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Nina Eliasoph

Professor of Sociology

Contact Information
Phone: (213) 740-3533
Office: KAP 352
Office Hours: Tuesdays : 11:15-1 or by appointment

Curriculum Vitae
Personal Website

Biographical Sketch

I am interested in civic and political organizations in a diverse society, ranging from grassroots civic associations and activist groups, to nonprofits and NGOs. While being sure to analyze the "big" picture from all sorts of methodological approaches, I am especially interested in interpretive approaches that take the structures of ambiguity into account. For articles, see my website (

My first book, Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life, and the articles that came from it, describe how participants of various small civic groups talked--or did not talk--about politics, both within their groups and in their encounters with government, media and corporate authorities. Making Volunteers: Civic Life After Welfare’s End, and the articles that draw on it, portray and theorize a newly prevalent kind of organizational form that aims to cultivate the grassroots from the top down: I call them “empowerment projects.” These nonprofits and NGOs have paid staffs and have to justify their existences, to many funders, with many missions: to promote civic engagement, to cultivate deep appreciation of unique cultures, to get diverse people to mix and get out of their “comfort zones,” to help raise up disadvantaged people, and more. The missions look nice on paper, but often don’t match in everyday practice, especially when all require constant assesment. The Politics of Volunteering, compares volunteering and political activism, and aims to put these kinds of organizations in a broader historical and comparative perspective. I’ve also taught and lectured abroad, and enjoy collaborating on cross-national ethnographic projects.

Recently, I helped launch a new major, NGOs and Social Change.

My sociological subfields include: political sociology andcommunication, cultural sociology, ethnography, sociolinguistics, social theory, emotions, organizations, and nonprofits/NGOs.



Ph.D. , University of California, Berkeley, 1/1993
B.A. Political Science, Yale University, 1/1982

Academic Appointment, Affiliation, and Employment History

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 01/01/1994-01/01/2004  

Description of Research

Summary Statement of Research Interests

Nina Eliasoph's areas of specialization include: Voluntary associations, non-governmental organizations and nonprofit sector; political sociology, culture and communication; ethnography and other interpretive research methods; language and interaction; social and political theory; sociology of emotions.

Research Keywords

civic engagement, civic associations, volunteers, nonprofits, NGOs, political sociology, social theory, ethnography, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions, political apathy

Research Specialties

political sociology and communication, cultural sociology, ethnography, sociolinguistics, social theory, emotions, organizations, and nonprofits/NGOs.

Funded Research

Contracts and Grants Awarded

The Dynamics of Civic Relationships: A Proposal to Apply Methodological Innovation to the Study of H (National Science Foundation), Christopher Weare, Paul Lichterman, Nicole Esparza, Nina Eliasoph, $104,977, 2010-2011   
"Paid Civic Engagement: Young Interns in the Age of the Nonprofit" (Spencer Foundation), Nina Eliasoph and Paul Lichterman, $39,525, 2010-2011   
Démocratie participative. Aspects historiques et contemporains (Maison européenne des sciences de l’homme et de la), Marion Carrel and Paula Cossart, $3,000, 2009-2010  
The Dynamic of Civic Engagement (National Science Foundation), Chris Weare, Paul Lichterman, Nina Eliasoph, $125,000, 09/01/2007-08/31/2010  
"Connecting Affordable Housing and Green Neighborhoods in Los Angeles: how organizations link issues (John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation Faculty F), Nina Eliasoph, $10,000, 2009-2010   
Building a Meaningful Interdisciplinary Agenda for Civic Engagement Research (USC, Center for Religion and Civic Culture), Nina Eliasoph, Chris Weare, Juliet Musso, Ann Crigler, $35,000, 10/01/2005-07/01/2007  



Eliasoph, N. (2012). The Politics of Volunteering. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Eliasoph, N. (2011). Making Volunteers: Civic Life After Welfare's End. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Eliasoph, N. S. Ethnographies of Civil Society Around the World.
Eliasoph, N. S. (1998). Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Book Chapter

Eliasoph, N., Luhtakallio, E. (2014). "Ethnography of Politics and Political Communication: Studies in Sociology and Political Science.". Oxford Handbook on Political Communication.
Eliasoph, N. (2013). "Spirals of Perpetual Potential: How Empowerment Projects’ Noble Missions Tangle in Everyday Interaction.". (Vol. Democratizing Inequalities: Pitfalls and Unrealize). NYU Press.
Eliasoph, N., Lo, J. (2012). Broadening Cultural Sociology’s Scope: meaning-making in mundane organizational life, in Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology. The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology NY: Oxford University Press.
Eliasoph, N., Lichterman, P. (2011). Making Things Political. NY: Routledge Press.
Eliasoph, N. (2011). Civil Society and Civility. Oxford Handbook on Civil Society pp. 220-231. NY: Oxford University Press.
Eliasoph, N. (2010). Rendre publique l’intimité et mesurer le ‘travail de volontariat:’ L’enchevêtrement d’horizons moraux dans un programme d’engagement civique pour la jeunesse aux Etats-Unis, in "Qu’est-ce que le care? Souci de soi, sensibilité, responsabilité. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Eliasoph, N. S. (2007). Lo sforzo nella creazione di Comunità, Natura, Intimità: Astrazioni sul Sapere Locale.". FrancoAngeli: In Nome di Chi? Partecipazione e rappresentanza nelle mobilitazioni locali (In Whose Name? Participation and Representation in Local Collective Action), Tommaso Vitale, editor.
Eliasoph, N. S. (2007). "Beyond the Politics of Denunciation: cultural sociology as the ‘sociology for the meantime.’" in Cultural Sociology and the Democratic Imperative, Jeffrey Alexander and Isaac Reed, editors. Cultural Sociology and the Democratic Imperative, Paradigm Press.

Journal Article

Lichterman, P., Eliasoph, N. (2014). Civic Action. American Journal of Sociology.
Tavory, I., Eliasoph, N. (2013). "Coordinating Futures: Towards a Theory of Anticipation.". American Journal of Sociology. (Vol. 118; 4), pp. 908-942.
Eliasoph, N. (2010). The Evaporation of Politics in the Public Sphere. Kettering Review. pp. 37-48.
Eliasoph, N. (2009). Top-Down Civic Projects Are Not Grassroots Associations: how the differences matter in everyday life. Voluntas: the international journal of voluntary and nonprofit organizations.
Eliasoph, N. (2009). "Top-Down Civic Projects Are Not Grassroots Associations: How the Differences Matter in Everyday Life,". Voluntas.
Eliasoph, N., Lo, J. (2008). Inside Hybrid Organizations: an ethnographic investigation. Academy of Management Journal.
Eliasoph, N. S. (2003). "Culture in Interaction." (Co-authored with Paul Lichterman). American Journal of Sociology. American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 18, pp. 4735-4794.


Eliasoph, N. (2013). "Preface" to book by Marion Carrel, Faire participer les habitants? Les quartiers d’habitat social entre injonction participative et empowerment.


Office Hours

Tuesdays : 11:15-1 or by appointment, in the Ronald Tutor Hall cafe

Other Advisement or Time Devoted to Students

started interdisciplinary reading group on time and narrative in everyday practice in organizations, 2007-  

Teaching Innovations and Multimedia Teaching

I helped launch a new major, NGOs and Social Change (, 09/01/2013-  

Service to the University

Media, Alumni, and Community Relations

media interviews in NY Times, KNBC-TV, National Public Radio, and elsewhere, on civic engagement, 09/01/2009-  
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