2019 SSRC Faculty Seed Grant Program and Graduate Student Fellowship Recipients Announced

The Division of the Social Sciences has announced the 2019 recipients of the Faculty Seed Grant program and the Graduate Student Fellowship program. Three projects were selected for funding through the seed grant initiative, which is in its second year. Eight graduate students were selected to be inaugural fellows through our new Graduate Student Fellowships program. Fellows, who are in their final throes of dissertation write-up, receive a dedicated workspace in the Social Sciences Research Center and a small research stipend.

2019 Faculty Seed Grant Recipients

Disguising Xenophobia through Economic Narratives

Leonardo Bursztyn, Economics

This unique experiment is designed to test the role of “common knowledge of excuses” in shaping political behavior. With collaborators at the Norweigan School of Economics and the University of Bonn, Bursztyn has formulated an experiment that combines sociological and psychological insights on social image concerns and status threat with economic signaling theory and methodology. The research team studies participants’ willingness to publicly express anti-immigrant views, in this case by publicly donating to an anti-immigrant organization, with half of respondents receiving evidence of an economic “excuse” for anti-immigrant sentiment. They expect their findings to reveal that the group given the economic excuse is more likely to publicly donate to an anti-immigrant organization. The team plans to replicate their findings in a large-scale experiment in WhatsApp groups to assess the extent to which the “excuse” mechanism affects behavioral outcomes in field settings.

Brains and Bacteria: Inter-species Interactions and the Neural Representation of Time

Brian Prendergast, Psychology
Vanessa Leone, Medicine
Eugene Chang, Medicine

The project aims to reveal novel insights into how gut bacteria participate in the internalization representation of time. By studying circadian rhythms in “germ-free” mice born and raised in sterile environments, using a non-invasive, wireless method for continuous assessment the researchers developed in preliminary work, the team will investigate the consequences of complete elimination of the gut microbiota on the mammalian circadian system. In the studies, they will use gnotobiotic germ-free mice and control mice (mice with a normal complement of bacteria and other micro-organisms) to characterize circadian clocks in the brain and their impact on behavior. The project has the potential to expand the boundaries of what has classically been considered the factors that affect brain function, and will be the first characterization of the circadian system absent commensal bacteria. The studies will also offer opportunities to address fundamental questions about how the clock operates under baseline conditions, and how the system responds to environmental and social challenges.

Street Psychology: Exploring the Link Between Pedestrian Experience and Cognitive Well-Being

Marc Berman, Psychology
Emily Talen, Social Sciences

In this project, Talen and Berman will examine the psychological impact of varying pedestrian experiences as measured by the qualities of order, variety, scale, and enclosure. They will address this fundamental research question using insights from the neuroscience of architectural objects, public space, and natural settings, and evaluating cognitive effects of urban form at the street-level, from the pedestrian’s viewpoint. By integrating environmental neuroscience and urban design-related principles, Talen and Berman aim to discover which mental health benefits are driven by certain visual patterns, with the end goal of optimizing the visual properties of the built environment to create more restorative spaces for humans: improving peoples’ mood and cognitive functioning.

2019 Graduate Student Fellows

Fanatics, Fools, and Madmen: The International Causes and Consequences of Perceived Irrationality and Incompetence

Nicholas Campbell-Seremetis, Political Science

Fundamental to strategic interactions are beliefs about how counterparts think, but intuitive political science lacks conceptual or empirical work on this phenomenon. This project introduces a novel framework of beliefs about counterparts’ judgment into international relations, and examines the causes and consequences of variation in these beliefs. Campbell-Seremetis tests the hypotheses that a) identity shapes beliefs about the rationality of adversary judgment, and b) people are less likely to attempt reasonable persuasion of those perceived as biased, less inclined to compromise with those perceived as incompetent, and may abstain from all diplomacy with those they believe are biased and incompetent. The hypotheses are tested using a mix of survey experiments and case studies. Campbell-Seremetis examines the factors that influence assessments of adversary rationality, and how beliefs about the rationality of adversary judgment impact diplomatic preferences. He tests the applicability of the theory to elites through a within-case comparative study of US officials’ beliefs about the judgment of, and diplomatic preferences towards, their adversaries in the Korean War.

David Hume, Niccolò Machiavelli, and the Acquisitive Passions

Danielle Charette, Committee on Social Thought

Charette examines Machiavelli’s legacy in the Scottish Enlightenment and investigates the role that Florentine political thought played in eighteenth-century concepts of global trade. Her dissertation, titled “Hume, Machiavelli, and the Acquisitive Passions,” builds on the premise that a strand of Machiavelli’s thought is very much alive in the historical and political writings of David Hume, despite the traditional portrait of Hume as an optimistic proponent of commercial progress. However, by demonstrating Hume’s many allusions to Machiavelli, this project highlights the markedly political concerns that shaped Hume’s political economy and, on a macro level, revisits the intellectual history of both classical republicanism and commercial liberalism. She explores Hume’s rhetoric of virtue and industry in his Essays: Political and Moral and Political Discourses, as well as Hume’s many debts to Italian historiography in his History of England.

Political Participation and Campaign Finance in American Democracy

Nicholas Judd, Sociology

Using a combination of administrative campaign finance records and interviews with campaign contributors, this project provides a donor’s-eye view of participation in federal politics and campaigns with an overarching aim to describe the structure of coalitions within political parties and the ties that connect political elites, financial elites, members of each party’s rank and file, and the public. Studying the “careers” of individual donors over time, this project identifies which donors become persistently involved in politics and which do not. This project also assesses stability and change in the alignment of large- and small-dollar donors within the same party over time (1980-2014). Through interviews, this project will examine how donors engage with candidates, parties, and one another, how they understand their role within political parties, and the meanings they attach to this form of participation.

Restoration Through Urban Greenspace Experience

Omid Kardan, Psychology

Rapid urbanization has drastically decreased human-nature interactions. While urban living has many advantages, it is also associated with increased stress, and worse physical and mental health. Current mapping technologies generate walking directions based on distance to a location. As part of the Environmental Neuroscience Lab, Kardan worked on a web platform that integrates data from satellite imagery, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), sound scores, and reported crimes to generate the most restorative (natural, peaceful, and safe) routes to walk in one neighborhood of the City of Chicago (Hyde Park, 4.27 km2, pop. ~27,000). He proposes an experience sampling survey across Hyde Park to optimize the parameters of the algorithm used in the application to better match the subjective perceptions of the residents in their walks. The optimization will also allow for weighing the parameters differently based on time of the day/season, and later expanding the models to cover all of Chicago. By maximizing exposure to natural elements while walking/biking through urban environments, this project will enable city residents to get the benefits of nature exposure while completing their daily errands or commuting to work, which will promote a collective value for interacting with nature in the urbanized society.

Revisiting lineage: a life course approach to relatedness at the Late Shang capital of Yinxu (ca. 1200-1050BCE)

Lauren Ledin, Anthropology

This project uses data from archaeologically-excavated skeletal remains and mortuary contexts to rethink kinship in early China. The Late Shang period (c.1200-1050BCE) is often cited as the wellspring of Chinese civilization, and is understood to have been organized according to a corporate lineage kinship structure that permeated all aspects of life. This structure is presumed to have been stable and unforgivingly rigid, however, this depiction of stability is at odds with archaeological evidence of rapid material and ideological change for the same time period, and looking at the past as if it was populated by large corporate entities has limited what researchers are able say about the quotidian aspects of early China. Drawing from modern ethnographic work on Chinese kinship that seeks to escape the “lineage paradigm,” anthropological questions about what kinship is and is not, and sociological life course theory’s approach to longitudinal changes in identity, this project seeks to trace currents of change within and alongside lineage kinship that have evaded identification by studies relying on formalist categories and biological definitions, in hopes of better understanding this important period in Chinese history.

The Symbolic Image of Central Europe: Jewish Representation in Czechoslovak Culture, 1945-1975

Ilana McQuinn, History

McQuinn tracks postwar appearance of Jewish themes in Czechoslovak literature, films, and theater from 1945, through its peak during destalinization, to its forced decline in the early 1970s. Using text mining and data analysis methods with an examination of the “life-span” of a work (its creation, state approval, distribution, circulation, interpretation, and recirculation or adaptation), she uncovers the central role these works played in broader politics, society, and culture. She argues that the cultural elite used Jewish experiences to draw links between authoritarian regimes, de-individualization and social injustice. In personalizing and articulating this critique of authoritarian politics, these works played a central role in developing ideas about political reform after Stalinism.

Decolonizing the Empire by Treaties: Princely States and the Quest for a Federal India

Sarath Pillai, History

Pillai studies the rise of federalist ideas in indirectly ruled parts of the British empire in the 1920s through 1940s. His project focuses on the federalist advocacy of the Indian princely states, which had treaty relations with the British, for an all-India federation consisting of directly ruled British provinces and indirectly ruled princely states. In colonial South Asia, nation-state and federation were two rival projects grounded in the political and legal thought engendered by a Manichean empire consisting of direct and indirect British rule. Pillai’s project throws into sharp relief the politico-legal bases of these competing state-making projects in decolonizing South Asia. The eventual success of the argument for nation-state, in many ways, led to the partition of the subcontinent and the establishment of a centralized unitary state in India. The historiographical hold of the nation-state in decolonizing South Asia is such that there is hardly any study on the colonial lives of federalist thoughts in South Asia and the alternative visions of postcolonial statehood that they fostered. This project also situates federalist ideals in colonial India in the larger context of British imperial political thought and constitutionalism on the one hand, and ideas of federation in USA, imperial Germany, Canada, Switzerland, and British Malay on the other.

Factories of Modernity: Labor, Aesthetics, and the Racial Politics of Historical Capitalism

Lucas Pinheiro, Political Science

Pinheiro draws on methods from political science and history to argue that factories acted as decisive yet under-recognized stages for political thought and practice in Britain, North America, and West Africa from 1688 to 1807. From this historical study, he develops a new conceptual framework for understanding capitalist society and confronting its longstanding structures of socioeconomic domination, especially as these relate to questions of inequality, poverty, and racialization. Moving between canonical texts—by the likes of John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke—and unpublished manuscripts left behind by factory owners, imperial administrators, painters, abolitionists, and refugees from Atlantic slavery, each chapter reimagines the factory as a microcosm of modernity: a space in which canonical ideas and ordinary experiences of labor, aesthetics, and race were co-constituted. The historical spaces Pinheiro refers to as “factories of modernity” encompass an unfamiliar plurality of pre-industrial environments—workhouses, manufactories, plantations, colonies—where labor was performed, reproduced, and disciplined. By learning from these historical factories, he concludes that critical theories of capitalist society can be made more responsive to concrete yet neglected sites of exploitation in the present.

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.

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