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.
From Our Archives
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.”
Originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and republished in Items & Issues in 2000 to kick off a symposium, Ken Wissoker’s piece examines the definition of interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary research at the turn of the twenty-first century. He finds interdisciplinary research to be a balance between disciplines, one which is under tension from myriad forces, but in particular a territorial impulse, whether conscious or unconscious, to claim the primacy of one’s discipline. To work at the borders of disciplines, Wissoker concludes, scholars must be willing to face their own disciplinary biases.
Thomas Bender, in building on Wissoker’s essay, argues that interdisciplinarity “needs to be understood in the context of the social dynamics of academic culture.” Bender goes back to the SSRC’s early use of the concept as linked to addressing public problems, and an engagement with the world is still a vital reason for its practice today. At the same time, interdisciplinary work faces challenges in terms of both the criteria by which its quality can be judged and as a basis for training new generations.
We continue republishing Items archival essays from a 1999 special issue on the 2000 census with this contribution on political partisanship’s new effects on enumeration. Kenneth Prewitt, then director of the US Census Bureau, warns in this piece against the politicization of methodology and sampling techniques as happened in the run-up to the 2000 census. Though the census has always been political, Prewitt argued that politicians’ shift from politicizing the results to the methodology potentially undermines science, the public’s trust in the census, and the quality of its findings, creating a ripple effect across all national statistics.