Zach Richer

Doctoral Candidate

My work is in the sociology of culture, where I focus on the diverse ways in which social inclusion and exclusion are enacted in everyday life.  My dissertation research takes place at an annual series of cultural festivals in downtown Seattle and investigates how the public celebration of culture has ushered in new avenues for civic participation and urban citizenship while keeping much of the city's dominant culture in place.  Previous field research has examined how status hierarchies are produced through spatial practices in Istanbul, Turkey, and will be published in Sociological Theory in December 2015.

 

DISSERTATION

"In the Name of Culture: The Politics of Public Celebration in the Multicultural Civil Sphere"

A common barrier to the civic integration of immigrant and minority groups is the suite of symbolic classifications that structure everyday relations in diverse societies and set standards for inclusion and exclusion in shared public spaces. Although the regulatory norms governing the civil sphere are increasingly understood to be constituent elements of social power, they are not frequently seen as targets of collective action. As they are held in private attitudes and expressed spontaneously in everyday conduct, these forms of symbolic power do not easily lend themselves to political solutions. What form might a contestation of symbolic exclusion take?

This dissertation examines the strategy of celebratory civics pursued through an annual series of 23 free public cultural festivals organized throughout the year by ethnic community organizations in partnership with the city of Seattle. Participating groups describe the dominant civil sphere as a place where opportunities for public deliberation about ethnic minority issues are scarce and ineffective, while confrontational protests antagonize potential allies and produce negative associations with minority cultural groups. They are skeptical that traditional civic action targeting policymakers is adequate to addressing discriminatory practices where they are most intimately felt, in the everyday conduct of social life in diverse societies. Through positive emotional appeals directed towards unfamiliar audiences unlikely to engage with them in everyday life, festivals aim to establish “common ground” on which to displace ethnic and racial stereotypes and make viable alternative ways of affirming civic belonging.

Based on interviews (n=48) with ethnic community organizations, their municipal sponsors, and festival visitors, surveys (n=776) demonstrating the audience profile and expectations for the event, and a year of ethnographic observation at planning meetings and public festivals, this dissertation explores the promise and key limitations of a form of civic engagement that takes up positive emotions as both a tactic and the target of its efforts. I demonstrate that this style of collective action takes aim at social norms, rather than public policies or political rights; makes its appeal through positive emotions, not through rational discourse or heated demonstrations; and addresses its audience not as citizens in an abstract political arena, but as neighbors in a shared community. Festivals are hoped to supply members of the dominant culture with the familiarity required not to see ethnic identity as a threat or a curiosity, such that ethnic minorities can feel comfortable conducting themselves in public spaces on other days of the year. This desire defines a multicultural civil sphere that cannot be secured through rights alone, but only through the erasure of symbolic boundaries preventing the viability of diverse cultural practices and different ways of asserting belonging in public space. However, this practical conception of multiculturalism has yet to be studied empirically or elaborated theoretically. Filling this gap requires understanding that in diversifying societies, cultural practices are increasingly important as civic practices.

Areas of Interest:
  • Sociology of Culture, Inequality and Social Exclusion, Space & Place, Race & Ethnicity, Qualitative Methods
Degrees
  • MA Sociology, University of Maryland
  • MA Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History, Boğaziçi University Istanbul
Course Name Course Title Semester Syllabus
SOCY 325 Sociology of Gender Fall 2014
  • Zach Richer
1114 Art/Sociology Building
Department of Sociology
Email: zricher@umd.edu
Office Hours:
T 2:00-3:00