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Professor Daniel Laurison Launches Research Lab on Class and Civic Engagement

5 mins read
A portrait of Daniel Laurison.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York named twenty-six new Andrew Carnegie Fellows in the Spring of 2021, including Swarthmore Assistant Professor of Sociology Daniel Laurison. The fellowship awards $200,000 grants to scholars for humanities and social sciences projects addressing urgent social issues. 

Laurison’s research focuses on the relationship between low political participation and social class, with three ongoing projects: (1) Missing Voices/Pennsylvania Participation Project, (2) Race, Class, Geography, and Voting, and (3) Campaign Careers Database. 

“It’s really an amazing opportunity to have this time and the resources to focus entirely on research,” Laurison said on being named a Carnegie Fellow. 

Professor Laurison has assembled a team of students to help with each of the three projects throughout the spring semester and summer break. 

“I really like our students, for one thing, and for another it’s just good to have other people to think with as I’m digging into this research … they’re getting experience with sociological research, which I think is a great thing to get to do (of course I do, I’m a sociologist). They’ll also be working alongside community-based (non-Swarthmore) research associates later this spring,” Laurison explained. 

One of the student-researchers, Lena Massengale ’25, discussed the impact of the Missing Voices/Pennsylvania Participation project on her own life, citing voting accessibility in low-income communities as an issue close to her heart. 

“It matters to me how low-income communities are represented in voting and being treated when it comes to voting accessibility. There’s absolutely a personal connection there since I’m a member of that community,” Massengale said. 

Beyond her personal connection to the issue, Massengale elaborated on the broader significance of inequitable voting. 

“A lot of policies disproportionately impact low-income communities even though they are one of the groups that vote the least due to availability,” she explained.  

Team member and prospective political science major Sahiba Tandon ’25 also commented on her work with the Missing Voices project. 

“What drew me to this project specifically is the opportunity to meet and interview with those disproportionately affected by this country’s policies and consequently also those underrepresented in this country’s voting statistics … I believe narratives are a crucial part of finding a ‘solution,’ or more realistically, finding ways to include more of the public in our democracy and not just the top 20% of our population,” Tandon said. 

Laurison maintains that politics has the power to help marginalized communities rather than hurt them, and this research can act as the means to that end. 

“I think democracy has the potential to work to the benefit of poor and working class people (despite a lot of obstacles and deeply embedded injustices in the current system) … I think most attempts to understand this issue ignore what sociologists tend to call the ‘relational’ aspects of it — the fact that politics looks and feels different to people in different social positions,” Laurison explained. 

Many of the students on Laurison’s research team have taken courses with him in the past. When asked to comment on their experiences, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. 

Ben Rotko ’25, who took Class Matters: Privilege, Poverty, and Power, said that the class was a large part of their decision to apply for Laurison’s research. 

“I really enjoyed having him as a professor and wanted to work with him more. It’s cool that he gets funding. It’s good for the project, and it means I get paid which is great,” he said. 

Massengale, also a student in that course, commented on Laurison’s effect on her personal dialogue with the class’s topics. 

“I’m a First-Gen/Low-Income (FLI) student so I didn’t really understand how much privilege impacts how you’re treated, the opportunities you receive, and even just the culture you have to navigate when you’re at an elite institution. He was always very open to discussing that with me,” reflected Massengale.

Laurison’s work as both a professor and researcher has influenced his students greatly and will continue to do so. Now, as a Carnegie Fellow, he hopes to disrupt the widespread inequalities of political participation. 

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