Meet Thuy Anh Tran, 2020 APSA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grantee

The American Political Science Association is pleased to announce the Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) Awardees for 2020. The APSA DDRIG program provides support to enhance and improve the conduct of doctoral dissertation research in political science. Awards support basic research which is theoretically derived and empirically oriented.

Thuy Anh Tran, City University of New York Graduate Center

When we think about who is involved in political repression against movements and individuals branded as political dissidents, usually what comes to mind are the efforts of the police, military, and intelligence agencies. Yet, the U.S. historical record is replete with examples of governmental actors conspiring with, directing, or tacitly condoning non-governmental actors like the press, religious leaders, and civilian militias in their own repressive campaigns. But how and why do these repressive efforts proliferate so far beyond governmental actors, to form a seemingly totalizing web of repression? My dissertation present a theory of “networked repression” as a novel way of conceptualizing and contextualizing the repressive forces against which activists contend. Through my investigation of countermobilizations against the International Workers Order and the Black Panther Party, I identify the pathways through which the labor of repression is diffused and distributed, and explore its implications for state power and movement building.

Much more research has been devoted to the workings of social movements than to the repressive forces opposing them. This lopsidedness has translated into urgent practical problems given the encroachment of neo-fascism and authoritarian populisms around the world and the accompanying erosion of democratic protections for political organizing. Movements already understand themselves better than they understand their foes—so as an activist myself, I’m primarily driven by the desire to understand how things operate on “the other side.” I hope to generate practical applications for social movement builders by pinpointing conditions under which the repressive network strengthens or weakens, thus allowing activists to strategically distinguish between favorable and unfavorable moments for action. The conceptual paradigm of networked repression can also assist elected officials, whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and voters in tracing pathways of repression—especially those originating from the most unlikely places—and demanding transparency and accountability for the abuse of civil and democratic rights.