From Classrooms to Campaigns: Rebecca Bailin on Sociology and Organizing

When Rebecca Bailin took her first ever sociology class as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, she thought “Oh my god, this is the language I speak. This is how my brain works.” Enamored with the field, she pursued graduate study at The New School for Social Research, earning an MA in Sociology in 2012.

Most recently, Bailin has been the Campaign Manager with Invest in Our New York, a statewide coalition of 170 groups working to pass legislature that would end tax breaks for the richest New Yorkers. In Spring 2021, she spoke with Research Matters about her journey from classrooms to campaigns.

Moving from Academia into Organizing

As an MA student, “I was very interested in discourse analysis and cultural sociology,” Bailin says. “I really gravitated at the time towards the ways in which the discourses of leftist social movements tended to be exploited for explicitly capitalistic or neoliberal interests, not only by companies but also by institutions like governments and universities.”

She credits Terry Williams, Professor of Sociology; Rachel Sherman, Professor of Sociology; Robin Wagner-Pacifici, University Professor; and Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor of Anthropology, for creating a supportive and engaging educational environment. Bailin loved the “rigorous thinking” that was expected of her and the opportunity to grapple with complex ideas.

After graduating, Bailin did not want to embark upon an intensive academic career. Instead, she became an organizer for the Riders Alliance, where she campaigned for more equitable and affordable public transit in New York City. Bailin says while her MA didn’t necessarily directly translate to her career, her background in sociology deeply informs the way she approaches the work.

“I didn’t learn how to be an organizer at school; I learned how to think. I was allowed to explore my intellectual thoughts and think creatively,” she asserts.

A large portion of her strategic organizing work comes down to navigating different spaces—understanding how they operate and what to say to ensure the message is heard.

“I think what The New School and my education in sociology set me up to do is to say ‘well, what if we think about it like this?’ It’s just set me up with a little more critical thinking about structures, nuance, and discourse.” Principles of discourse analysis equip Bailin to rethink the language she and other organizers use, and consider the impact that language has on the outcomes of their work. “I really pay a lot of attention to how we as organizers, and I mean ‘organizers’ broadly, think about or talk about our work. How does our way of thinking limit us compared to other ways of thinking?”

However, to run successful campaigns, Bailin also had to know when to step back from structural thinking and focus instead on the interpersonal nuances that underlie people’s decision-making. Focusing on the balance between structural and relational analysis sets her apart as a strategist. “I really distinguish myself from a policy person. I’m not policy. I am campaigns and strategy…The desire to think so much about accuracy and nuance is sometimes antithetical to winning,” she says. “It’s weird to be fond of both arenas and figuring out how to meld the two.”

Bailin’s balanced approach paid off immensely at the Riders Alliance. Her organizing was instrumental in big victories such as congestion pricing, discounted transit cards and the “Fair Fares” program for low-income New Yorkers — wins that have had a major impact on the daily lives of almost all city residents.

“Since the beginning of my career, my job has been to translate complicated policy and make it accessible for everyday New Yorkers in a way that could motivate them and inspire them to act. The goal is both to build power and to change the dynamics of power,” Bailin says.

Investing in New York

After eight year at the Riders Alliance and eight months in the New York City Mayor’s Office, Bailin got an opportunity to work for a campaign focused on a more just tax policy in New York State. In 2020, 170 organizations saw an opportunity to form a coalition and push for the change they need — six bills that will raise $50 billion in revenue — and “Invest in Our New York” was born. In order to win, the coalition needed a great strategist; that’s where Bailin came in.

“My job was difficult,” Bailin says. “It was both to guide the campaign strategically to help move it along, and to build consensus among our steering committee members to build a campaign.”

According to Bailin, it’s much easier to organize around specific “issues” like housing or healthcare than around a broader goal like tax redistribution. So Invest in Our New York had a hard decision to make. “Do we fight for the money to go to a specific thing or things, or do we say ‘no, we all need a bigger slice of the pie’ because all our issues are interconnected?” They chose the latter so that legislators would have a harder time breaking up the coalition by funding some issues at the expense of others.

As campaign manager, Bailin worked within the steering committee of 10 organizations as a facilitator and consensus builder. She also worked on campaign messaging, where her background in sociology proved crucial. “A lot of sociology is written in jargon. I love jargon, but you need to translate it, to talk about it in different ways to different audiences. And that’s at the core of organizing — being able to adjust to different audiences,” she says. “You have to find ways to talk about things that make them easy to understand and attractive enough to fight for.”

Understanding the right approach for every group of people ultimately comes down to strategic instinct. “I think a lot of that instinct and knowledge is informed by qualitative studies and qualitative work and discourse analysis — that’s really valuable in this work. It comes down to the ability to get a sense of what will motivate people, which I think I developed at The New School,” she says.

Building a winning strategy sometimes means navigating difficult disagreements over strategy. “When you’re identifying what is strategic, sometimes you’re engaging in and repeating discourses that are harmful,” Bailin says. During the campaign, this tension rose around the use of the term “fair” —  some organizers asserted that they should avoid the word, because real “fairness” won’t rise out of legislative decisions. But the public understands what “fair” means. The “unfairness” of tax breaks for the rich and for investors, and not for the working or middle class, resonates.

“Saul Alinksy says that you need to organize the worlds that exist for the worlds you want, and that’s my approach. You need to figure out where to start so you can bring people along,” Bailin says.

After just three months of public campaigning, Invest In Our New York won $4 billion in this year’s budget — New York state’s biggest win for progressive taxation in the last decade. This spring, Bailin and Invest in Our New York planned for the next budget cycle with a focus on raising money for higher education, homelessness, overdose prevention, climate issues, and more. “What we were able to build in such a short time–it’s incredible. It’s historic,” she says.

After such a successful turn at Invest in Our New York, Bailin has her eyes set on a new opportunity. Soon, she’ll be leveraging her deep knowledge of New York State politics as Senior Advisor to New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes. 

Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.  

Liliana Gil and Sidra Kamran received Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships

Liliana Gil and Sidra Kamran have received Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year. Now in its fifteenth year, the fellowships “support a year of research and writing to help advanced graduate students in the humanities and social sciences in the last year of PhD dissertation writing.”


Liliana Gil, an Anthropology PhD candidate, will utilize the fellowship to complete her dissertation, “Beyond Make-Do Innovation: Practices and Politics of Technological Improvisation in Brazil”; apply for jobs; and, if conditions permit, conduct follow-up fieldwork with electronics industry workers in Manaus, Brazil.

Gil’s work is driven by a commitment to questioning hierarchies of knowledge. “Perhaps because I come from a working-class background, I’m drawn to the puzzle of how certain knowledges are recognized as skilled and expert vis-a-vis others that are just as demanding and vital to society,” she explains. “These rankings of value reflect structural forms of inequality – pertaining race, class, and gender – but also other historical and sociocultural factors. In my current project, I get to explore these issues by studying how historically and socially embedded forms of improvisation play a role in different spheres of tech production in Brazil.” Her main advisor is Hugh Raffles, Professor of Anthropology, and she also works with Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor of Anthropology.

“I was truly honored,” says Gil of receiving the grant. “But I also took a moment to recall all the invisible work that went into this application. This was my second time applying and I was luckier this time around. Although it’s important to celebrate these achievements, I think we focus too much on accolades and don’t discuss ‘failure’ and ‘fortuity’ as part of our jobs. This can be very taxing, especially for first-generation college students. Fortunately, I have peers and mentors who are open about these issues.”

In addition to the Mellon/ACLS Fellowship, Gil has received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant; a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, co-sponsored by the Science and Technology Studies and the Cultural Anthropology Programs; and the 2020 David Hakken Graduate Student Paper Prize, conferred by the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing of the American Anthropological Association, for an essay on innovation practices at a public fablab in the periphery of São Paulo in Brazil. She also received a 2020 New School’s Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award for her work creating and teaching an undergraduate “World Histories of Anthropology” course.


Sidra Kamran, a Sociology PhD candidate, will utilize the fellowship to complete her dissertation, “The (In)Visible Workers: Gender, Status, and Space in the New Service Economy in Pakistan,” as well as finish work on a journal article.

As Gil mentioned, much invisible labor and time go into applying for academic grants. When Kamran learned she had received the ACLS/Mellon Fellowship, she felt both happy and relieved. “I could stop applying for other fellowships and take some time off!” she says.

Kamran’s work broadly examines the interaction between changing gender and class norms. “In my dissertation, I use qualitative methods to understand how women beauty and retail workers navigate new types of status positions, work, intimacy, and urban life in Karachi, Pakistan,” she explains. Her advisor is Rachel Sherman, Professor of Sociology.

“I am involved in feminist and labor movements in Pakistan and the U.S., but as a researcher I explore how structural changes ostensibly unrelated to social movements shape gender and class equality,” Kamran continues. “I plan to examine how these supposedly ‘non-political’ processes interact with ‘political’ struggles.’” Her other research investigates how working-class women are active, if unlikely, participants in emerging forms of digital culture on TikTok in Pakistan. She is also interested in global flows of labor, social reproduction work, and the intersection between love, work, and money, and is inspired by Marxist-feminist approaches to these topics.

Kamran has also received a Junior Research Fellowship from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, a Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, and a Graduate Fellowship from the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School.

Fania Noel Receives AAUW International Fellowship

Fania Noel has received an AAUW International Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

A Haitian-born French Afrofeminist organizer, thinker, and writer, Noel is a Sociology PhD student broadly interested in Africana studies, critical race theory, Black feminism, Haitian diaspora and capitalism studies. For her dissertation, she is studying Black feminism on a global scale, highlighting “tension/divergence and convergence in ideology, praxis and political agenda and organization between Black feminism movement in predominantly non-Black countries and the ones in Black countries regarding white supremacy, neo-liberalism, hetero-patriarchy, (neo)-colonialism and internationalism/panafricanism.” She is working closely on this research with Deva Woodly, Associate Professor of Politics, and Benoit Challand, Associate Professor of Sociology.

Receiving the news about the AAUW fellowship was a joyous moment for Noel amid a year of remote study; she felt “like Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé’s Savage Remix,” she shares. She plans to utilize the fellowship support to do archival research and carry out interviews across Europe in Summer 2021 and in Haïti in December 2021. 

In addition to her academic work at NSSR, Noel organizes with grassroots movements such as Mwasi-Collectif Afrofeminist against anti-Blackness and Black feminism in France. She is also deeply involved in writing and publishing; in 2014, she founded Revue AssiégéEs (Besieged), a political publishing project led by women, queer and trans people of color, and in 2019, Syllepse Edition, a radical French publishing house, published her book Afro-communautaire: Appartenir à nous-mêmes (Afro-Community: To Belong to Ourselves). A manifesto, Afro-communautaire presents an Afro-revolutionary and anti-imperialist utopia for the political organization of Black people in France against racial politics and neoliberalism.

“I believe in radical Black feminist futures,” says Noel. “My commitment to Black Feminism politics, and Black liberation anchored the sense of accountability by not reinforcing the ‘carceralisation’ of knowledge in academia. My goal is to use the resources in my disposition to create political collective power where Black struggles are.”

Follow Fania Noel on Twitter

Memory Studies Group Looks to the Past to Build the Future

After a three year hiatus, the Memory Studies Group at The New School for Social Research regrouped and reemerged in March 2020. Less than a week after their first event, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world — and halted many of their plans.

Now, just over a year later, the revived group will hold their first conference this April: “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Research Matters spoke about with group members and leaders about the group’s history, its current projects, and its future.  

The History of the Memory Studies Group

“The idea for the Memory Studies Group came up…in Krakow, Poland, during  the Democracy & Diversity Summer Institute in 2007,” recounts faculty advisor Elzbieta Matynia, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS), which conducts the annual summer study intensive. She had just taught her first class in collective memory. As her students walked through Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter, they noticed a pattern: “…beautifully renovated buildings, various institutions, cafes, restaurants, and the streets were all named for its Jewish past. The only thing missing was the Jewish people, who had been taken to the Nazi concentration camps, and murdered there. It became visible to us then, this uncanny presence of absence.”

This experience sparked an interest in memory among Institute students, who became the founding cohort of an independent Memory Studies Group: Amy Sodaro, Sociology PhD 2011; Lindsey Freeman, Sociology & Historical Studies PhD 2013; Yifat Gutman, Sociology PhD 2012; Alin Coman, Psychology PhD 2010, and Adam Brown, Psychology PhD 2008 and now Associate Professor of Psychology at NSSR. They organized a conference in the group’s first year, where scholars discussed questions like “Which past is official? What is it that we remember? How do we forget when we are not allowed to remember? How do groups remember their history when their memory is being repressed, and what is happening to people whose very existence is repressed from memory?” 

When Malkhaz Toria, group coordinator and a Sociology MA student, came to NSSR as a Fulbright scholar in 2011, the Memory Studies Group became an intellectual home for him. “That inspired me to establish a similar sort of group at my home university, Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia,” he says; he also heads that university’s Memory Center.

Upon his return to NSSR in 2019, Toria was instrumental in reviving the group, which had gone on a brief hiatus. Now part of TCDS, the group has new core members of Franzi König-Paratore, Sociology PhD student; Elisabeta “Lala” Pop, Politics PhD student; Malgorzata Bakalarz Duverger, sociologist, art historian, and Sociology PhD 2017; Chang Liu, Sociology MA student; and Karolina Koziura, Sociology and Historical studies PhD student.

“Our goal is also to have some continuity of the transnational and transdisciplinary projects and exchange that Sodaro and Freeman envisioned and implemented when they were steering the group,” König-Paratore says. “My hope is that the group continues to connect past and present members. I personally hope that we open up the group more for professionals or cultural workers outside of academia.”

The revived group’s first and only in-person event was a March 2020 book launch for Museums and Sites of Persuasion, which was edited Sodaro and Joyce Apsel, and includes work by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at the School of Public Engagement, Toria, and many others. Since then, the group has held several online lectures and webinars and on discourses within the field, from a look at revisionist narratives in Russia to an examination of how Frida Wunderlich — the first female economist at NSSR and a founding member of the University in Exile — is remembered.

Memory Studies: A Transdisciplinary Field

Memory Studies spans disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities to explore the ways collective memory is constructed, experienced, repressed, and rebuilt. “The complex field of memory studies employs whole repertoire of approaches from different disciplines including  comparative literature, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and politics, among other areas, to address the multifaceted phenomena of both individual and collective memories ,” Toria says. Matynia describes the field as “transdisciplinary.”

For example, Silvana Alvarez Basto, Liberal Studies MA student, looks at the intersections between politicization of art, history, and visual representations of memory in her home country of Colombia. “The topic of memory is very popular right now, since in 2016 the government ended an armed conflict with the FARC,” she says. Her research focuses on the construction of Simón Bolívar’s image as a national symbol across Latin America, in groups like the FARC and beyond. “I’m interested in how his face has become a guiding locus or a symbol for these movements,” Alvarez Basto explains. While her work has primarily dealt with 19th century portraits of  Bolívar, she has recently begun looking at the ways “new technologies modify our relationship with canonical images and with the Western tradition of painted portraits.”

Toria works on the role of memory construction in authoritarian regimes and their aftermaths. Collective memory, he explains, does not come into existence organically. “It’s controlled and dependent on political conjunctures…Across the globe, if you have a totalitarian government, they are more keen to control how you remember.” His research looks at citizens in countries that were part of the Soviet Union. “Ukrainians, Georgians, and Estonians have different pictures of the past and past relationships with Russia. That’s why these clashes in questions of the past happen; it is quite a universal mechanism.”

“My first encounter with the Memory Studies Group at the New School was in 2009 when I was pursuing an MA degree. Through the [group] and TCDS I became connected with the interdisciplinary research and networks of the field and it greatly influenced my own MA thesis work,” Pop explains. “Now [that] I’m back at NSSR, I’m excited to be part of the team of graduate students continuing the group’s work and re-launching its activities.”

Memory Studies Today

Memory Studies takes on particular relevance in periods of upheaval, when democracies come into existence or are threatened, when social movements gain power, or when societies experience unprecedented change — periods like today.

Matynia points to several factors that make the current moment crucial for the field. Many countries have experienced what Matynia calls “de-democratization,” under the influence of dictators and “would-be dictators” who weaponize collective memory. “Politics of history and politics of memory became a part of the playbook of many dictators and aspiring dictators,” she explains.

Additionally, social movements have begun exposing and dismantling parts of the past that had been manipulated or repressed out of collective memory. Think of activists taking down statues of Confederate leaders in the U.S, slaveholders in the U.K., and a conquistador in Colombia. “There’s this rippling where people want to ask, ‘what does it mean to memorialize these figures?’” Alvarez Basto says.

Memory Studies doesn’t just look at the past; the field is equally interested in the ways that people form collective memory now in preparation for the future. The massive shift in March 2020 into lockdown and onto Zoom inspired the group’s April 21 conference, “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Speakers will include Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University; Hana Cervinkova, Professor of Anthropology at Maynooth University; and Juliet Golden, Director of the Central Europe Center at Syracuse University.

Toria explains, “There’s a kind of eternal presence that feels never-ending. Our world is reduced to these small screens, where our lives are… We’ll cover multifaceted aspects of Memory Studies in this new light, the context of the pandemic, like problems of democracy, remembrance, the problem of forgetting, shifting senses of time and space, and new issues in memory discourse surrounding gender and race.”

“We call it memory studies, but so much of what we think we are rooted in and call our past actually projects into the future,” Matynia adds. “So which past will we download as we moveout of today’s situation, and draw upon as a springboard for reinventing our intellectual lives, spiritual lives, and social lives?”


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.  

National Science Foundation Awards NSSR Student Santiago Mandirola for Research on Latin American Socio-Economic Life

Santiago Mandirola, a Sociology and Historical Studies PhD candidate, has been awarded the competitive National Science Foundation Science and Technology Studies Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (HEGS-DDRI) for his dissertation “Markets in the Making: Financial Technology and Socio-Economic Life in Latin America.”

Mandirola’s research explores the role of consumer credit scoring systems and Financial Technology (FinTech) in the socio-economic lives of people living in South America’s Southern Cone.

While credit scores have become cornerstones of socio-economic life in the U.S., determining who can afford to buy a house or go back to school, large-scale credit scoring systems have not been able to take hold in Latin America in the same way. The most obvious reason for the disparity, Mandirola says, is that far fewer people there engage with formal banking systems — only about half of the population has access to a bank account, and they generally have enough resources to meet their needs without credit.

Mandirola is particularly interested in the methods FinTech companies have adopted to fill that gap since moving into Latin America’s credit industry in the 2010s. “I’m trying to look at what programmers, engineers, and risk analysts do in order to take information that is traditionally non-economic, like a certain person’s browsing patterns…and how they refine that information so they can make economic predictions about whether or not that particular buyer is credit-worthy,” he explains.

“I’m always concerned about trying to get as close to the subject as I can, and to try to use that information in a way that is as faithful as possible to the source.”

With the NSF grant, Mandirola hopes to travel to agencies developing new methods for credit scoring to observe their processes and conduct interviews with staff. He also plans to attend FinTech conferences and seminars to learn about innovations in the field. While COVID-19 may change his methods, Mandirola says his research style will remain the same. “I’m always concerned about trying to get as close to the subject as I can, and to try to use that information in a way that is as faithful as possible to the source.” he says. “There’s time later to analytically interpret the data collected.”

The topic is a personal one. As a sociology undergraduate in his home country of Argentina, Mandirola became “interested in the processes that try to impose a certain order to that uncertainty, and reliance on that order to make plans, calculations and estimations of how things will go in the future.” When he moved to New York for graduate school at The New School for Social Research (NSSR), he found that every lease he applied for required a credit score — something he did not have — and his interest in that magical three-digit number ignited.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, Mandirola developed and presented the first iteration of his research as part of his fellowship at NSSR’s Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies. Mandirola says the Integrative PhD program, where he was a fellow from 2018-2020, helped him expand his research into the field of Science and Technology studies, broadening his scope to include FinTech. He also has workshopped this project and others at the Janey Program in Latin American Studies, where he is a 2020-2021 fellow. In addition to the fellowship, Mandirola helped operate the Janey Program as a student assistant to the director, Federico Finchelstein, Professor of History.

Mandirola says two NSSR faculty members in particular, have played an integral role in this research. Carlos Forment, Associate Professor of Sociology and Mandirola’s doctoral advisor, has provided important guidance that has helped the project evolve. Forment is the Principal Investigator for Mandirola’s project, and has had a pivotal role in supporting his application and in crafting and improving the project itself.

“Working with Santiago over the years has been immensely rewarding. He taught me what I know about the current debates on FinTech,” Forment says. “Once I had a basic understanding of them, I encouraged him to break with the standard accounts that, not surprisingly, remain focused on the ‘Anglo-European’ world. In studying the particularities of FinTech in Argentina, Santiago is in uncharted territory and joining a small group of scholars who are seeking to rethink the terms of the debate. Santiago is eminently qualified for the task he has set himself.”

Emma Park, Assistant Professor of History and a 2020-2021 Heilbroner Center Faculty Fellow, has supported Mandirola by closely and thoughtfully reading his proposal, and helping him perfect his writing.

“Working and thinking with Santiago over the past couple years has been tremendously gratifying,” Park says. “I have no doubt that his research will not only contribute to our understandings of how the market for credit has been assembled by FinTech firms in the Southern Cone, but is poised to make important contributions to the growing scholarship within Science and Technology Studies that takes sites outside of Euro-America as their point of departure. The research is timely and politically consequential. I couldn’t be more thrilled!” 

Ultimately, Mandirola aims to de-mystify credit scoring tools and determine what influence they have on people’s lives.

“I think this is a moment in which we have to focus more on the impact that these elements can have on our economic lives, our social lives, and especially the lives of more vulnerable populations, who are the ones usually resorting to alternative financial services,” Mandirola proposes. “Is it an impact that’s improving the lives of the people affected by it or not? Just as simple and complex as that.”

Read about how The New School’s Office of Research Support worked with Santiago Mandirola on his dissertation here.


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.