Gerry Mackie is a political theorist interested in contemporary political theory, the history of political thought, and problems of collective action. His main area of interest is democracy, particularly democratic voting. Certain influential interpretations of social choice theory, by William Riker and his followers, and in part about Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, held that democratic voting is arbitrary and meaningless. Mackie's book, Democracy Defended, thoroughly challenged those interpretations. Further, the standard interpretation of rational choice theory in political science holds that it is almost always irrational for an individual to vote in a democratic election, and Mackie's recent work is an internal criticism of that view. In short, he rebuts the major skeptical claims made by postwar American political science about democratic voting.
Mackiehad rich practical experience in politics prior to graduate school. He was one of the founders and elected leaders of a large workers' cooperative in Oregon, the Hoedads, and actively organized local election campaigns, among a variety of other political and journalistic pursuits. In graduate school in the 90s, he wrote a course paper using comparative-historical sociology and game theory to understand the harmful practices of footbinding in China and female genital cutting (FGC) in Africa. Since 1998 he has worked with the nongovernmental organization Tostan in Senegal, which has organized unprecedented mass abandonments of FGC in 4,800 communities. Since 2004 he has worked closely with UNICEF on the issue, helping devise an internationally-distributed best practices publication and a global abandonment strategy. The “common approach” to the practice endorsed in 2009 by 11 United Nations agencies was deeply influenced by his scholarship. The work on FGC leads him to further study of the sociology of norms, moral psychology, and international human rights.
The work on harmful social practices will continue at the new UCSD Center for Global Justice