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Maxwell Professor Herrold Awarded Fulbright to Study Grassroots Community Change in Serbia
Increasingly around the world, citizens are tapping local resources and volunteerism to organize social change outside of established norms and institutions. The distinct ways people mobilize and sustain those initiatives are what Catherine Herrold will study with her recently announced U.S. State Department Fulbright Scholar award.
Herrold, an associate professor of public administration and international affairs in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, is heading to Serbia for seven months in the Spring 2023 semester. She will live and work in local communities there, interact extensively with local residents and collaborate with scholars at the University of Belgrade.
Herrold spent five years doing similar research in Egypt and Palestine for her award-winning book “Delta Democracy: Pathways to Incremental Civic Revolution in Egypt and Beyond” (Oxford University Press, 2020).
A senior research associate in the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC), Herrold examines how people cultivate democratic citizenship through their work with voluntary grassroots groups and local philanthropic entities, as opposed to in professional nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs Dean David M. Van Slyke says this prestigious award is a testament to the impact of Herrold’s body of work into citizen involvement and participatory governance.
“Catherine in an accomplished scholar whose timely research and innovative teaching is of sizable benefit to the Maxwell School and its students as well as the greater global community,” Van Slyke says. “That knowledge will help to empower individuals to work toward the changes they want to have happen in their communities.”
In this Q&A with SU News, Herrold offers insights about her interest in local organizing and what she hopes to achieve with her research.
01What prompts your interest in this topic and your inquiry in Serbia?
This is my third book project; I’ve spent the last 12 years studying local citizen organizing. Most of my field-based research has examined grassroots civil society in the Middle East. I also spent one year as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where I worked on team building strategies to localize the agency’s foreign assistance.
Now, my interest is understanding how social change occurs at the hyper-local level in the Western Balkans. Serbia, in particular, is a site of intriguing citizen-led development initiatives.
Locally led development projects in Serbia seek to revitalize public spaces, enhance livelihoods, promote free expression and build cohesion across neighborhoods, villages and cities as they form new spheres of citizen engagement and empowerment. These efforts include everything from sustainable agriculture to community development projects, arts and culture festivals and charitable relief.
This kind of change activity is particularly pronounced and rapidly expanding in Serbia thanks to citizens’ entrepreneurship, government encouragement and support from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Local Works program.
02How will you gather information?
I will embed myself in local communities, interview a wide variety of social change actors involved in locally led development initiatives and participate in groups’ activities. I will also talk with staff of grant-making organizations, including both private foundations and government agencies like USAID, to understand how they attempt to support local movements for change.
I plan to work closely with scholars at the University of Belgrade’s Laboratory for Philanthropy, Solidarity and Care Studies, with whom I am already collaborating virtually. Their knowledge and connections will help me launch the project and their collaboration will help ensure that the research is contextually grounded and relevant.
03Do you have any expectations as to what you’ll discover?
I hope to gain insight into local challenges and local priorities for change, as well as an understanding of local landscapes and organizing practices.
I’m not making any assumptions. I always approach research with a great deal of humility and curiosity, knowing that not only do I not know the answers, but I also don’t know the right questions to ask.
What I find is that people are often very eager to have their own perspective heard, particularly given that the international community so often comes in with its own priorities and perspectives.
04What do you see as the outgrowth of the research?
This fellowship will enable me to conduct the first phase of a book project. I will also publish journal articles and other scholarly materials. Additionally, I am deeply committed to policy-engaged scholarship. In addition to publishing academic work, I intend to disseminate the results of this research through policy white papers, op-eds and consultations with foreign aid policy makers and practitioners.
05How might you, the University and your students benefit from the international relations aspects of this project?
This project will help me further internationalize my teaching and will position me to directly connect my research to U.S. foreign policy objectives. I also hope to host virtual exchanges between Syracuse University and University of Belgrade students and assist the University in hosting visiting scholars from Serbia.
The master’s and Ph.D. students in public administration and international affairs with whom I work are our future leaders. There is a global trend now of youth creating new ways to organize for change and insisting on local ways to advocate for change. My students regularly ask how they work in government without begin co-opted by bureaucratic systems. They want to be creative and push boundaries, not just get swept up by the system.
I hope that what I learn by connecting government agencies and local communities in my research will help me I to better guide our students. I am very optimistic about the future because of these students and because of what I see in youth organizing around the world.