Tamara headshot

Tamara Kay

Professor of Global Affairs and Sociology, University of Notre Dame

About Tamara

Kay’s research examines the political and legal implications of regional economic integration, transnationalism, and global governance. She is interested in understanding how civil society organizations – particularly labor and environmental movements, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits – respond and adapt to processes of regional economic integration and globalization. Kay has advised the International Labour Organization Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the United Farmworkers of America, and has testified before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Governor's Advisory Council on Refugees and Immigrants.

No Jargon Podcast

In the News

Opinion: "Pregnancy Is Risky. Losing Access to Abortion Puts Women’s Lives at Stake," Tamara Kay (with Susan L. Ostermann and Tricia C. Bruce), Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2022.
Opinion: "Forced Pregnancy and Childbirth Are Violence Against Women — And Also Terrible Health Policy," Tamara Kay (with Susan L. Ostermann), Salon, May 4, 2022.
Opinion: " Waiving Patents Isn’t Enough — We Need Technology Transfer To Defeat COVID," Tamara Kay (with Adnan Naseemullah and Susan Ostermann), The Hill, May 13, 2021.
Interviewed in "What Does a New NAFTA Really Mean for Canada," CTV News Channel (Toronto), December 11, 2019.
Guest on CSPAN, October 17, 2018.
Opinion: "The Politics of American Free Trade and How It Shapes Our Elections," Tamara Kay, The Hill, November 17, 2017.
Opinion: "The Return of ‘Kindergarten Math’ in Battle over Right-to-Work," Tamara Kay (with Gordon Lafer), New Mexico Political Report, January 26, 2016.
Guest on KUNM Radio, May 21, 2015.
Opinion: "The Slippery Math of Right-to-Work Advocates," Tamara Kay, Newsweek, May 17, 2015.
Opinion: "The Misleading Arguments Propelling Right-to-Work Laws," Tamara Kay, The Conversation, May 1, 2015.
Guest on Voice of Labor, April 24, 2015.
Quoted by Erica Garcia in "The Right-to-Work Fight You Aren't Hearing About," National Journal, March 10, 2015.
Opinion: "There's No Relationship between Right-to-Work Laws and Job Growth," Tamara Kay, Albuquerque Business-First, February 20, 2015.
Quoted by Mike English in "NM Senate Dems Tout Support for 73,000-Job Bill Package," Albuquerque Business-First, February 19, 2015.
Quoted by Dan Mayfield in "Professor Calls Right-to-Work Study 'Kindergarten Math'," Albuquerque Business-First, February 13, 2015.
Quoted by Andy Lyman in "Differing Views on a Right-to-Work Study," New Mexico Political Report, February 13, 2015.
Guest on Radio Universidad, 2010.


"Social Enterprise Is Not Social Change" (with Marshall Ganz and Jason Spicer). Stanford Social Innovation Review 16, no. 2 (2018).

Argues that social entrepreneurship has done little to impact the problems it aspires to solve and has risen to popularity despite a lack of evidence for its effectiveness.

"Reimagining the Governance of Work and Employment" (with Tamara Kay and Jason Spicer). Labor and Employment Relations Association Annual Research 2 (2020): 41-67.

Explores classic approaches to the regulation of employment that solidified in the period following the world wars. Explores how unions and collective bargaining, labor and employment laws, and social partnerships are, and will continue to be, important institutions in many countries. Reimagines old and new ideas for the governance of work and employment in global, digital, post-industrial, and rapidly changing economies and societies. 

" Social Entrepreneurship As Field Encroachment: How a Neoliberal Social Movement Constructed a New Field" (with Marshall Ganz and Jason Spicer). Socio-Economic Review 17, no. 1 (2019): 195–227.

Shows how new fields can emerge through field encroachment, whereby shifts among overlapping fields create structural opportunities for the ascendency of new fields, which may adapt logics borrowed from adjacent fields to construct legitimacy.

"A Nonprofit Networked Platform for Global Health" (with Jason Spicer). Stanford Social Innovation Review 19, no. 1 (2021).

Develops a revolutionary model for helping doctors and clinicians in New Mexico to treat hepatitis C. Discusses how It spread around the world to address numerous chronic diseases and how with the COVID-19 pandemic, it found its moment.

"Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions" (with Asad L. Asad ). Social Science & Medicine 144 (2015): 79–87.

Examines scholars and practitioners' understandings of culture in relation to health interventions. Provides a descriptive and analytical starting point for scholars interested in understanding the theoretical and empirical relevance of culture for health interventions, and sets forth concrete recommendations for practitioners working to achieve robust improvements in health outcomes.

"New Challenges, New Alliances: Union Politicization in a Post-NAFTA Era" Labor History 56, no. 3 (2015): 246-269.

Argues that unions are dealing with the crises presented by neoliberal economic integration by entering new political coalitions and nontraditional advocacy areas – particularly relating to immigration, environment, and trade – in an effort to increase their relevance, influence, and allies. Examines how the North American Free Trade Agreement helped politicize unions to move beyond traditional workplace-centered struggles and engage in broader and more diverse political struggles linked at the domestic and the transnational level.

"Theorizing the Relationship between NGOs and the State in Medical Humanitarian Development Projects" (with Asad L. Asad). Social Science & Medicine 120 (2014): 325-333.

Argues that NGOs and their medical humanitarian projects are more likely to succeed when they adjust how they interact with different types of states through processes of interest harmonization and negotiation, and offers a theoretical model for understanding how these processes occur across organizational fields.

"Building Solidarity with Subjects and Audience in Sociology and Documentary Photography" Sociological Forum 26, no. 2 (2011): 424-430.

Contributes to a panel discussion addressing the sociological relevance of Sebastião Salgado’s work as well as documentary photography in general.

"Legal Transnationalism: The Relationship between Transnational Social Movement Building and International Law" Law & Social Inquiry 36, no. 2 (2011): 419-454.

Examines the compelling enigma of how the introduction of a new international law, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), helped stimulate labor cooperation and collaboration in the 1990s. The article offers a theory of legal transnationalism – defined as processes by which international laws and legal mechanisms facilitate social movement building at the transnational level – that explains how nascent international legal institutions and mechanisms can help develop collective interests, build social movements, and, ultimately, stimulate cross-border collaboration and cooperation.

"NAFTA and the Politics of Labor Transnationalism" (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Makes the provocative argument that global governance institutions can play a pivotal role in the development of transnational social movements, and suggests that globalization need not undermine labor movements: collectively, unions can help shape how the rules governing the global economy are made.
"How Environmentalists 'Greened' Trade Policy: Strategic Action and the Architecture of Field Overlap" (with Rhonda Evans). American Sociological Review 73, no. 6 (2008): 970-991.

Examines why and how environmental activists, despite considerable political weakness and disproportionally few resources, won substantive negotiating concessions that far outstripped labor achievements during NAFTA's negotiation. Outlines the mechanisms associated with the structure of field overlap—alliance brokerage, rulemaking, resource brokerage, and frame adaptation-that enable activists to strategically leverage advantages across fields to transform the political landscape.