Louisa Roberts, PhD!

Congratulations to Louisa Roberts, who successfully defended her dissertation at Ohio State University this week:  “The Globalization of the Acceptance of Homosexuality:  Mass Opinion and National Policy”

The committee included Ryan King (the chair) and Hollie Brehm, two of the outstanding graduates of the Minnesota sociology department.  I met Louisa at ASA, and ended up getting added to her committee along the way.

The dissertation uses data from the World Values Survey to explore shifting values toward homosexuality around the world.  Louisa argues that world society sustains strong noms that are having a powerful impact, reshaping attitudes and also propelling pro-LGBT legislation such as laws permitting same-sex marriage.

Among the project’s many contributions:

1) First, the dissertation does a really nice job of describing and exploring the trends in attitudes toward homosexuality, overall and by region.  One comes away with a powerful sense of the dramatic global change that has occurred.  With the recent resurgence of anti-LGBT movements and legislation in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and some former soviet states, it is easy to forget the very large increases in tolerance throughout most of the world.  Sociologists are always quick to point out continuing injustices, and rightly so, but one must not lose sight of the tremendous social change that has occurred.  The change is massive, and cries out for explanation.  And, the dissertation does not disappoint in terms of developing a strong answer.

2) The project joins people like Liz Boyle, Markus Hadler, Jennifer Givens, and Lir Wang in exploring how world society affects individuals.  Originally, world society theory focused almost exclusively on state policy adoption… but it is increasingly clear that world society penetrates down into national societies and affects people.  This branch of the world society literature is in its infancy, and Louisa’s dissertation adds to the literature in a big way.

3) The first empirical chapter shows that world society (measures by INGOs) affects attitudes.  But, then in a very nice touch, Louisa shows that the liberal attitudes accelerate state policy adoption of LGBT-friendly policies, such as same-sex marriage laws.  So, states are “squeezed” from above (by world society pressures) and from below (by citizens, whose attitudes are shaped by world society).  I think this is an increasingly common dynamic — sort of a top-down world society version of Keck and Sikkink’s “boomerang”.  One place this is discussed is in a 2016 Social Forces article by Wes Longhofer, David Frank, Natasha Miric, and myself… though I think others have played with variants of this idea.  Anyhow, Louisa shows the process very well.

In Fall Louisa will be starting her new job as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota.  Congratulations on that, too!!!

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