SSRC Graduate Student Fellows

Launched in 2019, the SSRC Graduate Student Fellowship Program provides PhD students in the Division of the Social Sciences who are in their final throes of dissertation write-up with a dedicated workspace in the Social Sciences Research Center. Fellows were selected from a pool of applicants with a special focus on those using multiple methods in their research programs.

2023 Fellows

Placing the Picts: An archaeology of place, landscape, and social difference in 1st millennium CE northern Britain

Daniel R. Hansen headshotDaniel R. Hansen, Anthropology

The Picts, inhabitants of northern Britain ca. 300–900 CE, have occupied an often-ambiguous role in Scottish and European historical narrative. Interested actors have contested their identity throughout the modern era, often implicating Pictish monuments and sites in understandings of local, national, and supranational identities. Yet the working-out of social difference via (re)engagement with material remains is as much a phenomenon of the Pictish period as it is of modernity. The archaeological record reveals cases of re-engagement with places and monuments from the prehistoric past, while formal similarities and influences in site plan, settlement style, and art have been discovered with respect to other groups.

I therefore hypothesize 1) that actors working under varying material and ideological conditions define Pictish identity through acts of difference-making 2) that place serves as a significant medium for this creation of difference in both the past and the present, and 3) that acts of difference-making can be observed through careful analytical attention to re-engagement. This project explores an array of landscape features across Pictland and uses archaeological, ethnographic, and archival methods to examine the interpretation and construction of Pictishness, from late antiquity through modernity and the contemporary world.

Narrative Unity in the Odyssey and in Dreams

Emma Lunbeck headshotEmma Lunbeck, John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought

My research project approaches the question of narrative unity from two angles.

To begin, I investigate the narrative unity of dreams. Focusing on psychoanalytic theories of dreaming and dream interpretation, I explore the original break between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung. As I reconstruct the debate between these two great thinkers (and dreamers) over the meaning of dreams, I argue that Freud denies the dream any essential or intrinsic unity, while Jung emphasizes that the dream, like a work of art, is a natural whole.

I turn next to a reading of Homer’s Odyssey and the scholarly debates, over the last two hundred years, over whether or not the epic can be considered a unified whole (along with the closely related question of whether it represents the work of a single mind). Beginning with Aristotle, who insists in the Poetics that Homer’s epic is indeed a unity, and spanning the debates between the Analysts and the Unitarians, I ask why the Odyssey’s narrative (dis)unity has excited such powerfully antithetical responses.

Neither the modern psychoanalytic theories of dreaming, nor the ancient epic, are privileged as primary; rather, these two objects of study are conceived as mutually illuminating. 

“The World’s Largest Democracy”: Hindu Nationalism, Indian Statecraft and the Indian-American Diaspora

Nisarg Mehta headshotNisarg Mehta, Sociology

This dissertation project applies a transnational approach to examine a political paradox—Indian-American majority support for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his conservative, Hindu Nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), despite overwhelming support for President Biden and the Democratic party in the U.S. How do we reconcile Indian-American center-left domestic politics in the U.S. with their support for the religious far-right in India? Taking this puzzle as a starting point, this project examines the role the Indian-American diaspora plays in the contemporary political successes of the BJP, and the resurgence of Hindu nationalism in India. Combining standard ethnographic practices (participant-observation, informal and formal, semi-structured interviews) with historical and archival research in the National Archives of India, I trace the development of India’s diaspora policy from Independence to the present day and show that Indian-Americans’ homeland political engagement has been cultivated by the Indian State as a response to the challenges posed by decolonization. In the present day, this cultivation continues to pay unexpected dividends both in India and abroad, making possible political spectacles like the 2019 Howdy Modi rally in Houston, Texas. Ultimately, this project complicates the relationship between nationalism and transnationalism—it explicates empirically the surprising ways in which transnational migrants might work to shore up national borders, rather than undermine them.

2020 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 U.S. intervention in El Salvador (1979–89); Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1978–79); and Russian and U.S. 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, Hakim’s 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 PhD 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.  Svabek’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.

2019 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 U.S. officials’ beliefs about the judgment of, and diplomatic preferences toward, 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. 1200–1050 BCE)

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.1200–1050 BCE) 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 the U.S., 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.