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New Patterns of Mobilization for and against Democracy

Mohammed Ali Kadivar

Mohammad Ali Kadivar is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and International Studies at Boston College. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and earned a MA and BA in political science from University of Tehran in Iran. From 2016 to 2018, Kadivar was a postdoctoral fellow at Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. His work contributes to political and comparative-historical sociology by exploring the causes, dynamics, and consequences of protest movements.This work grows out of his experience as a participant-observer of the pro-democracy movement in Iran, but his research agenda moves outward from this case to explore these issues on a global scale, using case studies, comparative-historical methods, and statistical analyses.

Kadivar’s research has been published in the American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Comparative Political Studies, Comparative Politics, Socius, Mobilization, Sociology of Development, Empirical Economics and has won awards from the Collective Behavior and Social Movement (CBSM), Comparative Historical Sociology, Global and Transnational Sociology, Sociology of Development, and Peace, War and Social Conflict sections of the American Sociological Association (ASA). Kadivar’s first book Popular Politics and the Path to Durable Democracy was published in November 2022 with Princeton University Press.

Most recent relevant publications

Mohammad Ali Kadivar. 2022. Popular Politics and the Path to Durable Democracy. Princeton University Press.

Khani, Saber, and Mohammad Ali Kadivar. 2023. “Sanctuaries or Battlegrounds? State Penetration in Places of Worship, University Campuses, and State Bureaucracy for Pro-Government Mobilization: Evidence from Iran (2015–2019).Comparative Political Studies. [PDF]

Kadivar, Mohammad Ali, Adaner Usmani, and Benjamin H. Bradlow. 2020. “The Long March: Deep Democracy in Cross-National Perspective.Social Forces 98(3):1311–1338 [PDF].

Mohammad Ali Kadivar. 2018. “Mass Mobilization & the Durability of New Democracies.” American Sociological Review, 83(2): 390-417 [PDF][Supplemental Material].

As a steering committee member of your hub, how do you perceive the general topic in relation to your hub?

One pillar of the overarching subject matter is democracy, and my focus revolves around the dynamics of mobilizations both in support of and in opposition to democratic principles. On the one hand, contentious mobilization has been a major pathway to democratization. On the other hand, mobilization for autocracy and against democracy is also becoming more common globally. Unfortunately, the prevailing zeitgeist appears to be characterized by a lack of enthusiasm for democracy. There has been a surge in instances of democratic backsliding or decline, despite the advancements in certain countries towards democratic ideals. These, I believe, reveal the importance of studying the various ways in which individuals mobilize in favor of democracy, exploring the potential for success in these endeavors. There is also a counter-mobilization trend against democracy or advocating for autocracy, which I think are essentially synonymous. Therefore, a comprehensive examination of democracy necessitates  understanding these processes. At least one main avenue for the establishment of enduring democratic regimes involves contentious collective actions and social movements. These movements, however, can also pose a threat to democratic foundations. Thus, the aim of our hub is to encompass both facets.

How do you relate to other hubs?

Our hub relates to the developmental state hub particularly due to the fact that democracies that have low state capacity encounter difficulties in effectively serving their constituencies. This, in turn, may lead to discontent with democracy, fostering a perceived necessity for bringing in authoritarian leaders or a demand for enhanced law and order. Such appeals have been strategically employed to undermine liberal democratic institutions, pushing towards a more illiberal form of democracy.

Similarly, the exclusionary regimes hub aligns with the notion that democracies should be examined in terms of their inclusivity or exclusivity. This perspective is interconnected with the concept of democratic deepening, transcending mere electoral participation and the rotation of power between political parties. Democratic deepening examines whether ordinary citizens engage in public decision-making processes beyond electoral contexts, which is the main research topic for our hub.

Regarding the populism hub, populism emerges as a dual-edged phenomenon, being posed as both a threat to and a contributor to democracy. While certain populist movements jeopardize democratic principles, others contribute to the expansion or deepening of democracy. This inherent tension underscores the complexity necessitating further exploration. Examples like the MAS movement in Bolivia have notably expanded democracy, even though leaders like Evo Morales undermined democratic institutions. In Brazil, Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, is seen as undermining democracy, while Lola could also be characterized as a populist figure who came to save Brazilian democracy. The interpretation of these concepts significantly hinges on definitions, but discussions of populism over the last decade have invariably been intertwined with discussions of democracy and mobilization.