Jocelyn Viterna investigates how social mobilization shapes gender norms and gender practices in states, in warfare, in institutions, and in communities. She also evaluates how poor communities pursue their own development by recruiting “projects” from humanitarian organizations. Her research has been published in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, Politics and Gender, and the Latin American Research Review, among other journals. Her first book, Women in War: The Micro-level Processes of Mobilization in El Salvador (Oxford University Press 2013) has received four distinguished book awards and one honorable mention. It is currently being translated for publication in Spanish.
Viterna, who speaks Spanish fluently, first traveled to Central America in 1995, and has been returning for extended visits two or three times per year ever since. She lived in El Salvador full time for two years while collecting data for her first book, and as such, has perfected her skills in harvesting corn, hauling water, sleeping in her hammock, making pupusas, traipsing volcanoes to reach isolated villages, discovering forgotten archives, and of course, spending many extraordinary hours listening to and learning from her gracious Salvadoran hosts. Viterna’s research has been featured in Salvadoran newspapers, on a Salvadoran radio program, and in Salvadoran public forums. She has provided expert testimony on El Salvador in six U.S. federal court cases, served as the El Salvador country expert in the construction of the Varieties of Democracy database, and has consulted with Amnesty International and Oxfam on El Salvador-related projects. Viterna’s recent white paper (co-authored with Jose Santos Guardado Bautista) continues to be used by the team of attorneys defending Salvadoran women accused of “murdering” their stillborn fetuses, many of whom have been sentenced to 30 or 40 years in prison.
Viterna is primarily a qualitative researcher who triangulates data from multiple sources—typically in-depth interviews, ethnographic observations, and content analyses of legal and political documents—to answer theory-relevant sociological questions. She is strongly committed to designing rigorous qualitative research that can generate generalizable conclusions, while still providing the in-depth, process-oriented understandings for which qualitative data are best suited.
Viterna is a founding member of the ASA Section on the Sociology of Development, and is currently serving as the section’s Chair-Elect. She is also the Secretary-Treasurer for the ASA Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements. She has served on the editorial boards of the American Sociological Review, the Latin American Research Review, and Mobilization, and she is currently an associate editor for Mobilization.
Viterna is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology at Harvard University. She has been honored with major teaching awards both as a graduate student at Indiana University, and as a faculty member at Harvard University. Of note, she won the university-wide Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring award during only her second year on the Harvard faculty. In addition to the 17 different courses that she has prepared and taught in sociology, Viterna also led a Spanish-language course on "Research Design" for 48 PhDs in Havana, Cuba, and a Spanish-language workshop on qualitative research methods to a dozen participants in El Salvador. Since 2012, Viterna has taught the departmental “Teaching Practicum,” where Harvard graduate students learn to successfully navigate their first teaching experiences.
Prior to joining the Harvard faculty, Viterna was Assistant Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Tulane University from 2003 to 2006. In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, and her resulting homelessness, Viterna accepted a post-doctoral position as an Academy Scholar at Harvard University. While an Academy Scholar, she was offered a full-time tenure track position in the Harvard University Sociology Department, where she has remained since.
Viterna grew up in the rural village of Curtis, Nebraska, and moved to Manhattan, Kansas at the age of 13. She graduated summa cum laude from Kansas State University in 1995. After college, she spent a year in retail management before beginning graduate training in Sociology and Latin American Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she completed her M.A. (2000) and her Ph.D. (2003). Viterna resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her partner, Jason Beckfield, and their two children.