Mark’s Courses at the McCormack Graduate School

PPOL-G797: Sociological Perspectives on Public Policy and Social Justice

This course introduces students to sociological perspectives relevant to the study of public policy with a focus on the relationship between public policy and social justice. We will focus on theoretical and empirical work from core aspects of the sociological discipline that are pertinent to these concerns, including urban sociology, political sociology and stratification. The course covers the following topics:

  • How do various sociological traditions understand the role of the state and public institutions in relation to structures of inequality in society? Under what conditions do public institutions reproduce social inequality, act as agents of social control, work as a force for greater equity and inclusion, or otherwise support or oppose movements for social justice?

  • How have contemporary processes of social inequality, such as concentrated poverty, educational failure, mass incarceration and undocumented peoples, presented new challenges to equity-oriented policy-makers?

  • In what ways have marginalized populations organized to influence public policy to address inequality and to advance equity and social justice?

  • What models exist for researchers and policy-makers to collaborate with community-based organizations and for citizens to participate in the formation and implementation of public policy more generally?

PPOL-G780: Practicum in Community Based Research

This practicum provides graduate students with hands-on, apprenticeship training in conducting research in collaboration with community-based organizations. Students work with one or a set of community and youth organizing groups in Boston to define a research project that supports the work of the group as well as contributes to broader knowledge. In other words, students learn how to conduct community engaged scholarship and action research.

The course serves as an advanced methods class in participatory and qualitative research. Attention will be paid to how to build collaborative relationships with participants in the organizing group and to the ethics of action research. The course also provides apprenticeship training in qualitative interviewing and participant observation as research methods. Students have the opportunity to learn how to develop and conduct a research project from beginning to end. Students collectively identify research questions, conduct relevant literature reviews, select the kinds of data to collect, develop research instruments (e.g. interview questions), collect and analyze the data and write up both research reports useful to the organizing group and academic pieces directed toward publication. Students are be provided with training in all these practices and they will reflect on lessons learned as they conduct the project. All research decisions are taken in collaboration with participants in the organizing group. It is also possible that members from the group will participate in data collection and analysis and write-up, in which case the course will provide training in specific issues related to what is called participatory action research.

The 2016-17 Practicum examined the experiences of student leaders from the Boston Youth Organizing Project and Youth on Board in the Spring 2016 Boston Public Schools budget walkouts using qualitative interviewing and focus groups. Previous practicum reports can be found here:

2013-14- “We want to create our own history”: Youth Power and Leadership in the Boston Youth Justice Movement 2005-2008

2014-15- “From Youth Organizers to Social Justice Activists? Experiences of Youth Organizers Transitioning Into Adulthood

Mark’s Harvard Teaching


From 2002 to 2012 Mark Warren taught classes on community organizing for education reform, social capital, and qualitative methods at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Below are descriptions of those classes. In addition, Mark integrated the national community organizing study that he conducted, along with Dr. Karen Mapp, into the curriculum in order to offer in-depth research experience to a group of doctoral students.

A-106: Social Capital, Schools, and Democracy

This course introduces students to recent theoretical work on the role social capital plays in democratic life and community development in America. Social capital refers to the resources that inhere in the relationships between people that allow them to act collectively, whether that involves social support, civic engagement, or political participation. The course explores the variety of ways that social ties and social organization–and associated norms of trust, cooperation, and reciprocity–contribute to healthy community and democratic life, including better schooling. In this course we will consider public education as one of a set of institutions vital to democracy and community. From that standpoint, students explore the relationships between public schools and other institutions important to civic and political life, including churches, community organizing groups, civic associations, advocacy groups, labor, and business. Click Here to download the course syllabus

A-144: Education Organizing

This course focuses on the role of community organizing in fostering school change. Students examine the large range of ways community groups and schools are fostering the active engagement of participants to improve education–whether that be parents, teachers, community residents, students, or the public at large. Within that context, students examine efforts to foster collaborations among and between a wide array of stakeholders in education, including community organizations, school personnel, school system administration, unions, the business community, faith institutions, civil rights organizations, and youth. Students also examine the role of political organizing in addressing structural inequalities in education in America, and consider the ways that education organizing strengthens broader community-building efforts. A critical component of the course is its connections to various institutions involved in education organizing in the Greater Boston area. Students participate in some direct way with an organization/school/institution active in school change and community-building.Click Here to download the course syllabus

S-710C: Interviewing in Qualitative Research

The aim of this course is to provide students with the knowledge, skill, and theoretical grounding necessary to carry out reliable, trustworthy, and respected informal interviews in context. This course exposes students to the complexity of the informal interview as a qualitative method of data collection and helps them assess both the benefits and the limitations of this important research strategy. Students construct and conduct interviews around a researchable question, analyze the interview data, and begin to interpret the data in narrative form. Throughout this process, students have the opportunity to be critical of the power dynamics involving the imbalance between researcher and participants. Click Here to download the course syllabus