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February 20, 2018

Social Sciences Division Awards Seed Funding

The Division of the Social Sciences recently announced the recipients of the inaugural seed grants for its Social Science Research Center (SSRC).

The grants, which total $171,000, were awarded to a total of eight professors working on six interdisciplinary research projects. The SSRC, which opened in fall 2017, is a nearly 6,000-square-foot facility located above the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore. It seeks to bring together faculty and students from across all social science disciplines in order to develop a better understanding of complex social problems.

The eight professors awarded grants are Robert Gulotty, assistant professor in political science; Anna Mueller, assistant professor in comparative human development; Benjamin Lessing, assistant professor in political science; Alan Kolata, professor of anthropology; Forrest Stuart, assistant professor in sociology; Birali Runesha, director of the Research Computing Center; Daniel Yurovsky, assistant professor in psychology; and Elliot Lipnowski, assistant professor in economics.

Gulotty was awarded the grant for his project “The Political Economy of Nostalgia: How Rust Belts Drive Commercial Conflict.”

“Governments around the world are dealing with rust belts...by adopting all sorts of subsidies and protectionist policies,” Gulotty wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. “Here it seems that long-lost industries and regions are able to convince governments to offer them support.”

Gulotty’s research aims to explain the gap between the political power of “concentrated interests” and the material power of the aforementioned industries. He plans to use the seed grant to develop the pilot of a survey experiment that will look at the effects of closed factories on support for protectionist policies in the U.S. 

Mueller won the grant for her project “Examining the Social Roots of Youth Suicide.”

“My research focuses on understanding the role of social experiences in generating youth’s vulnerability to psychological pain and hopelessness and to seeing suicide as an option,” Mueller wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. She noted that “the grant comes at a tremendously useful time,” as she has already scheduled two trips to meet with leaders of communities that deal with high rates of adolescent suicide about participation in her research.

Lessing’s project, “Criminal Governance in the Americas,” aims to “measure how criminal governance [non-state actors being in control of a region] varies over time and space.” Lessing plans to use the SSRC grant to conduct research in both Chicago and Latin America, to build an estimate of criminal governance, and to refine his methodology in the process.

“A startling and understudied truth [is that]...the number of people living under some form of criminal governance is in the tens if not hundreds of millions,” Lessing wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.

Kolata’s project is titled “Economic, Social, and Environmental Drivers of Rural to Urban Migration in the Lower Mekong River Basin of Cambodia.” He explained that in recent years, constructions along the river have caused changes in fishing and agriculture.

“What we’re trying to do [with the grant money] is integrate two forms of analysis,” he said, speaking about the physical and social sciences. His team, which includes an economist, ecologist, and hydrologist, will try to determine how people are responding to developments by both conducting physical measurements of sediments and nutrients in Cambodia and by conducting interviews with Cambodian villagers as well as migrants to the cities.

Stuart and Runesha were awarded the grant for their collaboration, “Early Warning System and Analysis.” According to the social sciences division’s announcement, the pair hope to ultimately build a tool to help reduce and prevent gang violence by developing “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.”

Yurovsky and Lipnowski also won the grant for a collaborative project.  Their project, “A Game-Theoretic Framework for Modeling Early Language Learning,” seeks to produce a better understanding of the mechanics of children’s language learning.

Yurovsky said he is interested in learning about the apparent disparity between how good children are at learning languages quickly and how bad they are at learning its nuances. The pair plan to use the grant to “do more work on the formal modeling of what’s going on,” or, as Yurovsky put it, to “think of language as an economic game” and ask, “What kinds of interactions lead to good language learning?”  

Some awardees expressed their appreciation not only for the grants they received, but also for the creation of the SSRC.

“Sometimes the best ideas come from our ability to chat casually with colleagues that share our general interests but that have different methodological expertise,” Mueller wrote. “Lowering the barriers to those informal conversations can be extremely generative.”

Gulotty agreed, writing, “Groundbreaking ideas do not come about by struggling by oneself in a dark corner of a library.”

“These seed grants are absolutely essential for investigators to develop enough data and have collaborations with people they might not otherwise be in conversation with,” Kolata said.

Correction on Feb. 21, 2018, 7:54 p.m. CST:

An earlier version of this article misstated Mueller's title. She is an assistant professor in comparative human development, not sociology. The Maroon regrets this error.

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