Social Sciences Blog
I am thankful to the Social Sciences Division of the University of Chicago for the Long-term Research Grant. It has funded nine months of my ethnographic fieldwork on the politics of bio-cultural diversity conservation on India’s north-eastern frontier. From July 2015 to March 2016, the university’s generous grant allowed me to continue my research in Sikkim – a border state of particular ecological and geopolitical significance.
Self-interest is a fundamental human motive. However, individuals also care deeply about justice, fairness, and equality. My dissertation combines work in social psychology, behavioral economics, and cognitive neuroscience to investigate how one’s perspective influences moral decisions, as well as how individual differences in justice motives can predict neural activity within different perspective-taking contexts. The Social Sciences Division Research Grant has been essential to carrying out these investigations.
Field Notes on Alchemy: Investigating Its Influence on Agriculture, Husbandry, and the Life Sciences
In my dissertation I am researching the influence that the alchemical concept of “immanent vitalism” had on various fields not traditionally associated with alchemy: husbandry, agricultural improvement projects, horticulture, botany, and the incipient “life sciences,” such as they were, in mid-to-late seventeenth-century England and its colonial sphere.
The generous support of the Social Sciences Division enabled me to conduct a research study with the entire 9th grade class at University Heights High School in the Bronx, New York. My research focuses on the cognitive and socio-emotional benefits of narrative. This project examines how narrative and personal storytelling can impact students' feelings of empathy.
My dissertation asks how social and economic disadvantage shape poor mothers’ capacities to achieve privacy. Privacy is a salient cultural value in the U.S., with over three quarters of Americans reporting that privacy is “very important” to them. Yet most of what we know about privacy is based on the experiences of affluent people. We know little about what privacy means for people living in poverty, who often lack the resources to pay for privacy (think data encryption software, gated communities, etc…) and whose communities are disproportionately affected by state surveillance.
Though his thought is now embroiled in controversy, if Carl Schmitt’s assertion that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” is true, then the reverse of his formulation suggests that the theological is political. The political is the point at which both the religious and theological is secularized. And if theology is political, this phenomenon is therefore observable, quantifiable, and falsifiable.
Thanks to the generous support provided by the Division of Social Sciences Travel Grant, I have been able to spend much of the last year (July 2015 to May 2016) undertaking intensive research for my dissertation in Spain and Morocco. My dissertation project—entitled “Dynastic Ideology, Historical Writing and the Chancery in al-Andalus and the Maghrib: A Study of Itinerant Court Secretaries (Kuttāb) in the Late Medieval Islamic West”— explores the relationship between intellectual networks, historical writing and political power in fourteenth-century Iberia and North Africa.
The SSD short-term research grant allowed me to compile new datasets to support my research program on art markets. I study contemporary and ancient art markets, both of which have interesting economic, sociological, and legal aspects. But the most exciting venture to emerge from my current work is a new project with broad public policy applications: Modeling the Antiquities Trade in Iraq and Syria (MANTIS).
The Division of the Social Sciences Short-Term Research Grant supported a preliminary archaeological field season at my dissertation site in Ngazobil, Senegal. My project targets the archaeology and history of the Saint Joseph de Ngazobil Catholic mission, founded by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (known as Spiritans) in the mid-nineteenth century. My research examines the relationship between foodways (the cultivation, production, and consumption of food and drink) and the performance of identity in the context of colonialism and conversion in French West Africa.
The SSD Travel Grant allowed me to travel to South Africa to conduct follow-up dissertation research, both ethnographic and archival. My dissertation provides an analysis of how the advertising industry in South Africa targets markets according to race and class.