2020 SSRC Faculty Seed Grant Program and Graduate Student Fellowship Recipients Announced

The Division of the Social Sciences has announced the 2020 recipients of the Faculty Seed Grant program and the Graduate Student Fellowship program. Four projects were selected for funding through the seed grant initiative, which is in its third year. Eight fellowships were awarded through our Graduate Student Fellowships program, now in its second year. 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.

2020 Faculty Seed Grant Recipients

Democracy as Disorder: The Experience of Democracy in Manila and Elsewhere across the Global South

Marco Garrido, Sociology

This innovative study is designed to assess democracy in terms of people’s everyday and accumulated experience, or what can be described as “democracy in practice,” in order to understand why, despite strong support for democracy, people in many developing countries remain open to authoritarian forms of government. Garrido seeks to illuminate the underlying sensibility between people’s disparate attitudes towards democracy and to identify the “cognitive contexts” in which these attitudes appear self-evident. Instead of utilizing traditional democracy criteria including successful elections, the quality of institutions, and democratic attitudes, Garrido will combine ethnographic, comparative historical research, and theory building with theory testing to produce a more generalizable understanding of democratic backsliding in the context of the Global South.  

Neural Mechanisms of Sleep Consolidation

Howard Nusbaum, Psychology
Anna Clebone, Anesthesia and Critical Care
Keith Ruskin, Anesthesia and Critical Care

This project, joint between the Department of Psychology and the Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, represents a novel approach to understanding the causal mechanisms underlying the stabilization of long-term memories and provides a new approach to studying consciousness and unconscious processes that are critical to learning, memory, and thought. The research team hypothesizes that sleep spindle induction following administration of dexmedetomidine will lead to consolidation of perceptual learning. The research team will analyze whether this memory consolidation will be similar to that seen in natural sleep, producing new evidence for critical theories of learning and memory.

Unveiling: How and Why Women Stop Wearing the Hijab

Eman Abdelhadi, Comparative Human Development

This project investigates why individual women in the United States stop wearing the hijab (Muslim headscarf). Previously, research has primarily focused on women who chose to wear the hijab and how it impacted their identity. In this pilot study, Abdelhadi will conduct life history interviews of women in US cities with large Muslim populations who have removed the hijab. Abdelhadi will examine the circumstances that led to the removal of the hijab and the consequences thereof, in order to fill an empirical gap in the literature and extend or revise existing theories of role exit.

Assessing the Incidence and Quality of Police Encounters with Male Minority Youth via the Procedural Language Used in Police Broadcast Communications

Margaret Beale Spencer, Comparative Human Development

This unique experiment utilizes broadcast police communications (BPC) to study the impact of policing practices on male minority youth and their communities. Using an archive of Chicago Police Department BPC, the research team will identify linguistic and spatial patterns associated with negative youth-police interactions. The study will provide a novel measure of law enforcement office-minority male youth interaction quality across a large number of interactions, characterizing the prevalence of adverse events relative to non-events. The synthesized communications data is an attempt to determine whether contextual effects shape institutional practices vis-à-vis procedural language. The project also seeks to provide proof of concept for a novel approach to the use of machine learning technologies to study qualitative data in the form of audio recordings, reflexive decision-making by institutional actors experiencing acute stress, and how language shapes in-the-moment decision making processes in instances of high uncertainty. This project will also generate new knowledge in automated speech recognition.

2020 Graduate Student Fellows

Aid, Arms, and Advisors: Limited Intervention in Conflict

Alexandra Chinchilla, Political Science

Governments spend large amounts of blood and treasure intervening in intra-state conflicts. Sometimes they intervene directly by sending ground combat troops. More often, since direct intervention is costly and requires domestic political support, states choose to support a proxy in the conflict with aid, arms, or advisors rather than intervene directly. Sending advisors, however, is costly and could lead to escalation. States intervene with military advisors to manage two problems in proxy warfare: preference divergence between the intervener and its proxy, and low proxy military capability. In this project, Chinchilla develops a formal model which relates kinds of support such as money, arms, and military advisors, and the proxy’s degree of alignment with the intervener’s preferences and its military capability. She outlines when advisors increase proxy performance and limit the proxy’s pursuit of goals not shared by the intervener. Chinchilla uses this model to guide empirical analysis of quantitative data on intervention with military advisors and case studies on US intervention in El Salvador (1979-1989); Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1978-79); and Russian and US intervention in Ukraine (2014-). The case studies are based on interviews and archival research at six physical archives and three digital archives.

Enregistering Democracy: Gender and Political Discourse in Eastern Indonesia

Rafadi Hakim, Anthropology

By investigating Indonesia’s recent transformation into the world’s third largest democracy, my dissertation analyzes how gendered inequalities are disrupted and reconfigured. Since the turn to democracy in 1998, Indonesian civil society activists claim that politically marginalized women in the rural areas can now talk back to their government, and not only listen to it. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all Indonesians are now equal participants in political life. Although new laws on local autonomy have been instated in 2014 to grant more financial resources to rural communities, structural forms of gendered inequality continue to persist even two decades after Indonesia’s turn to democracy. Through 12 months of fieldwork in Kupang, a rural and periurban eastern Indonesian locale, Hakim’s dissertation research contends that neither formal laws nor financial resources are sufficient to make democratic public spheres inclusive. By critically investigating NGO- and faith-mediated interventions that mobilize rural Indonesian women into roles of political speakerhood, this dissertation asks the following question: how do gendered differences underlie access to registers of democratic political discourse?

History in Question and Crisis: Romani Policy, Political Organization and Grassroots Activism in Postwar Hungary, 1945-2015

Roy Kimmey, History

When is a social question elevated to a political crisis? How can we as social scientists provide an account of the emergence, life, and afterlife of these categories? Kimmey’s dissertation traces the history of one such social question, the Hungarian state socialist “Gypsy question” (cigánykérdés). So doing, he examines its postwar trajectory and concludes with its perpetuation post-1989, through an unexpected reemergence in the 2015 “Migration Crisis.” How did the question of the internal movement, assimilation, and integration of Roma, members of the largest non-state ethnic minority in Europe, become hitched in our present moment to the crisis of transnational refugee movement?

Kimmey argues that historical “questions” provide the content and framework for imagining and acting in present-day “crises.” Often in negative, affectively charged and reactive language, contemporary Hungarian politicians as well as government-allied journalists cast the “Migration Crisis” in counterfactual historical terms. They predict the failure of future multicultural politics in one area, the Migration Crisis, by drawing upon a purported historical and ongoing failure in another: integration politics in the transition from state socialism to European Union liberalism. How can we write the history of social questions and crises when history becomes a weapon of exclusion, discrimination, and xenophobia?

The Emergence of Political Careers and Parties, New York 1777-1821

Benjamin Rohr, Sociology

Focusing on the State of New York, the pivot for the first national party system in America, this project investigates the emergence of modern electoral parties after the War of Independence. It provides a systematic analysis of the political and social factors that structured the actions of those individuals who built the first parties. The project consists of two parts. Part I investigates the structure of political careers between 1777 and 1821. In America the organization of parties was intrinsically bound up with the organization of the state, and in particular the creation of and struggle over political offices. Understanding the bases on which political elites selected themselves into these newly emerging parties, thus, requires close attention to the larger system of offices that they had to navigate. To do so, Rohr constructs a novel database of all civil, judicial, and military offices from the federal to the state and county level. Part II looks at how political elites used existing relationships (most importantly kinship, but also co-attendance of colleges, and co-membership in clubs and societies) to form networks of political support that spanned across space and different levels of government.

The Psychology of Morbid Curiosity

Coltan Scrivner, Comparative Human Development

Are you curious about what Gladiatorial fights in the Coliseum of Ancient Rome were like? Have you ever wondered how an autopsy is performed? Would you watch a documentary about a famous serial killer? If there was a supposedly haunted place in your city, would you be tempted to visit? Most people would answer yes to at least one of these questions. But why are people curious about phenomena that might be classified as morbid? Surprisingly, psychologists have largely ignored morbid curiosity as a topic of study. In this research project, Scrivner investigates the psychological nature of morbid curiosity by creating the Morbid Curiosity Scale (MCS), evaluating its ability to predict behavioral outcomes, and assessing its relationship with personality. For example, one task involves participants inspecting a cabinet of curiosities while wearing eye tracking glasses. After inspection, participants choose a few items to pick up and inspect and a few items to learn more about, allowing for the differentiation of perceptual and epistemic curiosity about morbid items. In addition to a community sample, some participants will be recruited from a morbid curiosity carnival in Denver, Colorado and an Oddities and Curiosities Expo in Chicago, Illinois.

In Search of Emancipation: black freedom and claims for land, 1863-1945

Larry Svabek, Political Science

Larry Svabek is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His work engages with questions of democratic theory and racial oppression utilizing the methods of intellectual history.  Larry’s dissertation, “In Search of Emancipation: Black Freedom and Claims for Land Ownership,” tracks the multiple conceptions of land ownership that proliferated among scholars, activists, and authors during Reconstruction and in the wake of its collapse. Through the work of Thaddeus Stevens, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois, he shows how the inability to own land came to define the struggle for black political freedom even in contexts in which land no longer represented a major source of wealth accumulation. Contemporary scholarship on the Reconstruction Era values land for its economic potential, while democratic theorists frequently disregard the material conditions necessary to participate as an active citizen. Larry argues against both of these strands of thinking, emphasizing how the Reconstruction attempt to secure land to freed slaves and the subsequent reflections on that event reveals political arguments for guaranteeing land to peoples of an interracial democratic polity.

Larry holds a BA in Political Science, Economics, and Critical Theory from Northwestern University and an MA from the University of Chicago.

Community Partisanship: How Local Processes Produce National Politics

Stephanie Ternullo, Sociology

Stephanie Ternullo’s dissertation research assesses how the communities where people live shape the way they understand national politics. While the red and blue squares of election-night maps are a familiar cultural touchstone for most Americans, we have little understanding of how that patchwork emerges from the everyday processes and interactions of the people who live within it. To understand how local contexts produce the geography of American politics, the dissertation follows three communities through the 2020 presidential campaign. Iverson, Meriville, and Williston are similar blue-collar, Midwestern towns located in predominately rural counties, and yet they vote for opposing parties in presidential elections: Iverson is staunchly democratic, Meriville is devoutly Republican, and Williston could go either way. What is it about these communities that influences similar people to vote differently? To answer this question, quantitative methods were used to identify the towns, and draw on longitudinal, in-depth interviews with voters and community leaders during the election for the bulk of the analysis. This research advances the scholarship on partisanship and spatial polarization in American politics by re-orienting its focus away from individuals’ demographics and toward the place-based processes of sense-making that help people understand the complex political world.

The Architecture of Grassroots-Oriented Corporate Philanthropy in Contemporary China

Yuhao Zhuang, Sociology and Business

Prevalent research has suggested that the existence of durable collaborations among non-state independent actors for collective ends are often incompatible with a repressive state aiming to perpetuate social control, yet little is known about how such collaborations located beyond the state system can also be fostered by repressive regimes. Drawing on extensive interviews, participant observation, and organizational- and donation-level longitudinal data, Zhuang intends to explore why firms in China engage with grassroots nonprofit organizations – charitable groups formally unaffiliated with the government – in corporate philanthropy initiatives. To address this puzzle, Zhuang looks into the oft-neglected relationship between heightened involvement of the authoritarian state and the rise of grassroots-oriented corporate philanthropy. More specifically, he traces 1) how performance competition among local-level government bureaus unintendedly creates opportunities for firms to donate to grassroots nonprofits and 2) how grassroots nonprofits’ informal ties with the state apparatuses signal political recognition and confer legitimacy in the eyes of potential corporate funders. This project informs a constructive perspective on the role of repressive regimes in civil society development and seeks to contribute to political sociology and organizational theory.

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.