Professor Trevor Stack

Professor Trevor Stack
Professor Trevor Stack
Professor Trevor Stack

BA Hons. (Oxford), MSt (Oxford), PhD (University of Pennsylvania)

Personal Chair

Email Address
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+44 (0)1224 272543
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Spanish and Latin American Studies, Taylor A13, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UB.

School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture


I came to Aberdeen as a Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies in 2002, after completing a BA in History and a Masters in Social Anthropology at Oxford University, a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, and having taught Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.

I founded in 2009 and direct the inter-disciplinary Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (CISRUL), which focuses on the study of political concepts in the world. In 2018 I secured a Marie Curie grant Political Concepts in the World to host 12 PhD students at CISRUL.

I have been doing research in Mexico since 1992, and I also did research in 2008-13 in northern California. My research has focused mainly on aspects of citizenship and civil society.

In 2016-19, I led a large RCUK-Newton team project on Societal Responses to Crime and Violence in Mexico (2016-19), and currently I lead an AHRC Research Network on Civil Society and Collaboration in Response to Crime-Related Violence.

I have also mentored a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (2019-23), held by Hanifi Baris, and a Newton International Fellowship (2021-23) held by Denisse Román.

In 2019, I was Radboud Excellence Initiative Visiting Professor in Anthropology and Development Studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

I have published Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship (U New Mexico, 2012), and edited the volumes Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty (Brill, 2015), Breaching the Civil Order: Radicalism and the Civil Sphere (CUP, 2020), Engaging Authority: Citizenship and Political Community (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2021), and Citizens Against Crime and Violence: Societal Responses in Mexico (U Rutgers, 2022).


Current Research

1. Civil society and collaboration in response to crime-related violence

The first phrase of this project ran from November 2016 to October 2019, funded by a large grant from the ESRC, supporting 10 researchers at 5 institutions over 35 months. I was PI of the project.

The project focused on societal responses because Mexico’s institutional responses had proved little effective, and even exacerbated crime and violence. We chose the state of Michoacán in part because in 2013 it was the scene of an extreme form of societal response: an uprising of armed civilian groups known as autodefensas (self-defence). The autodefensas effectively took security into their own hands, confronting the criminal organization which then monopolized criminal business in most of Michoacan, and which had captured much of local and state government.  Our cases of societal response included the autodefensa groups that persisted in some rural areas in 2017, but we also studied other societal responses and in other contexts, including urban ones. The responses we studied included local citizen security councils, artist collectives, church-linked initiatives and women’s groups.

I edited the project volume Citizens against Crime and Violence: Societal Responses in Mexico, which Rutgers will publish in spring 2022. Co-I Salvador Maldonado edited a Spanish-language volume Hacia la justicia cuando escasean las garantías (2020).

I am currently leading an AHRC Research Network (2022-23) focused on building collaboration or partnership between civil society and government to reduce violences. The challenges are even more acute in contexts of state corruption and societal violence. Assembling partnerships to address the issues may seem impossible in these contexts.

The Network builds on the previous project together with a second one led by Jenny Pearce (LSE). Pearce had focused on still more marginal contexts where residents had difficulty organising, one of which was in Michoacán, working with residents to co-produce Human Security Agendas. In the Network, Stack, Maldonado and Pearce agreed to focus more centrally on how societal actors can transform how government works by collaborating more effectively with it. We look to identify principles for effective collaboration between state, civil society and communities in challenging contexts.

We are proceeding by:

  • extending the research to other Mexican contexts
  • stimulating experiments in collaboration, where there is little existing
  • incorporating leading academic and non-academic partners to the team.

A full description and relevant documents is available on the CISRUL page.

2. Developing Civil Sphere Theory (CST) to understand citizenship and radical protest

During my project on citizenship (see above), I found that cultural sociologist Jeffrey Alexander's Civil Sphere Theory shed more light on my findings than did much of the literature on citizenship itself. Since then I have looked to develop CST through collaborating with Alexander and others in a series of workshops and volumes. Examples are my chapter in The Civil Sphere in Latin America (CUP, 2018) and the conclusion to the volume The Nordic Civil Sphere (Polity, 2019) that I co-authored with sociologist Giuseppe Scriotino.

After a conference at Aberdeen in 2019, I co-edited (with Jeffrey Alexander and Farhad Khosrokhavar) a volume Breaching the Civil Order: Radicalism and the Civil Sphere (CUP, 2020), which is reviewed in Mobilization. It is not only a paradox but something of an intellectual scandal that, in an era so shaken by radical actions and ideologies, social science has had nothing theoretically new to say about radicalism since the middle of the last century. Breaching the Civil Order fills this void. It argues that, rather than seeing radicalism in substantive terms – as violent or militant, communist or fascist – radicalism should be seen more broadly as any organized effort to breach the civil order. The theory is made flesh in a series of case studies by leading European and American social scientists, from the destruction of property in the London race riots to the public militancy of Black Lives Matter in the US, the performative violence of the Irish IRA and the Mexican Zapatistas to the democratic upheavals of the Arab Spring, and from Islamic terrorism in France to Germany’s right-wing populist Pegida.

In 2023, I will write a Conclusion to the volume on The Civil Sphere in India, following a 2022 workshop at Yale.

Past Research

1. Knowing history, being citizens in Mexico

My first book Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship was published by the University of New Mexico Press in October 2012. It was reviewed in The Americas, Oral History Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, International Social Science ReviewEuropean Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Journal of Anthropological Research, the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean AnthropologyBulletin of Latin American Research, Relaciones (in Spanish) and Social Anthropology (in French).

I pose two questions in the book: What is history? And why do people value it? Basing my inquiry on fieldwork near Guadalajara in west Mexico, I focus on one reason for which people commonly value history—knowing history is said to make for better citens, which helps to explain why history is taught at schools worldwide and history questions are included in citizenship tests. I combine my Mexican fieldwork with my  personal experience of history in Scottish schools and at Oxford University to try to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes people who know history seem like better citizens.

Much has been written about national history and citizenship; I concentrate instead on the history and citizenship of towns and cities. My Mexican informants talked (and wrote) not only of Mexican history but of their towns’ histories, too. They acted, at the same time, as citizens of their towns as well as of Mexico. Urban history and citizenship are, I  show, important yet neglected phenomena in Mexico and beyond.

Rather than setting history on a pedestal, I treat it as one kind of knowledge among many others, comparing it not just to legend but also to gossip. Instead of focusing on academic historians, I interviewed people from all walks of life—bricklayers, priests, teachers, politicians, peasant farmers, lawyers, laborers, and migrants—as well as drawing on a talk about history by the famous Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo.

2. In the eyes of the law, in the eyes of society: a citizenship tradition in Mexico

Based on extensive fieldwork on citizenship in Mexico and California that I carried out between 2007 and 2013, I have published a series of chapters and articles including the following:

Social scientists generally begin with a definition of citizenship, usually the rights-bearing membership of nation-states, and have given less attention to the notions of citizenship held by the people whom they study. Not only is how people see themselves as citizens crucial to how they relate to states as well as to each other, but informants’ own notions of citizenship can be the source of fresh theoretical insights about citizenship.

During interviews and participant observation across two contrasting regions of Mexico, I found that my informants did talk about citizenship as rights-bearing membership. But my informants said most often that to be a citizen was simply to live in society, ideally in a civil way, which I term civil sociality. Civil sociality is, I argue, a kind of citizenship beyond the state because it is not focused on how people relate to states. The main theoretical insight that arises from my Mexican informants’ notions is that citizenship is not necessarily a relationship with states - there are other ways of thinking about citizenship.

Beyond the fieldwork, I have developed my account of citizenship though editing a volume on Engaging Authority: Citizenship and Political Community (2021).

3. Citizens and their stance toward religion: the demands of modern government

I was the lead editor and wrote the introduction and a chapter for the volume Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty, which Brill published in 2015. It is a commonplace among scholars that religion is a problem or issue for citizenship. Much has been said about what a citizen is to do with his or her religion. In recent years, for example, scholars have written of a “post-secular” world in which citizens are permitted to do more with their religion than hitherto, such as bringing it into politics. Some such as Jürgen Habermas, Tariq Modood and Charles Taylor have argued for such a world. Others have warned against the advent of a “post-secular” world, such as Rogers Brubaker (2013), who worries that religion is replacing language as a dividing mark among citizens.

Unlike those scholars, this volume starts by treating “religion” not as a self-evident phenomenon but instead as a category. Our modern idea of religion is precisely that, we argue—an idea that has taken shape in modern times. As I explain in the volume introduction, modernity has multiple histories and so does the modern idea of religion. The volume focuses on the history of how governments from the eighteenth century onwards came to define “religion”. I begin my own chapter by arguing that while modern governments reworked the category of religion, they also reworked what it meant to be “citizens.” Governments made increasing demands on those whom they recognized as citizens. One of the key demands made of citizens was that they take a particular stance toward “religion”. The volume makes clear that governments’ fashioning and refashioning of “religion” has taken different courses at different times and places, and my own chapter focuses on the particular case of Mexico.

There is a fuller description on the Critical Religion blog and a review in Reading Religion.

Funding and Grants

Most recently I received the following grants:

  • an AHRC Research Network on state-civil society partnerships to reduce non-war violences (2021-23)
  • a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Grant to complete a monograph on Rethinking Corruption and Civil Society (2022-23) 
  • Radboud Excellence Initiative Visiting Professorship in Anthropology and Development Studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands (Sep-Dec 2019)
  • a large 5-year EU Marie Curie COFUND grant to expand the CISRUL PhD programme (2018-22)
  • a large ESRC grant as PI to conduct 35 months of research in partnership with Mexican and UK institutions (2016-19)
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh Visiting Researcher Fellowship at the Civic Constellations Project of the Universidad de Málaga (Sep-Dec 2016)

I am currently Mentor of Hanifi Baris' Leverhulme Early Career Researcher Fellowship (2019-22) and Denisse Román's Newton International Fellowship (2021-23).

I have also received a long series of grants in support of my research in Mexico and California from the British Academy (2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013) and the Carnegie Trust (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013), as well as a British Academy Conference Support Grant to hold a conference at the British Academy in January 2010 and funding from the Gordon Cook Foundation for a workshop in March 2013.

Finally I have received substantial donations to set up and direct the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at Aberdeen, which is hosting a series of conferences and offering PhD studentships.


Teaching Responsibilities

I teach undergraduate courses on a wide range of topics including the first year core course "Latin America: A Cultural History" and the Honours courses “Citizenship in Latin America” and "The Golden State: History, Culture and Politics of California". I am also responsible for a cross-University course "What Gives Us Rights?".

I have supervised or co-supervised PhDs on topics as varied as Mexican intellectuals and journalists during the 1970s, claim-making by Ghanian market women, Brazil's programme for protecting human rights defenders, discourses of nationalism and citizenship in Poland, and competing visions of polity in Turkey. Students that I have supervised (or co-supervised) include:


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Books and Reports

Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings

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