Penn Sociology Colloquium Series: Hajar Yazdiha, Assistant Professor of Sociology, The University of Southern California

"The Struggle for the People's King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement"
Feb 28, 2024 at - | PSC Commons, McNeil 403

Talk AbstractIn the post–civil rights era, wide-ranging groups have made civil rights claims that echo those made by Black civil rights activists of the 1960s, from immigrants to LGBTQ coalitions. However, increasingly since the 1980s, right-wing social movements have remade the memory of Dr. King and civil rights to portray themselves as the newly oppressed minorities. This talk draws on a wide-ranging dataset including newspaper articles, organizational documents, television transcripts, press releases, and focus groups to show how these invocations of civil rights memory evolve over four decades. Findings show that as powerful groups remake collective memory toward competing political ends, they generate offshoots of remembrance that distort history, evade social reality, and threaten the very foundations of multicultural democracy. To explain these dynamics, I draw together theories of race and ethnicity, culture, social movements, and social psychology to develop a critical theory of memory in contentious politics. By making sense of how memory shapes contentious politics, we can better understand how the misuses of the past fracture our collective understanding of who we are, how we got here, and where we go next.


Bio: Hajar Yazdiha is an Assistant Professor of Sociology, faculty affiliate of the Equity Research Institute, and a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar (2023-25). Dr. Yazdiha received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her research examines the mechanisms underlying the politics of inclusion and exclusion as they shape ethnoracial identities, collective behavior, and political culture. Her research has been published in journals including Social Problems, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Mobilization, and Ethnic and Racial Studies. She is also author of the book, The Struggle for the People’s King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement (Princeton University Press). Hajar is also a public scholar whose writing and research has been featured in outlets including The LA Times, The Hill, ABC News, and The Grio.