Meghan E. Kallman, School for Global Inclusion & Social Development at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, serves as city councilor in Pawtucket, RI. ASA asked Kallman about her work and this is what she had to say:
Why and how did you become city councilor? As a young person, I felt that progressive voices and values were badly underrepresented in Pawtucket city government. We are the third-largest city in the state; we face some unique challenges as a community, but we also have some unique strengths. I was upset about the trajectory of both fiscal policy and social policy; I felt that the city needed to think more creatively about its future, and to do so more fairly and inclusively. And I felt up for the challenge.
I had been very politically active for some time and was familiar with the political landscape of Rhode Island, but the transition came in learning how to be a candidate myself. There are some great candidate trainings out there, and I was fortunate to attend a few of them. I had a terrific cadre of friends and neighbors who volunteered for my campaign, doing everything from stamping envelopes to knocking doors, and learning as they went. I defeated a long-term incumbent in November 2016 with almost 57% of the vote and was inaugurated in January 2017.
What is your role? My role is to be an active, thoughtful, and critical representative within local government, and I believe that government (at any level) has an important role to play in a just and sustainable society. Pawtucket is a socioeconomically, racially, linguistically, and religiously diverse city. It is also a city that struggles economically and has for some time. It includes major residential areas, a downtown, and it snuggles right up to the Blackstone River (and we have an amazing arts scene, and an emergent local brewpub scene). We were hit hard when manufacturing moved overseas, and so city development policies over the last 20 years have been focused on improving the quality of residential neighborhoods, expanding the employment opportunities, and assisting the commercial sector. Jobs and economic stability are areas of major focus for us, but so are the arts and education.
So far, my work has been focused on making sure that social and environmental justice is reflected in the development decisions that we make. I believe we are a better, healthier community when we look for new ways to engage each other, and so my mission is to live that belief however I can.
Could you describe your work in more detail? My goal is to represent my district as well as possible, and for me that usually means using the empirical knowledge and critical thinking skills that sociology fosters. This job gives me plenty of opportunities to apply sociological thinking to policy questions, ranging from corporate subsidies, to affordable housing, to issues of communication and empowerment. But sociology also informs my values as well as my approach. You can’t read as much as we as sociologists do and not form some opinions about governance. Basically, I try to use my training and knowledge base to help ask more expansive questions about our city and our society, and to solve problems more thoughtfully.
What sociological knowledge and/or skills do you use? The thing about being a sociologist--for me anyway--is that you don’t ever get to turn it off. I guess I would say that I *am* a sociologist, and that shows up in how I do everything, including representing my community. Specific examples range from the empirical to the critical: I’m trained to evaluate data, which I do when consultants create proposals for city projects. I’m trained to identify the social patterns that show up in how we run our communities and to think, for instance, about how gender manifests in patterns of public participation. I’m an organizational and development sociologist, and the empirical background from both of those fields helps me make decisions about how to structure community-development policy. And teaching is very good preparation for interacting with constituents!
Duration of your role? Two-year terms. I am in my first term, and I plan to run for re-election and, eventually, for higher office.
Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? The world of politics desperately needs sociologists right now. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run for office, but I strongly encourage all sociologists to learn how to testify at hearings, how to opine publicly, to get involved with issue campaigns, and to get in the habit of contacting your officials regularly. As a profession we have a unique skill set, and the moment demands that we use it--as actively as possible!
For more information, see my political website.