A Challenge to the Hip Pocket: Evoking Commitments to Social Justice

Professor Margaret Levi
30 June, 2009


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Why you should listen

Almost all Australian unions ask members to contribute personal time and money or approve organisational resources for charitable purposes, electoral campaigns, and lobbying. Some also advocate political and social justice causes that seem unrelated to the achievement of better wages or working conditions. Historically, some Australian unions have even induced members to take costly personal actions that do not seem to have connection to the reasons people joined the union initially. The green bans of the NSW Builders Labours Federation in the early 1970s are the best known example. How were some unions able to do this, and what is it about membership of an organisation that can change the beliefs of constituents about the nature of the world and challenge long-held views? In religious, political, and labour organisations, altruism is common enough, as are volunteering, political commitment, and unselfish service to others. But what is the unique structure of some organisation's culture and leadership that can produce member self-sacrifice on behalf of a wide range of political and social justice issues, and can indeed transform political preferences of the members?

In her Sydney Ideas lecture, Margaret Levi lecture will trace the development of the labor movements’ participation in social justice campaigns (global and domestic), comparing the US experience to the activities of Australian unions; and reveal how organisations can provoke members’ willingness to act beyond material interest.

Margaret Levi is the Jere L. Bacharach Professor of International Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle and, jointly, Professor of US Politics, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney. She is Director of the CHAOS (Comparative Historical Analysis of Organizations and States) Center and formerly the Harry Bridges Chair and Director, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Levi earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in 1968 and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974, the year she joined the faculty of the University of Washington. She became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in 2002. She was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (2006-7) and recipient of the S. Sterling Munro Public Service Teaching Award in 2001. She served as President of the American Political Science Association (2004-5).

Levi is the author of three solely authored books, Consent, Dissent, and Patriotism (1997); Of Rule and Revenue (1988); and Bureaucratic Insurgency: The Case of Police Unions (1977). She is the joint author of Analytic Narratives (1998); Cooperation Without Trust? (2005); and Democracy at Risk (2005). She is the co-editor of The Limits of Rationality (1979); Trust and Governance (1998); Competition and Cooperation: Conversations with Nobelists about Economics and Political Science (1999), Designing Democratic Government (2008), and the forthcoming Trust.

Her current research focuses on: 1) the conditions under which people come to believe their governments are legitimate and the consequences of those beliefs for compliance, consent, and the rule of law; and 2) how organizations provoke member willingness to act beyond material interest. She also continues to write on issues concerning the analytic narrative approach to the study of complex historical and comparative processes. Concurrently, she is working on a range of issues having to do with labor unions and with global justice campaigns. Some of the work builds on the WTO History Project, which she co-directed.

In 1999 she became the general editor of the Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics, in 1997 the co-general editor of the Trust series for Russell Sage Foundation Press, and in 2006 the general editor of the Annual Review of Political Science. She is currently Chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford.

Co-presented with the United States Studies Centre

United States Studies Center