Professor Galvan's research explores competing models of development and multiple modernities; ethnic cooperation and nation building; political legitimation and governance; and the search for locally meaningful and sustainable models of social change in the Global South. He has conducted field research in West Africa since 1986, primarily in a cluster of thirty villages in the Sine (Fatick) region of rural Senegal, and in Central Java, Indonesia since 1999. New and emerging projects draw him to comparitive work on Latin America, especially Argentina. Central to all his work is a concern for how ordinary people adaptively transform the nation-state, markets, law, local government, and natural resource management systems to suit their changing and mutable notions of morality, heritage and identity.
His upcoming book, Political Creativity published by University of Pennsylvania Press intervenes in the lively debate currently underway in the social sciences on institutional change. Editors Gerald Berk, Dennis C. Galvan, and Victoria Hattam, along with the contributors to the volume, show how institutions inevitably combine order and change, because formal rules and roles are always available for reconfiguration. Creative action is not the exception, but the very process through which all political formations are built, promulgated and changed.
His book on institutional syncretism, land tenure, and local governance in rural Senegal, The State Must Be Our Master of Fire: How Peasants Craft Culturally Sustainable Development in Senegal, University of California Press, 2004, won the 2005 Best Book Award from the African Politics Conference Group. His published work on creativity and institutional change, community development, democratization, local adaptation of property regimes, social capital, sustainable development, and grass-roots patterns of nation-building has appeared in edited volumes and venues such as the Theory and Society, Journal of Democracy, Journal of Modern African Studies, Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, Electoral Studies, and African Economic History.
Galvan's 2007 co-edited volume, Reconfiguring Institutions Across Time and Space: Syncretic Responses to Challenges of Political and Economic Transformation explores grass roots efforts to refashion state and economy across the developing world.
In support of his research and related activities, Professor Galvan has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, National Science Foundation, Social Science Resarch Council and the US Department of Education.
In June 2008, Professor Galvan received the Thomas F. Herman Faculty Award for Distinguished Teaching, the University of Oregon's highest honor for teaching among tenured faculty, awarded to one or two individuals per year. He was also named University of Oregon Mortar Board Professor of the Term in Fall 2007 and received the University of Florida Honors Program Professor of the Year Award, 2000-01, and the University of Florida College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award in 2000.
Professor Galvan joined the University of Oregon International Studies and Political Science Departments in July 2001. In the first four years of his career he benefitted enormously from the camaraderie and mentorship of the University of Florida Political Science Department and African Studies Center, but the call to return home to the West Coast proved too strong to resist. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1996 and his B.A. from Stanford University in 1987.