Sociology Professor David Pettinicchio was recently featured for the School of Public Policy and Governance's Faculty Feature series. For the interview, Professor Pettinicchio answered questions about his current research, challenges, advice for students, and favorite song. Professor Pettinicchio is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus.
SPPG’s series, highlighting our faculty and research community, caught up with David Pettinicchio, an assistant professor of sociology cross-appointed to SPPG, whose speciality is disability rights.
What research are you working on right now?
I am completing my book titled “Empowering Government” under contract with Stanford University Press. The book is about the struggle in entrenching civil rights policies – namely, disability rights in the U.S. – and how political back-stepping generates social movement mobilization whereby advocacy groups through the use of institutional and direct-action tactics seek to ward off efforts to rollback rights. In the book, I look at the ways in which the disability community was empowered by policies created by political entrepreneurs and later, facing political threats, mobilized to protect policies they now had a stake in. I situate the role of social movements in a wider institutional, organizational and cultural context.
In addition, my research team (which includes my colleague Michelle Maroto at the University of Alberta) is currently undertaking a major project studying disability-based employment discrimination in Canada. The limited systematic information we have from qualitative studies and the few surveys on the matter suggest that discrimination is pervasive in limiting the economic opportunities of Canadians with disabilities.
What led you to your focus on the development of social movements?
I think it was a confluence of factors. I became interested in the study of social movements years ago as an undergraduate. As a PhD student, I wanted to tell a story about the development of the disability rights movement but quickly found myself constrained in terms of theoretical tools I had to work with and so I broadened my outlook and found myself telling an exceptionally fascinating story about the dynamic interplay between elites, institutions, organizations and activists. The evolution of the disability rights movement shines light on movement processes most definitely, but also on policy-making, institutional arrangements, the work between institutional and grassroots activists, and the kinds of organizations that help sustain social change projects.