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Daniel Joseph Belback

Master’s in Sociology, graduated in 2021

coming from the United States, currently a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of California in San Diego

interviewed by Michaela Nespěchalová, March 2024


1. How has your Master’s of Social Studies degree helped shape your career path?

Studying in Brno had a huge impact on my career path. Most importantly, it introduced me to the field of cultural sociology, which I have chosen to study further as a current PhD student in sociology at the University of California San Diego. It also shaped other projects I have worked on, such as work as a research fellow and in my work as a policy research intern. This degree also helped show me a path forward in academic sociology.

2. How was your experience at Masaryk university?

I really enjoyed my time at Masaryk University. I feel that it provided a very robust and welcoming scholarly community where I felt comfortable to express myself, learn, and make great friends. It was great to study with people from all over the world and the diversity of conversations and insights broadened my horizons immensely. I also really enjoyed the city of Brno in general and the surrounding areas as I felt there were always cool events and places to check out. As an American, I was also fascinated by the privilege to study in a post-soviet bloc country. I liked learning about the history of Czechoslovakia and the close ties that still exist between Slovaks and Czechs to this day. I was particularly fascinated by the Velvet Revolution and the peaceful resolution that occurred. With Brno being relatively close to the Slovakian and Austrian borders, I was able to ride the rails down to Bratislava and Vienna for weekend trips which was also a blast.

3. Can you share some examples of the specific skills and knowledge you gained during your program that have been valuable in your professional life?

At Masaryk I think my reading, writing, and critical thinking skills developed a lot. I also learned a lot about designing research projects and papers. My advisor, Professor Nadya Jaworsky also taught me a ton about research, particularly around how to structure, conduct and write up large projects. These skills have served me very well, especially given my decision to pursue academia.

4. What did you learn during your studies that attracted you the most?

For me, the classes definitely focused on cultural sociology and migration. I learned a lot about the value of meaning centered analysis which cultivated a new way of seeing the world. For me, Cultural sociology felt like an intuitive and exciting way for understanding society and I found myself excited to read and discuss each week. In particular, I think methods like thick description, theories like Civil Sphere Theory, and social processes like Societalization resonated with me and attracted me the most.

5. What were some of the most memorable courses or experiences during your Master's program?

I took Introduction to Cultural Sociology, Contemporary Cultural Sociology, and Migration, Transnationalism, and the City. All these classes complimented each other very well and always got me thinking and highly engaged. I also participated in a cultural sociological tour of the city where I learned a lot about the history of Brno and the Czech German linguistic enclaves that shaped the cities culture, particularly its institutions and architecture. On this tour we also learned about the self-deprecating humor seen throughout the city’s architecture. I still use a cultural sociological frame for understanding the social world in my research and would not have done so if not for my time at Masaryk.

6. What initially attracted you to the field of social studies, and has that motivation evolved over time?

I was initially attracted to the field of social studies due to my interest in politics, history, and anthropology. I was initially on a biology major track during my undergraduate studies; however, I remember taking my first sociology class and realizing I was not passionate about biology, I was passionate about understanding the social world and how it changes over time. I thus switched my major to sociology, anthropology, and international studies. I designed a survey instrument and gave it to 100 peers, primarily looking at political beliefs in the aftermath of the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US. I then wrote my final capstone on the results of the survey. I was flabbergasted by Trump’s election and wanted to know why and how it happened. After graduating I worked for the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago where I quickly became disillusioned by a highly bureaucratized social research environment. While there I applied to and was accepted to study sociology in Trento, Italy. I was relatively certain at the time I wanted to be an ethnographer; however, I took Historical Research Methods while there and realized that historical analysis of the social world is where my passions lied. I then got into the Joint Degree Program in Cultural Sociology and came to Masaryk University. Here, as previously mentioned, I added cultural sociological analysis to my analytical repertoire. I really liked the idea of studying cultural change over time, particularly periods of around 20 years with major historical events interspersed. This led me to write my thesis on the Muslim Ban in the U.S. I wanted to know how a religiously discriminating policy could become acceptable in a land of supposed religious freedom. To study it, I leaned on historical analysis starting with 9/11, media analysis of portrayals of the ban, court rulings over time, and google analytics data to map flux and change in discourses surrounding the policy. I then went to the University of Chicago for another master’s degree. While there I gained a deeper appreciation for micro social processes related to linguistics, ethnomethodology, and symbolic interactionism. I then tried to merge a cultural historical approach with micro level analysis in my thesis project there, looking at discourse in town meetings featuring debates between established locals and newcomers attempting to setup a libertarian utopia project. Here, I tried to merge more macro and micro levels of analysis. I think my motivation has changed over time as I have shifted from not just learning about the social world but to thinking more deeply about how to change and impact it via my research and my activism.

7. How did your program prepare you for working in a diverse and multicultural society?

The program prepared me very well for working in diverse multicultural society. Meeting, working with, and becoming friends with people from all over the world broadened my horizons and gave me skills in empathy, understanding, and appreciation for difference. After Masaryk I was fortunate enough to co-author a book chapter on Diversity and Superdiversity for the Research Handbook on the Sociology of Migration, started while working as a research fellow with the sociology department in Trento, Italy. The program thus led me to not only work within a diverse and multicultural society but also to study and publish on it.

8. Do you have any advice for the incoming students that you would like to share?

I think cultivating curiosity and following your passions is certainly a great way to go. I think that while you of course do need to do work that might not be as interesting or exciting, it is important to always try to draw connections with what you are doing and what you really enjoy. I think fostering a sense of community is crucial for everyone’s success, so I really recommend focusing not just on studying but on ensuring you have people around you who you enjoy being around and who can help you grow as a person. I also highly recommend adding meditation as a daily practice, I sometimes have attention issues but adding mediation has greatly helped me in almost all aspects of my life. All in all, I would say always ensure that you are cultivating balance in your life, stay humble and curious, be welcoming and always foster cordiality.

9. What is your professional career and where are you currently living?

I am currently a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of California in San Diego and hope to one day become a professor. I live in La Jolla California and am currently taking up surfing! 🤙 Cowabunga!

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