As he waged his fight for civil rights for Black Americans in the US South, Martin Luther King Jr. paid…
Over the course of nearly 50 years, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has developed many strategies and negotiating tools to become an effective organization in Congress. Here, Mamie Locke explores how the CBC has grown from its original 13 members from relatively homogeneous districts to a caucus reflecting greater geographic and demographic diversity. She argues these changes in membership allow the CBC to more readily engage in deliberative negotiation and strategic partnerships to meet its mission of empowering marginalized communities. The CBC has leveraged its collective power to animate a policy agenda determined to move minority communities forward. Despite facing an increasingly polarized environment for the past 20 years, CBC members have formed alliances and worked in a bipartisan way to achieve successful legislative outcomes.
Monica Heller, curator of Items’ “Sociolinguistic Frontiers,” concludes the series with a reflection on the ways in which the field has both advanced and obscured understandings of how linguistic inequality is related to broader hierarchies of power. The great accomplishment of sociolinguistics—its liberal and scientific claims that all languages are equal in value—did little to engage how inequalities between different groups of speakers were reproduced. Heller argues that the scholarly techniques for measurement and commensuration that allowed the formal comparison of language has neglected to ask how language “continues to serve as a terrain for the making of social difference and social inequality.” She concludes with thoughts for how future sociolinguistics agendas might address this gap.
The SSRC’s Committee on Sociolinguistics was committed to furthering attention to language, and linguistic difference, as an “unexploited kind of sociological data” in ethnographic and survey research. The committee convened a conference in 1968 to better understand the intersection of social and linguistic factors, summarized here by Allen D. Grimshaw. The group focused on four topics: the ethnography of asking questions; the meaning of words; the ways in which interviews themselves are “a part of the data” and “don’t know” responses are revealing answers to questions; and improving scholars’ training in framing questions and eliciting answers related to language and communication.
In the conclusion to the “Chancing the Storm” series, Heather Lazrus, Jennifer Henderson, and Julie Demuth describe the Scholarly Borderlands project, its goals, and how it gave rise to the series. In a number of collaborative panels presented at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting, presenters engaged with the question of how the multilayered aspects of uncertainty influence severe weather events. Speaking to weather prediction and communication specialists, these social scientists challenged the weather and climate communities to engage with the complexity their audiences face, and in particular, not to make assumptions about the homogeneity of those audiences. Attendees agreed more work needs to be done to make forecasting and hazard technical information more legible, and actionable, for communities at risk. We hope this series is a step in that direction.
Pablo Mitchell illustrates the importance of mentorship in fostering new generations of academics, in particular in emerging fields. As part of the “Sexuality & Gender Studies Now” series, he reflects on the role his mentors played in cultivating his scholarship on the history of Latinx sexuality. Highlighting the importance of researching the history of sexuality of minorities within the broader history of the Americas, Mitchell looks to the future of the field and advocates for increased research on Latinx sexuality.
In this report, Cole Edick—program assistant for the Anxieties of Democracy program—outlines the ideation and theoretical principles that served as the basis of conversation at a research workshop, held at IE University in Segovia, Spain, entitled “The Ideational Approach: Consequences and Mitigation.” Edick highlights five key challenges discussed at the workshop for the contemporary study of populism, among them: how to define populism, what unites populism across different political systems, and can social media inform the study of populism. Future endeavors assessing the modern ascendance of populism will benefit from this report, which contextualizes extant as well as ongoing research seeking to understand populism in varying contexts.
Early Cold War Research and the Enduring Relevance Question: Area Studies, Behavioralism, and the SSRCby Michael C. Desch
The postwar Behavioral Revolution, Michael Desch argues, aimed to infuse social science with “scientific” approaches while preserving its applicability in the policy world. Focusing on two of the Behavioral Revolution’s leading figures, Talcott Parsons and Gabriel Almond (and their ties to the SSRC), he contends that, in fact, the goal of relevance was sacrificed through the pursuit of behavioralist theories and approaches. With a focus on comparative politics, Desch claims that the marginalizing of area studies, by focusing on more universal models of politics, took attention away from the contextual knowledge that was more needed by, and thus relevant to, policymaking.
In the early 1950s, the nascent political science subfield of comparative politics wrestled with questions of method and whether to approach comparing nation-states via abstract concepts or a problem-oriented focus. To begin addressing these concerns, the SSRC convened an interuniversity research seminar in which political scientists began to create a framework for the field that ultimately led to the formation of the Committee on Comparative Politics. Roy Macridis, in this report, summarizes the seminar’s discussion, which included the relative merits of area studies approaches to more abstract theorizing. The conversation clearly tilted toward starting with conceptual schemes independent of context, and so exemplifies the impact of behavioralism that Michael Desch illustrates in his Items essay.
A consequence of increasing polarization is the decline of moderate legislators—those who occupy an ideological middle ground between the two parties. This decline has allowed those moderates to play pivotal roles, especially in the Senate, in deciding whether a bill passes or fails or a nominee is confirmed or not. Yet little is known about whether these moderate senators play an influential role in shaping public opinion around pieces of legislation. Using a survey experiment, Logan Dancey investigates whether public support for specific bills changes depending on who sponsors (and cosponsors) the legislation. His findings suggest that although names like Susan Collins and Joe Manchin are well-known among American voters, when moderates attach their name to pieces of legislation, it does not uniquely influence public support for or opposition to the bill.