A 1964 summer seminar hosted by the SSRC’s Committee on Sociolinguistics highlighted tensions between sociology and linguistics when scholars gathered to address how their disciplines can deepen research on language’s impact on society. For example, sociologists questioned linguistics’ lack of definition for language or dialect while linguists raised concerns about sociology’s reliance on large quantified data. However, by the end of the seminar, the scholars agreed the encounter had raised important questions and opened new paths of investigation through both sociological and linguistic approaches, including the study of language and social stratification, multilingualism, and language standardization.
From Our Archives
Despite years of economic strength following the end of World War II, US economists remained puzzled by the causes of continuous economic fluctuations, leaving them unable to determine how to predict and plan for future instability. Sponsored by the SSRC, 20 economists met in 1959 to assess the state of the field and imagine future research on economic instability. From this meeting the SSRC’s Committee on Economic Stability was born, focusing on coordinating ongoing research (with an initial focus on econometric modeling), integrating different research methodologies, facilitating the collection and dissemination of federal government and private agency data, and serving as an overall medium of communication on relevant research.
As part of the SSRC’s Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China, a delegation of US linguistics scholars traveled to various Chinese cities in late 1974 to learn about China’s language policy and linguistic research. This report by Charles Ferguson, a member of the delegation and a major figure in the Council’s earlier work on sociolinguistics, summarizes the group’s observations, which center on China’s approach to linguistics and language research. The delegation expressed particular interest in China’s ongoing strategy to standardize its language, linguistic research on language teaching and minority languages, and the growth of English language education.
The SSRC’s Committee on Sociolinguistics (1963–1979) was formed to explore how the nascent interdisciplinary field of sociolinguistics could deepen scholarly understanding of the intersection of language with social, cultural, and political questions. In this 1963 piece, John Useem, a committee member, explains how “developing the sociological study of language” would advance social science. He emphasizes the potential contribution to social knowledge through research on how language is used across cultural contexts and social divides of class, geography, race, and ethnicity. As Deborah Cameron highlights in her essay for our “Sociolinguistic Frontiers” series, gender was largely ignored in the early development of the field.
In this archive piece from 2003, Ann Mason examines the limits of international relations theory in addressing conflicts in the global South, which had risen to the top of research and policy agendas in the aftermath of 9/11. She uses the case of armed conflict in Colombia to interrogate how international relations theory might better engage three issues relevant to the developing world: the connection between state weakness and violence, how security threats within a country are related to dynamics beyond a country’s borders, and the North-South power disparity.
In this Items archive piece from 1964, Sidney Verba reports on a conference organized by the SSRC’s Committee on Comparative Politics that addressed how survey research methods can help understand political change in the developing world—what was then referred to as “political modernization.” The conference considered the use of survey research in comparative studies, how to expand survey research by focusing on subgroups within nation states, and potential methodological and organizational problems.
In an effort to better understand the application of digital computers in the social sciences, particularly psychology, the SSRC’s Committee on the Simulation of Cognitive Processes, working alongside the RAND Corporation, convened a summer training institute to gauge this new technology’s application by a select group of social scientists. Written by the institute’s codirectors, Herbert A. Simon and Allen Newell, this 1958 archive report details the activities, particularly the programming of cognitive simulations, of the three-week event, and concludes with steps to further disseminate simulation techniques and expand the field.
Ten years ago Diane di Mauro, director of the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program (SRFP) (1995–2006), reflected on the SSRC’s effort to develop the field of gender and sexuality studies beyond the public health sphere. For Pride Month, Items republishes di Mauro’s retrospective to offer readers a window through which to reflect on the development and history of this field over the years. The SSRC will also be revisiting the SRFP in the fall of 2018 with a digital media project highlighting contributions from former fellows.
The end of World War II and the start of the Cold War placed the United States in a new geopolitical and military position in the world. To better understand the policy implications of this new role’s effect on the public, the SSRC convened the Committee on Civil-Military Relations Research in 1952. Here, Gordon A. Craig and Bryce Wood describe the committee’s findings as of 1954, emphasizing the lack of history on US military policy and introducing a new grants program to expand historical and social science research on the topic.
In light of the SSRC’s Media & Democracy program’s ongoing work, Items revisits this 1975 piece by Thomas E. Patterson and Ronald P. Abeles. As part of the Council’s Committee on Mass Communication and Political Behavior, the authors present the impetus behind this committee’s formation as well as potential research directions to explore, including how the media agenda is set, what and who influences it, and how the media impacts public opinion throughout an election cycle. Readers might want to compare their understanding of the present moment to how scholars imagined the fraught, complex relationship between media and politics over 40 years ago when, as the authors argue, already “mass media” has “supplanted political parties as the major intermediary between office seekers and the electorate.”