Dimitris Xygalatas engages the problems of the generalizability and comparability of research results and their “ecological validity.” Xygalatas argues for the “methodological interaction between forms of participant-observation and experimentation,” combining the insights of approaches often seen as at odds with each other, to produce a collaborative and strong version of interdisciplinary research. Drawing from his own work on extreme religious rituals such as fire-walking and body piercing, the author demonstrates the benefits of research designs that include perspectives from the “field” and the “lab.”
Juan Acosta and Erich Pinzón-Fuchs recount the history of the creation of a deeply complex macroeconomic model of the US economy developed by the SSRC’s Committee on Economic Stability in the early 1960s. The work was led by future Nobel winner Lawrence Klein and sought to take advantage of emergent computing technology and a range of databases to simulate the potential impacts of various economic policy options. Based in part on research in the SSRC archives, the authors argue that the model was a pioneering effort in large-scale collaboration among economists with a long-lasting influence.
Soon after its founding, the SSRC engaged the study of race and race relations in the United States with the support of its main funder, the Rockefeller philanthropies. However, by 1930, Rockefeller and the Council shifted focus, shuttering the four committees tasked with studying these issues. Here, Maribel Morey critically examines the early history of the SSRC’s approach to race in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on its relationship with the shifting priorities of the philanthropies that supported it. This includes major projects of the era such as W. E. B. Du Bois’s ambitious Encyclopedia of the Negro and the massive research undertaking that launched Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma.
In this essay, Angelique Haugerud provides an insightful analysis of what we now, sometimes uncritically, refer to as “fake news.” She then goes on to argue that our current obsession with “fake news” obscures something more fundamental—the financialization of the news industry in which profit eclipses the media’s role in contributing to the public good. In Haugerud’s view, this debilitates the mainstream media’s capacity to combat fake news and opens a space for the latter to enter the mainstream.
In this new essay, Stuart Schrader traces the arc of US security assistance to Latin America from the late nineteenth century to the present, and finds deep continuities amid the policy changes. From gunboat diplomacy and direct occupation to training and support for militaries, police, and counterinsurgency, economic and geopolitical interests have predominated. At the same time, the legacy of former policies constrains new ones, and Latin American elites, once dependent on the United States, have grown more autonomous in pursuing their own political projects.
In this essay, Hanna Garth reflects on how her several years of fieldwork in eastern Cuba and Los Angeles, California, inform her critiques of the ways scholars and practitioners look at issues of food access and food security. She argues policymakers should focus more on food acquisition practices to better understand and address a community’s dietary needs and its food preferences. Based on her research, Garth questions the current focus on only dietary needs, and demonstrates the importance of tracing people’s actual pathways for acquiring food.
Starting in the early 1950s, the SSRC cultivated interdisciplinary research into the role of language in culture and thought through its Committees on Psycholinguistics and Sociolinguistics. Here, Monica Heller examines how the latter committee (1963–1979) helped establish sociolinguistics in the United States, investigating the tensions between language, culture, and inequality. In exploring how the committee shifted focus from the developing world to marginalized groups in the United States, Heller addresses how the research agendas of these scholarly structures are influenced by the political dynamics or ideologies of their time, in this case the Cold War and decolonization.
Samar Al-Bulushi marks the twentieth anniversary of the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with a reflection on their legacy for the securitization of much of the African continent. Based on extensive field research in Kenya (supported by SSRC’s Dissertation Proposal Development and International Dissertation Research Fellowships), she analyzes the extension of American and European military presences in the region, the Kenyan military’s role in Somalia, and the ways in which police forces target Muslim citizens under the banner of antiterrorism. Even aid agencies and civil society organizations, Al-Bulushi argues, contribute to the discourse and practice of “countering violent extremism” with serious consequences.
Sixty summers ago, the SSRC’s Committee on the Simulation of Cognitive Processes organized a landmark training institute, in partnership with RAND and codirected by Herbert Simon. The ambitious goal was to push the use of digital computers as key tools in modeling human cognition. Here, Hunter Heyck reflects on the legacy of the institute in advancing the use of computer-assisted “models” in the social sciences and how participants’ future work was shaped by the event. The institute was initially described in a 1958 Items report by Simon and Allan Newell, which we now republish to accompany Heyck’s essay.
A collaboration between Duke University scholars and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) has focused on environmental justice questions in rural Alabama. In this essay, the partners describe their research on how sewage and related environmental problems intersect with broader social structural issues, and consider how to address these challenges. The authors also reflect on the process by which scholars and community-based organizations can work together, and what goes into a mutually rewarding partnership.