Transforming Self-Interest: How Organizations Provoke Social Justice Commitments

Thursday, April 12, 2007Levi poster
7:00 p.m. – Stern Center, Great Room
Margaret Levi, University of Washington, Jere L. Bacharach Professor of International Studies

Organizational membership sometimes changes the beliefs people hold about the nature of the world and, consequently, their behavior. This seems to be what is happening among some terrorist groups and a subset of religious, political, and labor organizations. Levi investigates this problem with an in-deph investigation of several unions in the United States and Australia, whose members routinely engage in political and social activities that do not have obvious, immediate payoffs to the membership in terms of wages, hours, and working conditions.
Co-sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program and Dickinson Phi Beta Kappa.

Issue in Context
Left-wing longshore union members give up time and money to fight on behalf of social justice causes from which they can expect no personal material return. Nationalists make vulnerable their freedom and their lives for the sake of seemingly unattainable goals. What beliefs and preferences guide those choices and how are they formed? Levi argues that individuals (1) develop different preferences (2) as a consequence of an organizational culture that produces contingent consent with leadership and its goals.

For most economists and political scientists, the assumption – and indeed the reality – is that the employees seek only material benefits such as pay, hours, and working conditions. However, under some conditions employees become committed to promoting social justice causes even when it means material sacrifice, at least in the short run. These cases offer insight into how individuals change their preference rankings or possibly develop new preferences. Such instances tell us something about the nature of leadership, member beliefs, and organizational rules that support pro-social behavior and preferences.

About the Speaker
Margaret Levi is the Jere L. Bacharach Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington, Seattle. Currently, she serves as the Director of the CHAOS (Comparative Historical Analysis of Organizations and States) Center. Levi became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in 2002. She is a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, 2006-2007 and was awarded the S. Sterling Munro Public Service Teaching Award in 2001. From 2004-2005, Levi served as President of the American Political Science Association. In 1999 she became the general editor of Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics and she serves as editor of the Annual Review of Political Science. Levi is the author of Consent, Dissent, and Patriotism (1997), among others, and the joint author of Analytic Narratives (1998); Cooperation Without Trust? (2005); and Democracy at Risk (2005).
Her current research focuses on the bases for and effects of trustworthy and effective government. Concurrently, she is working on a range of issues having to do with labor unions and with global justice campaigns. Some of the work builds on the World Trade Organization History Project, which she co-directed. She also continues to write on issues concerning the analytic narrative approach to the study of complex historical and comparative processes.
Levi earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in 1968 and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974, the same year she joined the faculty at the University of Washington. Her fellowships include the Woodrow Wilson in 1968, German Marshall in 1988-9, and the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences in 1993-1994. She has lectured and been a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, the European University Institute, the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, the Juan March Institute, the Budapest Collegium, Cardiff University, and Oxford University.