Department of Sociology

Carmen Sirianni

Carmen Sirianni

Morris Hillquit Professor of Labor and Social Thought Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Public Policy

I retired from teaching in 2021 to work full-time on research and convening national partners to develop civic engagement strategies and public policy design for climate resilience and climate justice in the U.S. I recently completed, Civic Democracy and Climate Action: Engagement and Policy for a Resilient America.

This book grows out of a collaborative project, housed at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. With recent Brandeis Sociology Ph.D. Ann Ward, I enlisted some thirty leading scholars and practitioners to serve as senior associate editors of CivicGreen to help map innovative practice, policy, toolkits, research, and other resources across multiple institutional and policy fields. Ann and I then organized a two-day national workshop in Washington, DC, at the American Institute of Architects, which included 45 senior nonprofit leaders, federal and local agency officials, and academic scholars. Our discussions and report served as the basis for my further research over the next 18 months.

In Civic Democracy and Climate Action, I first explore how the climate crisis can further exacerbate our democracy crisis, and how some forms of civic action can generate creativity and democratic legitimacy to help address both. I focus on place-based collaborative innovation, situated within the broader “civic ecology” that also includes grassroots climate movement protest and mainstream professional advocacy, with an eye to tensions and complementarities among all three. Chapters examine urban, regional, watershed, coastal, tribal, and forest innovations over the past 30 years. Since youth engagement is also key to resilience, I further analyze environmental education, conservation and climate corps, university greening and community partnerships, as well as professional education that enhances capacities of young professionals in architecture, planning, emergency management, and other areas, to work as genuine partners with ordinary citizens and communities, i.e. as “civic professionals.”

I also examine “collaborative environmental justice,” which the August 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included as a generous part of its funding strategy. In my role as the Academic Advisor to Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush and Obama administrations, I worked closely with the team that developed the 5-year demonstration program of 100 community partnerships. This served as the core policy design for the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (EJCPS) and the Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) grant programs, as well as for the Climate Justice Community Change Grants Program. Our May 2022 national workshop included key movement and federal agency staff that have refined this approach over the years.

Civic Democracy and Climate Action also includes strategic architecture to facilitate further integrative action through public and private funding, policy design and public administration, network governance, and leadership through the Executive Office of the President.

I have been an engaged scholar and public sociologist since I shifted my work from comparative historical study of European social movements, revolutions, and workplace innovation earlier in my career. I served as the research director of the Reinventing Citizenship Project, located in the Domestic Policy Council of the White House during the Clinton administration, in collaboration with the Ford Foundation’s Governance Program and the Humphrey Institute for Public Policy at the University of Minnesota. I was also a senior advisor to the National Commission on Civic Renewal, as well as co-director of the Pew-funded Youth Civic Engagement Project with Brandeis Sociology Ph.D. Lewis Friedland and our team of Brandeis graduate and undergraduate students.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I served as chair of the collaborative governance workgroup within the Obama campaign’s urban policy committee, which helped to inform his first executive order on January 21, 2009 on Open Government. I then served as academic chair of Partnering with Communities early in the Obama administration. Our national workshop at the Brookings Institution included five White House offices (Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Domestic Policy Council, Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Office of Urban Affairs), as well as federal agencies, environmental justice groups, civic associations, and local elected officials.

Among my other books are Sustainable Cities in American Democracy (University Press of Kansas, 2020); Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (Brookings Institution Press, 2009); Civic Innovation in America (University of California Press, 2001), with Lewis A. Friedland; and Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014), edited with Brandeis Ph.D. Jennifer Girouard.

I have been a democratic governance fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, a member of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a fellow and faculty affiliate at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard. I am an elected lifetime Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a nonprofit chartered by Congress to provide assistance to Congress, federal, state, local, and international government entities.

I have also served on the screening committees of the Innovations in American Government Award (Harvard Kennedy School) and the All-America City Award (National Civic League), and on the national advisory board of two year-long PBS Democracy Project series.

Over the years, I have periodically taught the junior tutorial on Civic Engagement and Community Empowerment, as well as supervised numerous senior theses, for the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies honors concentration at Harvard, where I was awarded the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize for Excellence in the Work of Undergraduates and the Art of Teaching. I was professor of sociology at Northeastern University and visiting professor of political science at the University of Genoa earlier in my career.

Before turning to civic innovation and policy design in the U.S., I authored and edited several books and various articles on European workers’ councils, labor movements, service work, working time, women’s organizations, and political, social, and organizational theory. I also served as editor of the 45-volume book series, Labor and Social Change, for Temple University Press.  


  • BA, Philosophy, Manhattan College

  • MA, Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research

  • PhD, State University of New York, Binghamton

Selected Publications

Sustainable Cities in American Democracy book cover"Sustainable Cities in American Democracy" (University Press of Kansas, 2020), which examines the emergence and development of the sustainable cities field from 1945 to the present, utilizing analytic frameworks from institutional fields, civic and professional associations, social movements, urban and environmental governance, public policy, and democratic theory. It also explores how this institutional field might become more robust in the face of climate crisis challenges in the decades ahead. For an interview with Carmen in the summer 2020 issue of the National Civic Review, click here.

Investing in Democracy Book CoverSirianni is author of "Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance" (Brookings Institution Press, 2009), which examined the role of public institutions in community engagement, as well as rationales and forms for making public investments in capacities for collaborative governance and civic partnerships.

Civic Innovation in America Book CoverIn "Civic Innovation in America" (University of California Press, 2001), with Lewis Friedland, he analyzed innovation across four fields (community organizing and development, civic environmentalism, healthy communities, and public journalism), as well as the emergence of a broad civic renewal movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches Book CoverSirianni’s edited book with recent Brandeis PhD Jennifer Girouard, "Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches," was published by Vanderbilt University Press in 2014.

Civic Renewal Movement Book Cover"The Civic Renewal Movement: Community-Building and Democracy in the United States" (Kettering Foundation Press, 2005). A long selection from his book, "The Civic Renewal Movement" (with Brandeis PhD Lewis A. Friedland, now Vilas Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) was published in Chinese and English by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Kettering Foundation.

Working in the Service Society Book Cover"Working in the Service Society" (with Cameron Macdonald, ed., Temple University Press, 1996).
Working Time in Transition Book Cover"Working Time In Transition: the Political Economy of Working Time in Industrial Nations" (Temple University Press, 1991).

"Worker Participation and the Politics of Reform" (Temple University Press, 1987).

"Critical Studies in Organization and Bureaucracy" (Temple University Press, 1984, revised edition 1994).

Workers' Control and Socialist Democracy: the Soviet Experience Book Cover"Work, Community, and Power: The Experience of Labor in Europe and America, 1900-25" (Temple University Press, 1983).

Workers' Control and Socialist Democracy: the Soviet Experience"Workers' Control and Socialist Democracy: The Soviet Experience" (Verso, 1982).


  • "Bringing the State Back in Through Collaborative Governance: Emergent Mission and Practice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," in Jennifer Girouard and Carmen Sirianni, Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Narrative, and Network Approaches, Vanderbilt University Press, 2014.

  • "The Civics of Urban Planning," The Oxford Handbook of Urban Planning, eds. Rachel Weber and Randall Crane. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 669-90, with Jennifer Girouard.

  • "Environmental Organizations," in Lester M. Salamon, ed., The State of Nonprofit America, second edition. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2012, pp. 294-328, with Stephanie Sofer.

  • "City Government as Enabler of Youth Civic Engagement," in Policies for Youth Civic Engagement, edited by James Youniss and Peter Levine. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009, pp. 121-63, with Diana Schor.