Galym-Galam: Dr. Michael Ryan, Assistant Professor of Sociology of NU SSH

Our next  ‘Galym-Galam’ rubric guest is Dr. Michael Ryan, Assistant Professor of Sociology of NU SSH. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Maryland (USA) in 2013. Dr. Ryan was previously a researcher for the TRANSRIGHTS Project at The University of Lisbon (Portugal) and has taught courses at the American University in Cairo (Egypt), the Latin American Faculty of the Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Quito (Ecuador), and the University of Maryland (USA). Before returning to academia, Dr. Ryan worked as a research methodologist at the National Center for Health Statistics in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ryan, please tell us about your current research project?

The primary objective of my research is to provide social scientific evidence to help inform ongoing decisions about how we are, and will continue to, (re-) build post-pandemic societies. While the pandemic has indeed created some unique inequalities of its own, the real impact has been an acceleration of already polarizing trends in access to resources. Evidence, to date, indicates that societies are not best thought of as “recovering”, at least not for everyone; rather, they should be more accurately recognized as becoming increasingly unequal. My goal is to provide evidence to help highlight opportunities to recover toward a more just, more equitable, and more sustainable future.

I have a forthcoming book (with Serena Nanda), COVID-19: Social inequalities and human possibilities (Routledge 2022), that explores the ways in which the pandemic has impacted education, labor force participation, digital inequalities, political movements, economic inequality, and the environment, among other factors, and on a global scale. This book builds off of my two previous edited collections related to the pandemic. At the base of my research is a grounded ideological and material analysis of pandemic consequences, as well as a critical exploration of the opportunities of what could (still) be done.

What are your key research findings?

    The pandemic has brought forth new forms of inequalities, and, even more notably, accelerated trends in pre-pandemic divergences of access to resources. My research findings have demonstrated (some of) the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of these systemic inequalities that lie at the foundation of our global society. For example, I have argued the ways in which the pandemic has actually been a blessing for neoliberalism, nationalism, and neoconservative ideologies by demonstrating the ways in which each has been able to find new fodder in pandemic politics. My argument is that the pandemic has intensified pre-existing “us vs. them” mentalities with regards to resource hoarding and allocation, vaccines, mask-wearing, citizenship, and science vs. anti-science stances, among others. 

    The key finding of my research is a dialectical conclusion that while the pandemic has accelerated inequalities across a broad range of issues, it has simultaneously pushed greater awareness, and, I hope, concern, about these issues into public and political consciousness.

Why did you choose to join NU?

    I was drawn to NU by the opportunity to work at a relatively young university, and one I saw as having an enormous amount of potential. The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of such an exciting project and to be able to take an active role in helping to build a world class university was exciting to me. I also felt that it was a space where many of my long standing research and teaching interests rooted in areas of greater equity and inclusion could help positively shape that growth. I am very dedicated to service, and I felt that my energies could (hopefully) be impactful here.

What are your future plans?

Unfortunately, I imagine that my COVID-19 research agenda is going to be very active for some time to come. I say “unfortunately” because it is clear that we will be living with the impact of the pandemic for the foreseeable future, even well after (if?) we get the virus under control (please get vaccinated!). In addition to my COVID-19 research, I am also working on an introduction to sociology textbook, a textbook on genders and sexualities in a globalizing world, and an edited volume on sexualities in the Middle East and North Africa.  There is always so much exciting work to be done!