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Social Sciences

Pre-doctoral fellows have been nominated by their programs and are selected through a competitive review process based on the creativity and impact of the research they are pursuing. The abstracts for recipients in the social sciences describe the framework, aims, and significance of each fellow’s dissertation and demonstrate the breadth of Rackham doctoral programs.

Places for the Displaced: Forcibly Displaced Persons in Juba, South Sudan
Timothy Berke, Urban and Regional Planning

Around the world, the number of people displaced from their homes continues to increase due to political conflict and climate change. Historically, an encampment approach has been used to house displaced persons by UN agencies and host nations. However, approximately sixty percent live in urban areas, not camps. Thus, there is a mismatch between where humanitarian aid is being provided and where it is needed. One important reason this seems to occur is that little is known about how displaced persons manage urban life and how they integrate with often impoverished hosting populations. This proposed project is a comparative multi-case study of three neighborhoods where displaced persons reside in Juba, South Sudan. Semi-structured interviews (approximately 20) and a household survey (n=240) will be conducted to 1) better understand the livelihood opportunities and barriers urban settings provide displaced persons, and 2) the impact the arrival of displaced persons has on cities and host communities.

The Emotional Landscape of the American Media and Its Relationship to Public Opinion
Erin Cikanek, Political Science

Political participation in the United States is thought to be predicted by individual characteristics that are difficult to change: income and education. These traits are generally consistent between elections, leaving this theory ill equipped to explain recent elections with high turnout and shifting voter demographics. My dissertation argues shifting changes in voting, political behavior, and public opinion are due to intense emotions among the American public, fueled by the emotional signals from televised broadcast news programs. My dissertation addresses measurement deficiencies in how emotion is measured via text, surveys the emotional landscape of the broadcast media environment using a unique supervised learning technique, and examines how emotional signals in the broadcast media environment relate to public opinion. I argue the emotionality of broadcast news explains much of American politics over the past two decades, with many of the shifts in political behavior and political animosity being driven by the greater emotional intensity of news anchors and an influx of anger into the information that citizens receive.

The Development and Application of Decision Analytic Methods to Evaluate Pediatric Health Interventions
Ellen Kim DeLuca, Health Services Organization and Policy

Decision analysis and economic evaluations are routinely used by many countries to make evidence-based decisions for resource allocation, healthcare agenda setting, and policy recommendations. However, applying decision analytic methods to value child health interventions presents challenges that are unique to pediatric populations. My dissertation develops and applies decision analytic methods to better evaluate pediatric health interventions. The objective of the first part of my dissertation is to create a new preference-based health-related quality of life instrument for children that is suitable for use in economic evaluations: the PedsUtil scoring system. The objective of the second part of my dissertation is to apply decision analytic methods to project long-term health and economic outcomes of newborn screening for Krabbe disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder. Collectively, these studies will advance the field of economic evaluation in child health to allow decision-makers to support more equitable and efficient use of health services for children.

Navigation and Memory Circuits of the Retrosplenial Cortex
Megha Ghosh, Psychology

Rhythmic synchrony among neurons supports successful spatial navigation. Here we studied the rhythms of the retrosplenial cortex (RSC), a brain region critical for navigation and memory. In Chapter 1, we identify a unique fast oscillation in the RSC that is most prominently seen during REM sleep and navigation. We have named these rhythms “splines” because they visually resemble mechanical splines—the interlocking teeth on mechanical gears. We show that splines are the signature of inter-hemispheric communication. Remarkably, unlike any other fast rhythms found before, splines are anti-phase across hemispheres, highlighting their uniqueness. In Chapter 2, we identify new processes of memory consolidation between the hippocampus and RSC during non-REM sleep, pinpointing how navigational memories can be consolidated during sleep. In Chapter 3, using computational models, we mechanistically explain the neural underpinnings of the unique RSC rhythms, providing fundamental mechanistic insight into how the RSC supports both navigation and memory consolidation.

The Rainbow Nation and the Gays It Excludes: LGBTI Refugees Living in a Modern South Africa
Miriam Gleckman-Krut, Sociology

I analyze South Africa’s provision of refugee status to people fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). Unlike most major refugee recipient countries, South Africa explicitly provides for refugee status based on SOGI. At the same time, it denies refugee status to 96 percent of people who apply—including almost all SOGI applicants. South Africa at once leads the world in its liberal refugee provisions and also in its rate of denial of refugee protections. I argue that South Africa’s gay-rights laws garner it global praise, and that this praise masks the country’s human-rights violations against African SOGI refugees. To make this argument, I collected 11 months of participant observation in Cape Town-based legal clinics. I also put together the largest archive of legal data (e.g., refugee status determination letters) representing people who applied for refuge in South Africa based on persecution related to SOGI (n=88).

Identifying Actionable Classroom and Program Features for Scaling High-Quality Prekindergarten
Paola Andrea Guerrero Rosada, Education and Psychology

The purpose of my dissertation is to provide actionable evidence on three related pressing questions for the early education field: what instructional features of preschool classrooms predict children’s academic gains; whether instructional alignment from prekindergarten to first grade contributes to sustaining children’s academic gains; and how to optimize the selection of centers participating in universal prekindergarten programs. I will use descriptive, predictive, and geospatial methods to answer my research questions. For my first aim, I will compare the measurement properties of two instructional quality observational instruments: the Narrative Record (Farran et al., 2015) and the Individualizing Student Instruction (Connor et al., 2009) systems. For my second aim, I will estimate multi-level linear regression models to identify the contribution of instructional alignment to children’s gains in language (Dunn & Dunn, 2007), literacy (Good III et al., 2001), and math (Clements et al., 2008; Woodcock et al., 2001, 2005). Finally, for my third aim, I will describe statistical and geo-spatial differences between centers that self-select to participate in the Boston Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) program and other centers in the Boston area, using administrative data from their licensing, quality rating and improvement system, and accreditation status. Then, for the sub-sample of centers participating in the Boston UPK program, I will describe what center characteristics are associated with their engagement with the program supports for quality improvement in their first two years. My results have the potential to inform quality measurement and professional development in early education classrooms and effective recruitment strategies for universal prekindergarten programs.

Securing the World City: Policing, Migration, and the Struggle for Global Los Angeles
David Helps, History

In the years between the election of Tom Bradley as the city’s first Black mayor, in 1973, and the 1992 “Rodney King riots,” Los Angeles emerged as a paradigmatic “world city” complete with a tourism-driven economy, an international workforce, and the busiest port in the Americas. My dissertation-in-progress explores how Angelenos clashed over the meanings of global interdependence. Using the methodologies of political history, geography, and comparative ethnic studies, I argue that efforts to make Los Angeles a global powerhouse created a lasting conflict between making the city appear safe and orderly, on one hand, and reducing barriers to the movement of people, goods, and capital, on the other. Ordinary Angelenos—as activists, workers, voters, or neighbors—sought to exploit this contradiction in order to bring about a more equitable Los Angeles in which safety and prosperity would be enjoyed by those who made the world city possible.

Placing Hope in a Space of Paradox: The Parish Neighborhood as a Place of Refuge and a Tool of Exclusion in Twentieth Century Detroit
Christine Hwang, Urban and Regional Planning

During the twentieth century, the Catholic Church in Detroit planned the city around a system of neighborhoods amidst drastic racial and religious tension and change. Using archival, oral history, and historical mapping methodologies, this project studies how Catholic parish neighborhoods paradoxically served as both places of refuge for European Catholic immigrants against a hostile Protestant national landscape and tools for excluding Black migrants arriving from heavily-Protestant regions of the American South. In many neighborhoods, parishioners actively resisted racial integration. However, parishioners in some neighborhoods created innovative plans that pursued racial integration through collective decision-making and the physical design of shared space. By considering the Catholic Church as an urban planning entity, this project demonstrates how both religion and race shaped Detroit and investigates how some neighborhoods, by bridging outwards in an era of turbulent social unrest and decline, hoped for, imagined, and, in some cases, built alternative futures.

Teachers and the Classroom Peer Ecology: How Can Students’ Friendships Promote Academic Motivation and Adjustment in Early Adolescence?
Jessica Kilday, Education and Psychology

In early adolescence, students’ academic and social experiences are greatly intertwined. This dissertation is comprised of three studies that investigate how early adolescents’ social experiences with teachers and peers relate to their academic motivation and adjustment. Study 1 examines how students’ classroom engagement is influenced by their psychological experience of perceived social support from friends, classroom peers, and teachers. Since friendships are critical during early adolescence, study 2 centers on classroom friendship networks. I examine how students’ engagement and motivation is shaped by the quality of their best friendships as well as their social position within the classroom friendship network. Finally, study 3 investigates how teacher-student relationships are related to adolescents’ classroom friendship experiences and whether these relationships serve an intermediary role between teachers and their students’ academic adjustment. Collectively, these studies will enhance current knowledge about how friends promote learning and engagement in the classroom to inform teacher practices.

In Search of the Black Digital Popular: Users, Industries, and the Construction of Blackness
Daniel Meyerend, Communication and Media

My dissertation seeks to analyze popular culture representations of Blackness as a reimagination and negotiation between television industries, streaming and social media platforms, and users. Representations of Blackness and Black mixed-race identity in film and television have long been a subject of scholarly research in media studies, but in the burgeoning era of digital studies, one must return to these representations to understand how they are shifting because of new digital platforms and technologies. The Black Digital Popular is a space where Black users wrestle with and reform imaginations and representations given to them through the popular culture vehicle of television, and in the process, make identity claims on Blackness that are both political and pleasurable.

Sexualized Aggression in College Drinking Settings: A Four-Year Prospective Cohort Study of Undergraduate Women
Leanna Papp, Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies

Women experience “mild” assault and aggression in social drinking settings, such as non-consensual touching and coercive reactions to rejection. Guided by feminist psychological and sociological theory, I study these experiences and their implications for women’s evaluations and expectations for intimacy. I developed the term sexualized aggression to address mundane behaviors that test, disregard, or manipulate someone’s bodily boundaries. For my dissertation, I designed a four-year, mixed-methods longitudinal study to document sexualized aggression in undergraduate women’s social lives. Study 1 examines the safety strategies women employ over time to avoid sexualized aggression. Study 2 considers the factors that contribute to the perceived normalcy of sexualized aggression in students’ social lives. Study 3 examines predictors and outcomes of exposure to and normalization of sexualized aggression. My dissertation research has immediate applications to campus sexual violence policies, trainings, interventions, and research.

Feedback and Attributions: The Influence of Individual and Contextual Differences for African Americans
Tiani Perkins, Psychology

Students’ attributions of academic feedback inform how they approach future tasks, with profound implications for individual well-being and achievement outcomes. However, Black students’ attributions may be shaped by racial experiences that may lead to internal attributions of negative social identity messages, with detrimental consequences. The studies in the proposed dissertation utilize experimental methods to understand the contextual (i.e., evaluator demographics, racial salience) and individual (i.e., imposter phenomenon, internalized oppression) mechanisms contributing to Black individuals’ attributions of evaluative feedback. This research highlights the processes that may influence Black students’ experiences in predominantly white academic institutions.

Gaining or Losing White Allies? How Perceptions of Racial Justice Advocates on Social Media Are Formed and Shape Movement Attitudes
Jessica Roden, Communication and Media

Support for the Black Lives Matter movement among white Americans has dwindled in the past couple of years, calling into question the efficacy of racial justice messaging for this population. To better understand the effects of such messaging on social media, this dissertation examines how white people view those who post in support of racial justice as similar, extreme, credible, and authentic. Importantly, I seek to determine how these perceptions are influenced by intersecting messenger identities and relationships between social media users. Further, I examine how these perceptions influence movement engagement, policy support, and interest in learning more about racial justice movements. To investigate these relationships, I will conduct semi-structured interviews to reveal depth and nuance about social media user perceptions of racial justice messengers and two experiments to determine the effects of social identity and message content on these perceptions and movement attitudes.

Violence in a Decade of Democracy: An Anthropological History of Race and Religion in Myanmar
Matt Schissler, Anthropology

In September 2018 UN investigators concluded that attacks on ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar had amounted to genocide. These events have also been explained in three excellent new books. Myanmar was transitioning to democracy; political competition often leads to scapegoating. But why were the Rohingya the scapegoat? My dissertation argues that this question has not been answered, because established assumptions about political transitions, ethnic violence, and colonial legacies have lent existing explanations an intuitive sense of adequacy. Understanding how the Rohingya became the target, rather than others, offers to generate new insights on the established assumptions. I accomplish this by using tools from anthropology to weave together diverse materials: ethnographic observations from four years in Myanmar; Burmese-language print and digital media; colonial archives; interviews; and a collaborative oral history project in five Myanmar cities. The result is a historical argument for the distinctively contemporary scales of violence against Muslims in Myanmar.

Temporalities of Struggle: African Political Thought and Contesting the Foundations of Colonial Capitalism
David Suell, Political Science

What is the relationship between time and political power? Current scholarship has largely approached this question by focusing on the ways in which colonial and state authorities manipulate time to facilitate racial and economic domination. My dissertation shifts the debate about time by examining African political projects that engaged time as a resource for resisting colonial domination and enacting new forms of political community. Across five substantive chapters, I explore the temporalities of Maasai conflicts over conservation lands in East Africa; the importance of historical continuity for Julius Nyerere and Amilcar Cabral; the promise that post-colonial rupture holds for Frantz Fanon and Kwame Nkrumah; Obafemi Awolowo’s account of the “state of nature;” and Wole Soyinka’s dramatizations of cyclical time. In each case, I explain how their theories relate to their own contexts and goals, and I demonstrate how their insights inspire forceful reinterpretations of nature, democracy, membership, socialism, and founding.

Logics of Caregiving in the Delegated Welfare State
Valerie Taing, Social Work and Sociology

Compared to other countries, U.S. welfare provision more often relies on multiple funding streams, ambiguous rules, and public-private partnerships. Previous researchers have studied the indirect welfare state’s effects on benefit levels and public opinion; this dissertation reveals its cultural effects on the beneficiaries of U.S. childcare policies. First, I analyze legislative debates to explain how federal policies came to encode conflicting ideas about the purpose of childcare and the role of caregivers. Next, using Chicago, Illinois as a case study, I use administrative records and interviews with advocates and bureaucrats to demonstrate how indirect funding and public-private partnerships led to policies that put beneficiaries in ambiguous roles, in between “welfare recipient” and “government contractor.” Finally, I draw on ethnographic data and interviews to observe how caregivers’ responses to this ambiguity create new inequalities in the funding families can access and the care kids receive.

“Friendship Brings Cities Together:” Voluntary Kinship and Intimacy in the Early Modern Iberian World, 1530 to 1680
Shai Zamir, History

This dissertation studies the practices of friendship in the early modern Iberian world, focusing on the Spanish empire during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While previous histories of friendship explored elite discourse, literary representations, and philosophical fictions, this project examines everyday friendships using archival documents. It reconstructs how personal friendships were signaled in public and negotiated in various legal institutions and texts. It argues that immigration to Spanish America and colonial government charged friendship with new meanings and functions, as it replaced and reinforced traditional family ties. Seville, Lima, Madrid, and Amsterdam offer urban case studies that illuminate amical relations, intimacy, and familiarity within the context of colonial politics.

The Societal Origins of State Education
Htet Thiha Zaw, Political Science

Why did states pursue costly investments in education when there were already existing providers in society? My dissertation addresses this question by examining the role of societal resistance in shaping state educational involvement among colonial states with extensive indigenous education systems, such as British Burma. The dissertation consists of three parts. First, I develop a formal theoretical framework to argue that state education involvement expanded as anti-colonial resistance increased, replacing the existing indigenous schools with those under stronger state control. Second, I provide empirical support for the theory with original panel data from 33 British Burma districts between 1901 and 1920. Third, I further show the expansion of the colonial state’s role in education over the two decades (1921 to 1940) before and after a major rebellion in 1930. My dissertation emphasizes the important role societal actors played in shaping the long-run development of state-controlled mass education.