Briefly Noted

Issue Date: 
February 25, 2008

Renowned Sociologist to Lecture on Reshaping of Urban Protest

From tales of tax revolts to the story of the four Black college students who sat down at a Whites-only lunch counter in 1960 in Greensboro, N.C., a good story has always been a powerful way to stir people to action.

Francesca Polletta, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, will speak at the University of Pittsburgh on Feb. 28 in 2413 Posvar Hall. Her lecture, titled “Victim Stories,” will take place from noon to 1:30. An informal discussion on participatory democracy in social movements will run from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Polletta is a prominent scholar of narrative and storytelling in contemporary social movements. Defining culture more as familiar relationships, institutional routines, and conventions of self-expression than beliefs and worldviews, Polletta conducts research that explores how culture sets the terms of strategic action.

Her award-winning book It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2006) investigated the political advantages and risks of telling stories, especially for disadvantaged groups. It won honors from the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the Association for Humanist Sociology. Her 2002 book, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (University of Chicago Press), garnered Polletta a 2003 Distinguished Scholarly Book award and an Honorable Mention from the ASA, as well as an Academic Title Award from Choice Magazine.

Her newest research, titled “Grand Designs: Public Deliberation in Rebuilding Ground Zero,” involves work with an online forum that solicited opinions on what should be done with the site of the destroyed World Trade Center buildings. She and fellow researchers coded thousands of messages to see how people used and responded with personal stories instead of actual reasoning.

More information is available by contacting Kathleen Blee at 412-648-7590 or
—By Sharon S. Blake

Former CIA Officer To Address “Waterboarding,” Ethics in Pitt Talk

John Kiriakou, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who participated in the capture and questioning of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded, will speak at the University of Pittsburgh on Feb. 28.

The free public lecture, titled “Ethics in Intelligence,” will be held from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. in Room 120 of David Lawrence Hall.

Kiriakou served in the CIA from 1990 to 2004, first as an analyst, and later as a counterterrorism operations officer. He said that Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaydah, the first high-ranking al-Qaeda member captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, broke down in less than a minute after he was subjected to the controversial waterboarding technique.

He ended up providing interrogators with information that led to the disruption of a number of planned attacks.

According to Kiriakou, Abu Zubaydah was defiant and uncooperative when first captured in 2002, until his captors strapped him to a board, wrapped his nose and mouth in cellophane, and forced water into his throat in a technique that simulates drowning. Kiriakou has said in interviews that he didn’t witness the waterboarding, but learned about it by reading briefing papers.

In a round of national interviews late last year, Kiriakou said that while he believes waterboarding constituted torture, the technique worked on Abu Zubaydah and resulted in the disruption of dozens of planned terrorist attacks.

As a senior analyst on Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Kiriakou wrote the National Intelligence Estimates on Iraq for the president, the vice president, and the secretaries of state and defense. These papers formed the basis for U.S. policy toward Iraq in the mid-1990s.

Kiriakou, a native of New Castle, Pa., joined the CIA in early 1990 after studying at George Washington University in Washington, D. C. He is president of Second Street Consulting Corp., an Arlington, Va.-based firm that specializes in international business risk analysis. Kiriakou is being hosted at Pitt by Mike Frank Epitropoulos, a lecturer in the sociology department who teaches the course Peace Movements, which explores various forms of social movements and protest.
—By Sharon S. Blake

Pitt-Produced Documentary on K. Leroy Irvis Airs on WQED

K. Leroy Irvis: The Lion of Pennsylvania, a University of Pittsburgh-produced documentary about the life of the late K. Leroy Irvis, is airing on WQED’s The Neighborhood Channel through the end of February as part of the station’s programming that celebrates Black History Month.

In 1977, Irvis became the first African American speaker of the House in Pennsylvania and the first Black speaker of any state house since Reconstruction. He was a 1954 Pitt Law graduate. The film is narrated by Julian Bond and contains vintage photos, video clips, and anecdotes about Irvis from friends, family members, and historians.

WQED will repeat the documentary in a rotation every seven hours. (In Pittsburgh, Comcast digital viewers can access The Neighborhood Channel at 201. Other viewers should contact their local cable company or satellite provider for information on how to access The Neighborhood Channel.)

Chris Moore, a producer and host at WQED Multimedia, introduces the documentary. At its conclusion, Moore introduces three panelists, who provide commentary on Irvis and the documentary: Cathryn L. Irvis, K. Leroy Irvis’ widow and founder of KLI Productions Inc., which conceived the documentary; Pitt history professor Laurence Glasco, who provides on-screen commentary in the documentary; and Robert Hill, Pitt vice chancellor for public affairs and executive producer of the film.
—By Sharon S. Blake