Two best student papers from our PhD students

Anna SlavinaTony ZhangCongratulations to Anna Slavina and Tony Huiquan Zhang who each received Best Student Paper Awards from their sections of the Canadian Sociology Association.

Anna Slavina’s paper,  “Cultures of Engagement: Crossnational Differences in Political Action Repertoires,” received the Best Student Paper award from the Political Sociology and Social Movements section of the CSA.  Anna is currently a doctoral candidate in Sociology working on her dissertation, Repertoires of Political Engagement: Individual and Contextual Factors. Her PhD committee consists of Robert Brym (Supervisor), Geoff Wodtke, and Ron Levi

Paper Abstract

This paper argues for a greater focus on the role of culture in the study of cross-national patterns of activism. Country-level differences in political engagement are generally studied through an index of activism that collapses several distinct activities into one composite measure or with a focus on only one type of political engagement (e.g. average levels of protest attendance). These differences are typically explained by measures of national wealth, inequality and institutional structures at the contextual level, and personal resources and postmaterialist values at the individual level. I argue that the above approaches have not paid enough attention to the role of culture, either as country specific patterns of engagement, or as individual repertoires for political action. This paper presents findings from a series of Latent Class Analysis (LCA) models based on nationally representative samples from 34 countries. The findings suggest that different forms of political engagement cluster into country specific repertoires of activism. Based on these findings, I argue that variations in patterns of political engagement reflect differences in “styles” or cultural “toolkits” for political action (Swidler, 1986). These national toolkits are conditioned by broader political culture, beliefs and practices.


Tony Huiquan Zhang’s paper, “The Rise of the Princelings in China: Career Advantages and Collective Elite Reproduction,” won Best Student Paper from the Comparative and Historical Sociology section. Tony is a doctoral candidate in Sociology expecting to graduate this fall and begin a new position as Assistant Professor at St. Thomas More College. His dissertation is Contextual Effects and Support for Liberalism: A Comparative Analysis and he is supervised by Robert Brym (Supervisor), Bob Andersen, and Weiguo Zhang.

Paper Abstract

How have China’s princelings benefitted from their family backgrounds in the advancement of their political careers? This study challenges existing factionalist and meritocracy theories of China’s political elites both theoretically and methodologically by developing a theory of collective elite reproduction. Based on quantitative biographical data of more than 270 princelings, the quantitative analyses show that princelings have advantages over non-princeling officials in the Central Committee. Within the princelings, however, ostensible family advantages such as parents’ rank and longevity do not significantly contribute to promotion. The qualitative analysis of princelings’ autobiographies and memoirs suggests that China’s elite reproduction is collective-based and strongly shaped by the state, distinguishing it from elite reproduction based on individual or family ties.

Tony Zhang to begin new position as Assistant Professor at St. Thomas More College

Tony ZhangThis fall, doctoral candidate Tony Zhang will begin a new position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at St. Thomas More College in the University of Saskatchewan. Tony is currently completing his dissertation, Contextual Effects and Support for Liberalism: A Comparative Analysis, under the supervision of Professors Robert Brym (supervisor), Bob Andersen (Western) and Weiguo Zhang. He expects to defend his dissertation this summer and graduate in November 2017.

Tony’s dissertation abstract is as follows:

The dissertatiostudies how social contexts, especially contextual variations in political freedom, shape an individual’s liberal attitudes. It raises empirical challenges and methodological critiques of current literature using the case of China (Chapter 2). To fill the gaps that I perceive in the literature, I suggest considering political freedom as an additional predictor of the individual-level support for liberalism and validate my argument through a comparative analysis of 88 societies in the World Values Survey data (1981-2014). The comparative analysis (Chapter 3) finds countries of different levels of political freedom have drastically different value change patterns: politically free societies largely follow the existing Inglehart thesis; in politically unfree societies, however, the upper class and well educated populations are neutral or sometimes more conservative than other demographic groups. These findings suggest political regimes, especially non-free regimes such as autocracies, theocracies and dictatorships, actively manipulate the educational system to slow down value liberalization processes. To corroborate this suggestion, Chapter 4 pays close attention to the case of Taiwan, a society which experienced democratization during the 1980s and the 1990s, to see if the democratization led to educational reforms and, if so, whether they resulted in their intended goals. The empirical analysis of Taiwan supports the suggestion that a liberal educational reform makes younger cohorts who receive the reformed education more liberal. To sum up, based on empirical findings, the dissertation argues the political context is critical in shaping individual value orientations. The educational system is an important medium through which the political system promotes its preferred ideologies or cultural hegemony in Gramsci’s terms. The policy implication is that political change is a critical prerequisite for successful democratization and a healthy civil society; value liberalization can only be effective after political systems and educational systems are freed.

St. Thomas More College is a Catholic undergraduate liberal arts college located in Saskatoon and federated with the University of Saskatchewan. As an Assistant Professor, Tony expects to teach courses in introduction to sociology, collective behaviour and social movements, and deviance and crime in society. Tony plans to continue his research in public opinion studies, social movements and politics in East Asia.

PhD Candidate Tony Zhang on the power of weather

Tony ZhangDoctoral Candidate Tony Zhang recently published an article looking at the effects of weather on the likelihood of social movements and how people’s sensitivity to weather conditions reflects the macro political opportunity context. Tony is currently completing his dissertation entitled Contextual Effects and Support for Liberalism: A Comparative Analysis. The article came out in 2016 in the Weather, Climate and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society. Below is the citation and abstract.

Tony Huiquan Zhang (2016) “Weather and Social Movement: Evidence from New York City and Washington D.C., 1960-1995”, Weather, Climate and Society., 8(3), 299-311. DOI:10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0072.1.

Abstract: Scholars have been taking the impact of weather on social movements for granted for some time, despite a lack of supporting empirical evidence. This paper takes the topic more seriously, analyzing more than 7000 social movement events and 36 years of weather records in Washington, D.C., and New York City (1960–95). Here, “good weather” is defined as midrange temperature and little to no precipitation. This paper uses negative binomial regression models to predict the number of social movements per day and finds social movements are more likely to happen on good days than bad, with seasonal patterns controlled for. Results from logistic regression models indicate violence occurs more frequently at social movement events when it is warmer. Most interestingly, the effect of weather is more salient when there are more political opportunities and resources available. This paper discusses the implications and suggests future research on weather and social movement studies.

The full article is available here.

BJS Prize for article on social media in the Egyptian Uprising

bjs-certificateCongratulations to Professor Robert Brym and graduate students Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhang who recently received the British Journal of Sociology 2016 Prize for their co-authored article, Social Media in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.

Established in 2009, the BJS award is presented bi-annually to the authors of an article published in the past 24 months that “in the opinion of the judges, makes an outstanding contribution to increasing sociological knowledge.” The article by Brym, Godbout, Hoffbauer, Menard and Zhang was published in May 2014. Professor Brym recently attended the BJS Annual Lecture at the London School of Economics and accepted the prize on behalf of the team. While there, he recorded a short podcast about the paper and the experience writing, publishing and receiving the honour. Congratulations to all five authors!

You can access the winning paper here. The following is the citation and abstract:

Brym, R., Godbout, M., Hoffbauer, A., Menard, G. and Zhang, T. H. (2014), Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The British Journal of Sociology, 65: 266–292. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12080

This paper uses Gallup poll data to assess two narratives that have crystallized around the 2011 Egyptian uprising: (1) New electronic communications media constituted an important and independent cause of the protests in so far as they enhanced the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats. (2) Net of other factors, new electronic communications media played a relatively minor role in the uprising because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers who are not prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Examining the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk movement activism, the paper concludes that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator. However, grievances, structural availability, and network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. Thus, although both narratives have some validity, they must both be qualified.