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.
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 "big data" project for its day, the SSRC's The American Soldier series was deeply influential in shaping the social science of military organization and in developing new research methods. On the occasion of its four volumes and the underlying trove of data becoming openly accessible, Items republishes several archival essays on The American Soldier. Here, Rodrigo Ugarte provides an overview of the project's origins and impact.
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.
The United Nations has included higher education as relevant to its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this Items essay, Joan Dassin considers the role that scholarships for underrepresented citizens of developing countries can play in deepening the ways in which universities contribute to the public good. Drawing on the example of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), Dassin argues for both rigorous modes of evaluating the impact of scholarship programs and for an expansive notion of impact that extends beyond technical training and narrow economic goals and addresses inequalities within and across countries.
Historian of science James Andrews reflects on key moments in the twentieth century in which authoritarian regimes and, at times, democratic ones, have significantly interfered in the enterprise of scientific research. Taking examples from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, Andrews examines how distortions to the process of peer review and other interventions constitute “warning signs” that portend limits to the autonomy and progress of science that may have resonance today.
Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, calls attention to a central tension in contemporary higher education. On the one hand, universities around the world seek more and more international students and greater international collaboration for a range of academic and pragmatic reasons. On the other, Goodman notes the recent rise of a kind of “educational nationalism,” in the United States and around the world, that places limits on the flows of people and ideas, and on the forging of partnerships. He calls for a constructive form of nationalism that competes to “globalize curricula, professors, and the student body.”
Motivated by concerns over the problems and tensions of the present, Herbert Gans makes the case for the study of the future—that is, how individuals and institutions imagine and construct future lives and worlds. Understanding future constructions, and their differences across the boundaries of class, gender, race, generation, religion, and other social markers, provides a window into conflicts of the present and new possibilities for engaging them.