This essay by Charles Taylor draws from a lecture sponsored by the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program, called "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," on October 17, 2016, at Roosevelt House in New York City, and is copublished in The Democracy Papers. Taylor was the program’s 2016 Democracy Fellow. Speaking in the weeks before the 2016 US election, Taylor discusses the character of modern democracies and their vulnerability to what he call “spirals of decline.” He concludes with a reflection on the present populist moment.
Nancy Rosenblum’s Items contribution is based on her response to Charles Taylor’s October Roosevelt House lecture, "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," and also appears in The Democracy Papers. A member of the Anxieties of Democracy program’s Advisory Committee, Rosenblum reflects on Taylor’s arguments through the lenses of history and political philosophy. She ends on a note of contingent hope, emphasizing that democracy’s contemporary vulnerabilities are related to genuine advances in the quality of democracy over time.
Gaurav Desai contributes to our "Interdisciplinarity Now" series by reflecting on his experiences on the selection panel of the Council’s largest fellowship competition, the International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) Program. Desai highlights a number of elements that make a research project interdisciplinary—drawing on the conceptual frameworks and methods of multiple disciplines (especially those fields not immediately proximate to one’s home discipline) and framing the research in ways that would resonate across a range of fields and approaches.
A major SSRC project of the past decade, Producing Knowledge on World Regions, has taken an in-depth look at the configuration of regional studies and internationalization in higher education. One component of the project focused specifically on the Middle East, and here program director Seteney Shami and Cynthia Miller-Idriss draw attention to key transformations and continuities in Middle East studies and how they relate to both regional dynamics and American perceptions and policies.
William G. O’Neill, director of the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, reflects on what a Donald Trump presidency may mean for the United Nations’ core objectives of international peace and security, economic development, and human rights. Based on candidate Trump’s public pronouncements and President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments thus far, O’Neill envisions a dramatically different engagement, or perhaps a disengagement, with the UN’s mission and work.
Based in part on research in the SSRC’s archives, Jeremy Adelman and Margarita Fajardo chronicle an important moment in both the history of social science and the political economy of Latin America—the Council’s Joint Committee on Latin American Studies' work on the roots of bureaucratic authoritarianism. Through the 1970s, an interdisciplinary network of scholars from across the Americas interrogated the political and economic dimensions of military rule in Latin America. At the same time, insights from Latin American social science both informed the democratic transitions to come and reshaped research agendas in US scholarship.
Delia Wendel, a fellow of the SSRC’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship program, demonstrates how spatial and social research strategies can be combined through her work in post-genocide Rwanda. Wendel’s contribution engages issues raised in our "Interdisciplinarity Now" theme through a critical analysis of Rwanda’s villagization policy as part of its peacebuilding efforts after a devastating civil war. Wendel’s work speaks directly to the concerns of the SSRC’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and its blog Kujenga Amani.
Based on a recent talk given to our Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa fellows at a July workshop in Nairobi, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o provides a wide-ranging and personal reflection on the importance of conducting basic research in East Africa under daunting circumstances. Anyang’ Nyong’o, both a leading African social scientist and a current member of the Kenyan Parliament, makes the case for scholarly independence at a time when demands for relevance can impede critical analysis.
The Digital Culture program is organizing a series of meetings, cochaired by Mary Lee Kennedy and Michael Schudson, under the heading of "Curating Knowledge Under Digital Conditions." The following introduction frames the first of those meetings, held in May 2016 at the New York Public Library, and the broader contexts informing the working group.
The SSRC’s Measuring College Learning (MCL) project has concluded its first phase in developing faculty-derived learning outcomes for a diverse set of undergraduate majors. In this essay, Richard Arum and Eleanor Blair discuss the intention and scope of the project, as well as detailing how they arrived at the result of their work, Improving Quality in American Higher Education. Faculty panels convened across six disciplines found, despite their diversity, that learning in majors should cohere principally around concepts and competencies, rather than content knowledge in and of itself.