Ray Block

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Ray Block

Ray Block

Brown-McCourtney Career Development Professor in The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies

A wise person once told me that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I try to live by those words. Because I love what I do for a living, I try not to focus too much on how successful (or not) others are. My family, my wellness, and my professional and personal passions are enough to get me by.

I like to blur the lines between teaching, research, and service. Generally, I am interested in two important concepts: social identity and political involvement.”  Social identity can be many things: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, political orientation, and more.  Political involvement can be behavior-based. For example, people can be involved by voting, donating money to campaigns or various social causes, contacting elected officials, or even protesting. Involvement can also be psychological, like in instances when a person expresses their fascination with politics, their trust in government and/or politicians, etc.

In his research, Ray is currently focused on COVID-19 and cites one example as representative of this work. He explores political polarization in peoples willingness to take part in what medical folks call "mitigating behaviors" (vaccinating, social distancing, masking, etc.). The study’s findings underscore the need for a more nuanced understanding of the role of politics in the pandemic. We originally find what you would expect: people on the political "right" (Republicans and Conservatives) are less willing to mitigate than their colleagues on the "left" (Democrats and Liberals). However, this polarization goes away once we account for how "risky" or "dangerous" people believe the virus is. Dominant media narratives often characterize ideological divisions as working against COVID-19 mitigation. Our research suggests that political polarization might not be as intractable a problem as conventionally believed. Acknowledgment among citizens of the risk that COVID-19 poses can counteract the divisive role of political orientation.    

His forthcoming book project, tentatively titled Black Networks Matter, takes a unique approach to studying protests and uses novel evidence to back up its claims. Its primary focus is on the key role that social media and social networks played in the summer 2020 racial justice protests. Researchers have long recognized the importance of interpersonal networks in mobilizing mass movements. Yet, it remains unclear exactly how networks work and precisely what types of network ties matter, particularly in the social media era. By examining the three dimensions of ties—strong or weak, embedded or external to the movement, and ingroup or outgroup—along with the survey data on the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Ray and his team show that weak, external, and outgroup (i.e., interracial) ties—often underappreciated in the protest literatureplayed a significant role. These ties enabled the movement to evolve from a small provocation into a massive national transformation. These findings accentuate the ties that matter most for collective action may have changed in the social media era. Also, the project has a cool "origin story." Initially, Ray and his team were doing a survey about COVID-19 and happened to be fielding that survey when the protests started. So, they adapted the survey to explore the attitudes of Black Lives Matter protest attendees.

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Student Impact in the Classroom

I love talking about contemporary issues in class, and the work I do is often grounded in these issues. Since I am a faculty member in the Political Science and African American Studies departments, it is easy for me to explore politics though the lens of race (or explore race through the lens of politics). Also, I am a survey researcher, and I often use my experience as a resourceparticularly when discussing statistics or other elements of methodology.” –Ray Block

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