2018 SSRC Faculty Seed Grant Program Recipients Announced

The Division of the Social Sciences has announced the 2018 recipients of the inaugural seed grants for its Social Sciences Research Center. These one- to two-year awards support early or novel stage research, with a special focus on projects that transcend the boundaries of any one discipline. These grants, totaling $171,000, represent methods and questions from across the social sciences.

According to Amanda Woodward, interim dean of the social sciences and the William S. Gray Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, “These grants provide crucial support for emerging and evolving research initiatives, promoting our ability to foster team-based and multi-method approaches in all of our fields. I am excited to see these efforts continue and grateful to members of our advisory council and others who have supported us in the development of this new facility.”

The 2018 awardees are:

Early Warning System and Analysis (EWaSA)

Forrest Stuart, Sociology
Birali Runesha, Research Computing Center

The EWaSA research team is building a scalable infrastructure to analyze crime data against gang-related social media activity, develop new machine learning algorithms that classify datasets according to gang affiliation, establish preliminary network analysis relationships between gangs, and expand the number of gang aliases in the EWaSA database. This infrastructure will enable the development of a real-time, early warning alert system to warn school personnel, police, community leaders, and violence intervention organizations about pending or ongoing violent conflicts in a local area. The ultimate aim of the EWaSA research project is to build an automated tool to help reduce and prevent gang violence.

Economic, Social, and Environmental Drivers of Rural to Urban Migration in the Lower Mekong River Basin of Cambodia

Alan Kolata, Anthropology
Sabina Shaikh, Program on Global Environment

Preliminary research conducted by Kolata’s team in the Mekong River region of Cambodia revealed significant temporary and permanent migration of young adults from rural villages to Phnom Penh for employment, principally in the garment and service industries. This migration can be attributed to relative economic opportunities, which stem from increased investment in financial, service, and manufacturing industries in cities, but also from declining prospects for traditional rural life-ways due to changing land use and environmental conditions. The research team is now working to quantify and model the interpenetrating economic, social, and environmental drivers of migration from villages to urban centers. SSRC funds contribute directly toward conducting the physical measurements (sediment, nutrient and water regime flux) and socio-spatial analysis of environmental data, as well as conducting key informant, focus group and household interviews in smallholder agricultural, fishing and forest extraction communities directly affected by the Mekong River flood-pulse.

Examining the Social Roots of Youth Suicide

Anna Mueller, Comparative Human Development

Recent years have seen substantial increases in the adolescent suicide rate and increasing reports of suicide clusters in schools. Despite a plethora of research, little is known about why these concerning trends are happening or how to ameliorate them. Mueller’s previous research identified social conduits for suicide risk based on an ethnographic in-depth case study of a community with an enduring and significant adolescent suicide problem. This project will expand the ethnographic study to multiple sites in order to test the generalizability of the prior findings and evaluate additional theoretical propositions that were suggested by past work.

Criminal Governance in the Americas

Benjamin Lessing, Political Science

This project aims to take the first steps in addressing gaps in knowledge on criminal governance in the Americas. Lessing will begin by determining upper and lower bound estimates of the number of people living under criminal governance and creating a rigorous methodology for improving these estimates over time. He will then collaborate with colleagues in Latin America to analyze and define what criminal governance is, its various forms, its effects, what factors weaken or strengthen it, and how states succeed or fail in imposing a state presence in areas under gang control. SSRC funds will support the Chicago team’s research activities.

The Political Economy of Nostalgia: How Rust Belts Drive Commercial Conflict

Robert Gulotty, Political Science

After economic disruption, policymakers face calls to intervene on behalf of the displaced industry. Populist politicians respond to public demand for nationalist revitalization by advancing remunerative policies, such as raising tariffs or subsidizing production, aimed particularly at former centers of industry— “rust belts.” In the first phase, Gulotty will focus on the United States rust belt in the industrial Midwest and Northeast. Using a survey experiment, Gulotty will prime respondents with different backdrops to determine how support for regionally targeted subsidies and protection changes with post-industrial imagery. This study will help to determine the electoral value of these policies, and whether these effects complement or substitute for the benefits for subsidizing the post-industrial economy. Results from the first phase will enable an expansion of the project to a comparative study of rust belts in Northeast China, northern France, and the German Rhineland.

A Game-Theoretic Framework for Modeling Early Language Learning

Daniel Yurovsky, Psychology
Elliot Lipnowski, Economics

Leveraging ideas developed in the study of economic games, this project will model language acquisition as emergent from iterated coordination games between children and their parents. The key innovation in this work is to model children’s language learning not as a modular system, but rather as a component of a larger system of coordinating agents with a shared goal: to communicate successfully with each other. Yurovsky and Lipnowski are approaching this study from two angles: first, by developing theoretical models to describe the dynamics of communication and learning; and second, by studying the assumptions of these models empirically in experiments with human participants.

Opened in Fall 2017, the Social Sciences Research Center (SSRC) is designed to foster team-based and multi-method collaborative approaches to understanding complex social problems, addressing the rapidly evolving and growing needs for research infrastructure across the social sciences.  Much of the space is comprised of open-concept research bullpens, collaborative spaces, and a large workshop room that brings together faculty and students from across the division for research and programmatic activities. The Center is also home to the Masters Program in Computational Social Science, and space for several core research centers, including The Center for Spatial Data Science, The Knowledge Lab, and The Population Research Center.

The SSRC hosts regular workshops of faculty and students who use similar methods across disciplines, including the Quantitative Research Methods in Social and Health Sciences Workshop, the Demography Workshop, the Ethnography Incubator, and the new Economy and Law Initiative. Further, the SSRC hosts research development and methods training sessions and leverages the University’s other research facilities and support options, including the Research Computing Center, the Survey Lab, GIS support, and the Social Science Computing Center.