Mneesha Gellman


Hello, and thanks for visiting my website.

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College, in Boston, MA, USA. My primary research interests include comparative democratization, cultural resilience, memory politics, and social movements in the Global South and the United States.

My current research looks at how citizens are formed in the formal education sector and in community-run spaces organized around mother tongue and heritage language learning. I am working with stakeholders in Northern California and Mexico to develop a project that documents cultural resiliency projects in two indigenous communities. This project includes a five year study that follows cohorts of students enrolled in indigenous language electives, including Yurok and Zapotec, at local high schools and community organizations in order to document the effects of language learning on student experiences of civic, cultural, and political participation.

My recent book, Democratization and Memories of Violence: Ethnic Minority Social Movements in Mexico, Turkey, and El Salvador (Routledge 2017) examined how ethnic minority communities use memories of violence in mobilizations for cultural rights, particularly the right to mother tongue education. I argue that violence-affected communities use memory-based narratives in order to shame states into cooperating with claims for cultural rights protections, and I show that shaming and claiming is a social movement tactic that binds historic violence to contemporary citizenship. You can link to the book here.

I am the founder and Director of the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI), which seeks to bring high quality liberal arts education to inmate-students at Massachusetts Correctional Institute (MCI) at Concord, a men’s medium security prison. I will teach the inaugural EPI class at MCI Concord in fall 2017, launching Emerson’s pilot program of college-in-prison programming. EPI follows the model of college-in-prison work led by the Bard Prison Initiative and the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison.

I am also involved with immigration rights work as a pro bono expert witness for deportation hearings regarding conditions of violence in El Salvador, and I chair the Jamaica Plain Women’s Alliance Immigration Working Group, which advocates for equity policies and protections for all people in Massachusetts. Prior to joining the faculty at Emerson College, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Käte Hamburger Kolleg, University of Duisburg-Essen, in Duisburg, Germany. I have published in journals such as Democratization, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Asian Perspective, and Development in Practice. I hold a PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University, USA, and an MA in International Studies/Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Queensland, Australia. I have lived, worked, and studied on six continents – no Antarctica for me!

I have two current research projects that continue to explore links between rights, culture, identity, and democratization. The first focuses on how marginalized citizens advocate for their rights after violence and during periods of democratization, and the second considers how education and mother tongue language use affect citizen participation in civic, cultural, and political projects in Mexico and the United States.

Contact me at