A Knox College faculty member has written a new book that aims to help activists determine the best way they can be effective on behalf of the causes they're supporting.
The answer won't be the same for everyone, said Benjamin Farrer, assistant professor of environmental studies and author of Organizing for Policy Influence: Comparing Parties, Interest Groups, and Direct Action. "At the end of the day, everyone's different and has different skills and gets involved in the way that feels best to them."
A member of the Knox faculty since 2015, Farrer has personal experience with activism. He volunteered for political candidates in the United Kingdom, where he grew up, and he has been an activist for environmental and other kinds of causes.
"The book grew out of the types of activism that I was doing, just before my graduate education and then during my graduate education, and all of the different activist groups that I was working with," Farrer said. "It was difficult to know what the impact of any given piece of activism was."
"There were all of these different organizations that were out there working for causes that I believed in, but I didn't have time to join all of them," he added. "So, if you only have a limited amount of time, what should you get involved with? If you don't have time to go to every event, what are the most impactful ones? That was where I saw the need for a book like this."
Farrer's book uses various research methods to examine how different types of organizations can exert greater influence on policy, even when opposing groups might seem to have more resources.
"Environmentalists are a key example of how small groups can sometimes punch above their weight," the book states. Farrer makes the case that environmentalists sometimes are more influential if they form interest groups, and sometimes they are more influential by working with political parties.
Four Knox students—Zena Adad '19, Morgan Madderom '17, Nate Smelker '18, and Jonathan Tupper '18—assisted Farrer with his book. He paid tribute to them in the acknowledgements, writing that he owes "a debt to the intellectual contributions of my research assistants, four stars among many stars at Knox College."
Other members of the Knox community helped with the book, too. During the 2017 spring term, Farrer taught an environmental studies class called The Politics of Climate Change.
"There were a lot of really productive conversations in that class that were happening just as I was putting the finishing touches on the book," he said. "I think that intellectual atmosphere was a big contribution to how the book ended up in the shape that it did."
Farrer views his book as having two primary audiences: academics and researchers who are interested in political organizations, and people who are thinking "I want to make a difference in the world. What's the best way for me to do that?"
Farrer's teaching interests include environmental politics, political organizations, and quantitative methodology. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Leeds and a Ph.D. in political science from Binghamton University.
In addition to the new book, Farrer has written several journal articles, including "Connecting Niche Party Vote Change in First and Second Order Elections" in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties and "A Theory of Organizational Choice: Parties and Interest Groups as Substitutable Influence Mechanisms" in Party Politics.
His book is published by Routledge as part of its series, Research in Environmental Politics. It is available from Amazon or Routledge.