Video: Sociologist Dana Moss on studying authoritarian regimes, transnational repression, and protest movements

Author: Todd Boruff


Violence has to escalate relative to what's considered normal in the society in order for people to become outraged enough to come out and protest and risk their own safety.” 

— Dana Moss

Dana Moss is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include collective behavior and social movements, global and transnational sociology, international migration, qualitative and comparative methods, and political sociology. More information can be found on her faculty page.

Video Transcript

My area of research is the study of protest movements and collective action against authoritarianism, against tyranny.

I'm working to finalize a book project on what I call the Arab Spring abroad, so looking at how Libyan, Yemeni, and Syrian communities, spread from as far away as Los Angeles to London, mobilized to support the Arab Spring revolutions that were happening in their home countries. I developed a theory of transnational repression to try to understand how do regimes actually repress their diasporas, and then looking at these conditions under which diasporas can become liberated from these kinds of constraints and pressures. Authoritarian regimes that have the will and capacity to do so can deter their diasporas from using their civil rights in places like the United States to speak out, to hold demonstrations, to lobby, in a number of ways. They surveil them, they hack into their computers and to their phones to see what they're doing, they threaten them verbally online.

So then the question becomes, given those constraints, when do people decide to come together and come out? And one of the findings that I have observed through looking comparatively at these different revolutions is the fact that violence has to escalate relative to what's considered normal in the society in order for people to become outraged enough to come out and protest and risk their own safety.

Even when we are studying places as far abroad as the Middle East or Asia or South America, there are lots of lessons that we can import from the study of those cases, not only for understanding global protests or revolutions in other places, but for politics here at home. So for example, we know that the rise of white nationalism, the rise of hate crimes, the rise of xenophobic policies against immigrants and refugees is something that's a global problem, it's not just relegated to authoritarian states. And so I think applying a global and comparative lens to the study of these revolutions, these dynamics, can really help us to understand the complexities.

I feel really lucky to be here at Notre Dame. We have some of the strongest scholars of social movements in political sociology in the country. Notre Dame for a long time has been a place, also, where the study of social movements and revolutions coincides with ideas about Catholic social justice and social teachings about the importance of recognizing the dignity of human persons, immigrant rights, what have you. So there's a really powerful intersection here of people who are interested in studying social change and contentious politics and protests with concerns about justice and peace and, and really the human rights of every person, so it's an absolutely perfect place to be doing what I'm doing. I feel very fortunate to be here.

Originally published by Todd Boruff at on September 29, 2020.