Johnnie Anne Lotesta

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Graduate Student
A.M. Brown University
B.A. George Mason University

Research Interests

Political Sociology; Cultural Sociology; Sociology of Knowledge & Expertise; Comparative Historical Sociology; Qualitative Methods


Year of Entry: 2012

Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs GPD-IGERT Fellow
Business Entrepreneurship and Organizations Hazeltine Fellow

Johnnie Lotesta is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Brown University. Her research lies at the intersection of political sociology, cultural sociology and the sociology of knowledge and expertise. Broadly speaking, she is interested in the practice of contemporary American politics, particularly the relations between political parties, political professionals and policy experts, the conservative movement, and the design, evaluation and diffusion of  economic development and labor policies across the fifty states.

Titled “Rightward in the Rustbelt: How Conservatives Remade the GOP, 1947-2012,” Johnnie’s dissertation examines the rightward shift of the Republican Party through a comparative-historical analysis of right-to-work laws in three Industrial Midwestern states: Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Legal statutes that prevent labor unions from collecting fees from all workers they legally represent, right-to-work laws once occupied the outskirts of Midwestern Republican politics. Using archive materials and stakeholder interviews, Johnnie demonstrates how transformations in political party infrastructures – the networks of non-party activists and organizations who support party operation – moved right-to-work laws to the center of Republican programs in Michigan and Indiana. Specifically, Johnnie shows how the construction of  statewide business PAC networks and the establishment of conservative think tanks assembled the material and cultural resources necessary to render right-to-work laws not only politically plausible but desirable for Michigan and Indiana Republicans, who passed right-to-work laws with majority caucus support in 2012.  In Ohio, by contrast, comparatively weak business PAC and think tank networks vis-à-vis an organized labor movement with strong ties to senior Republicans  prevented right-to-work from garnering as strong of support from GOP legislators and facilitated the defeat of Ohio’s proposed right-to-work law for public employees in November 2011. This analysis highlights the role of professionally-run civic organizations and think tanks in the GOP’s rightward shift, as well as the importance of local party infrastructures, organized interest groups, and political entrepreneurs in the process of legislative policy change.

Johnnie has also written on political party change, the role of policy experts as brokers among state parties in the legislature, and the construction and deployment of secular myths in the policy process. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, and Brown University’s Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations Program. Johnnie’s work has appeared in Research in Political Sociology and American Journal of Cultural Sociology.


  • Lotesta, Johnnie. 2018. “The Myth of the Business Friendly Economy: Making Neoliberal Reforms in the Worst State for Business.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology. Advance online publication.
  • Lotesta, Johnnie and Cedric de Leon. Forthcoming. “Political Parties: From Reflection to Articulation and Beyond.” The New Handbook of Political Sociology, edited by Thomas Janoski, Cedric de Leon, Joya Misra, and Isaac W. Martin. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lotesta, Johnnie. 2016. “The Strength of Civil Society Ties: Explaining Party Change in America’s Bluest State.” Research in Political Sociology, 24: 257-87.