geneva Convention in different countries was facilitated by their resonance with local beliefs about national responsibility. 

"Uneasy Settlements: Reparation Politics and the Meanings of Money in the Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza" Sociological Inquiry 84, no. 2 (2014): 294-315.
Draws attention to the communicative functions of money in the reparation process, using the 2005 removal of Jewish-Israeli settlers from Israeli-occupied territories as a case study. Claims that actors may grudgingly agree to attach a monetary value to what they hold sacred, but simultaneously strive to preserve their sense of self-worth and to elicit identification by raising moral critiques about the use of fiscal logic.
"Penny for your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life" Sociological Forum 27, no. 4 (2012): 847-871.
Focuses on how individuals account for the mundane, everyday exchanges they have with strangers who seek their help. The article claims that the presence of beggars does not inherently symbolize urban decay to passersby and does not necessarily elicit anxiety, but instead provides a valuable texture of urban life. The article suggests that urban sociology and the sociology of risk would benefit from sensitizing their studies of public interactions to the diverse meanings individuals assign to them, rather than presupposing annoyance, anxiety, or fear as their predominant characteristic.
"Trauma Construction and Moral Restriction: The Ambiguity of the Holocaust for Israel" (with with Jeffrey C. Alexander), in Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering, edited by Ron Eyerman, Jeffrey C. Alexander and Elizabeth Butler Breese (Paradigm Publishers, 2011), 107-132.
Explores how references to trauma, and representations about it, are not just individual but social and collective by tracing the divergent trajectories and moral meanings the Holocaust memory has taken by different parties in the Middle East.