My research broadly focuses on the intersection of social movements, organizational sociology, and political sociology. I am broadly interested in systems of control and how people (successfully or unsuccessfully) mobilize within them. You will find links to major projects on this page, but all of my completed and working papers are available on my vitae. If you would like a copy of a working paper, please contact me. You can also keep up with my work via google scholar.
Resistance and Control in the Nazi concentration camps
Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD
The Nazi concentration camps are a quintessential example of a total institution. In this project I draw on organizational and demographic camp information collected from 249 Holocaust testimonies, Nuremberg documents, published memoirs, encyclopedias, and secondary sources. I show that guards “contentiously decoupled” their behavior from the goals set by institutional elites in response to several institutional changes; namely, the expansion of camp goals, the enforcement of ethnic-racial hierarchy, and rapid population growth in the camps (Maher, in progress). Yet these conditions were not evenly distributed across camps. The Nazis utilized several configurations of organizational control--based around the presence of bureaucratic control, “organized chaos” (i.e. the deliberate use of ambiguity, inconsistency, and impossible rules) or, in some cases, both--to control and terrorize prisoners (Maher, to be submitted for review). In addition to being important in its own right, studying the concentration camps helps us develop a more thorough understanding of how seemingly banal social and organizational processes become genocidal, and how the bureaucratization of control and terror may be at play in considerably less extreme contexts.
The Nazi concentration camps were awful, highly repressive institutions. Yet, despite preconceived notions that the Jews "went like sheep to the slaughter", there was considerable resistance resistance in the camps. In my previous work, I find that organized resistance groups in Sobibor, Treblinka, and Birkenau resisted when they perceived a "total threat" that was lethal and immediate (Maher, 2010), and, in collaboration with Rachel Einwohner, I find that prisoners' assessments of the threat of the camps and ghettos depended on their sense of the severity, temporality, malleability, credibility, and applicability (Einwohner and Maher, 2011). Drawing on the data from the concentration camps projects, I assess the individual characteristics associated with those who participate in varying forms of activism (Maher, in progress), as well as how the organizational conditions described above helped to created the conditions for organized resistance groups to establish themselves (Maher, in progress).
Maher, Thomas V. 2010. “Threat, Resistance, & Mobilization: The Cases of Auschwitz, Sobibór, and Treblinka.” American Sociological Review 75(2):252-72.
Einwohner, Rachel L. and Thomas V. Maher. 2011. “Threat Assessment and Collective-Action Emergence: Death-Camp and Ghetto Resistance during the Holocaust” Mobilization 16(2):127-146.
Maher, Thomas V. in progress. “Bureaucracy, Power, and Organized Chaos; The Case of the Nazi Concentration Camps.”
Maher, Thomas V. in progress. “Finding Ways to Fight Back; Forms of Resistance, Biographical Availability, Ideology, and Threat in the Nazi Concentration Camps”
Maher, Thomas V. in progress. “Threat, Institutional Roles, and Organizational Infrastructure; A QCA Analysis of Organized Resistance in Nineteen Nazi Concentration Camps.”
Maher, Thomas V. in progress. “Competing Goals, Organizational Pressure, and Ideology; Explaining Contentious Decoupling in the Nazi Concentration Camp System.”
World Handbook of Political Indicators
The World Handbook of Political Indicators IV provides a set of country-level measures of contentious politics events in the tradition of the World Handbook of Social and Political Indicators (Taylor and Jodice 1983) and similar event data systems. World Handbook IV data cover 231 countries and territories using 40 event forms to identify 263,912 events (Jenkins et al., 2012, 2018). We have used the data to explore several empirical and methodological questions. We find that the majority of dissent/repression dynamics can be explained by focusing on weekly "tit for tat" dynamics, but cross-country characteristics (namely, position in the world polity, history of human rights violations, and economic well-being/integration) helps explain a significant minority of the variation (Maher and Peterson, 2008). We also draw on the data to assess the viability of machine coded newspaper data for cross-national research and forecasting in Sociology and Political Science. We find that machine coded event data are as good as human coded event data, but coder reliability varies across event forms (Jenkins, Taylor, Maher, Abbott, and Peterson, in progress). We also use ARMA models to show that international and national news sources follow similar news selection processes for covering protests and strikes (Maher and Jenkins, under review). Based on these findings and a review of the literature, we argue that there is no "true population" of conflict events, but there are viable data collection and analysis solutions (Jenkins and Maher 2016). In sum, our work shows that machine coded event data are can reliably measure conflict processes, and that results based on it can be generalized across large, organized protest events cross-nationally.
Data and Codebook
Maher, Thomas V. and Lindsey Peterson. 2008. “Time and Country Variation in Contentious Politics; Multi-Level Modeling of Dissent and Repression” International Journal of Sociology 38(3):58-81.
Jenkins, J. Craig and Thomas V. Maher. 2016. “What To Do About Source Selection in Event Data? Challenges, Progress, and Possible Solutions.” International Journal of Sociology. 46(1):42-57.
Maher, Thomas V. and J. Craig Jenkins. Under Review “Getting Attention: Explaining the Gap Between National and International Newswire Coverage of Contentious Politics Events”
Jenkins, J. Craig, Charles Lewis Taylor, Thomas V. Maher, Marianne Abbott, and Lindsey Peterson. In Progress. “How Reliable is Political Event Data? An Analysis of Human and Machine-Coding Reliability Using World Handbook of Political Indicators IV.”
My interest in youth activism stems from my time working with Jennifer Earl on the Youth Activism Project. Our work draws on interviews with high school and college students to understand how the internet and social media have influenced youth micromobilization processes and how youth make sense of their own behavior and activist identities. We find that youth continue to get involved in activism through family, friends, and school, and that family offers indirect support, friends offer direct invitations, and school encourages engagement through clubs and assignments (Maher and Earl 2017). We also find that digital media is a part of all aspects of youth engagement, bolstering traditional paths for activism while offering otherwise isolated youth new paths for activism (Maher and Earl, under review), and that youth often set unachievable bars for adopting activist identities, largely out of the perception that their activism does not rise to the standard of historical examples (Maher, Johnstonbaugh, and Earl, under review). Additionally, we find that social movement organizations do a poor job overall of recruiting intersectionally (although LGBTQ and homeless organizations do the best, Elliott, Earl, and Maher, 2017). In sum, this work expands our understanding of how younger activists are getting involved, and how they evaluate and assess their own behavior, and critiques standards of activism that prioritize 1960s’ style street protest at the expense of a broader, and more inclusive, set of tactical options.
In addition to the research materials, we also created several materials for instructors to use to incorporate youth activism into their courses.
Maher, Thomas V., and Jennifer Earl. 2017. “Pathways to Contemporary Youth Protest: The Continuing Relevance of Family, Friends, and School for Youth Micromobilization." Studies in Media and Communications 14:55-87
Bird, Jackson and Thomas V. Maher. 2017. “Turning Fans Into Heroes: How the Harry Potter Alliance uses the power of story to facilitate fan activism and bloc recruitment.” Studies in Media and Communications 14:23-54.
Elliot, Thomas, Jennifer Earl, and Thomas V. Maher. 2017. “Recruiting Inclusiveness: Intersectionality, Social Movements, and Youth Online.” Research in Social Movements, Conflict, and Change. 41. p. 279-311.
Earl, Jennifer, Thomas V. Maher, and Thomas Elliott. 2017. “Youth, Activism, and Social Movements” Sociology Compass. 11(4)
Maher, Thomas V., Morgan Johnstonbaugh, and Jennifer Earl. “’I’m Not an Activist:’ Youth, Culture, and Activist Identity Formation”
Maher, Thomas V. and Jennifer Earl. “Barrier or Booster? Digital Media, Social Networks, and Youth Micromobilization”