The Art of Researching Food

Three Projects from NSSR Alumni About What and How We Eat

Food is at the center of human life. What we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and why has evolved from matters of basic essential survival function to ritual, culture, and identity.  Research Matters sat down with NSSR alumni from Anthropology, Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism, and Politics whose work collides with the study of food.

The Food of a Diaspora 

During the 2019-2020 academic year, Isobel Chiang (MA Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism ‘20), received a grant from the India China Institute to conduct ethnographic field work within the Chinese diaspora community in Kolkata, India. Specifically, she set out to explore the phenomenon of Indian-Chinese food. 

“I wanted to know how Cantonese and Hakka cuisines have been retained, modified, understood, and misunderstood in India today,” Chiang says. “I have a background in sociology, so I knew going in that when you study the food of a diaspora, what you’re really studying is the culture of a diaspora, the politics of a diaspora, you’re studying boundaries, the way we hold onto identity or ideologies or religious convictions when we move away from home, the way we forget.”

In addition to visiting Chinese restaurants and food markets, and of course, eating, Chiang also conducted oral histories with Indian-Chinese residents.

“I didn’t want to simply ‘parachute’ into Kolkata and start researching. I wanted to get to know the residents there, fold myself into their lives. Luckily for me, they were so gracious and welcoming. I ate an inordinate and probably unhealthy amount of dumplings. I talked with business owners and chai sellers. I was invited into peoples homes to cook with them and share meals. I went to universities in Kolkata to interview young Indian students about their conceptions of Indian-Chinese food. I even found myself at the birthday party of one of Bengal’s most famous soccer players,” Chiang says.

This project has personal implications for Chiang. Her father was born in Kolkata, but during the Indo-China War of 1962, he and his family moved to Toronto, Canada. Chiang is one of the few members of her family who have been back to India since.

“My father remains unsentimental and indifferent toward India,” Chiang describes. “The only thing that connects him to the place he’s from, the only time he allows his children to peek behind the curtain of his past life, is when he cooks fried rice. This sounds like a cliche, but it’s the truth. Thus, food has always been my entry point to India. In many ways, going to India was my attempt at dealing intellectually with my father, with his heritage, and therefore my heritage.”

Chiang crafted these experiences and research into a piece of long-form journalism that she workshopped in a Master’s writing workshop during the Spring 2020 semester, and hopes to eventually publish it one day.

“The New School grant wasn’t just helpful for making this trip possible, it made this trip possible,” Chiang said. “Without the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to conduct independent research abroad. Very few publications have the money these days to send journalists abroad to cover stories like this, so it would have been a difficult story to pitch to a magazine and get funded.”

The Future of Meat

When Jan Dutkiewicz (PhD Politics ’18) began graduate work in Politics at NSSR, he thought he might want to study the $200+ billion U.S. animal production industry. He looked for academic literature on the topic but found very little, especially in political science. So he set out to create it.

“It seemed like a really good opportunity to bring the tools of political economic inquiry — the intersection of economic activity with politics and social effects…to this [industry] that’s completely hidden in plain sight,” Dutkiewicz says. He worked within Politics as well as with faculty from several different disciplines, including Hugh Raffles, Professor of Anthropology, and Julia Ott, Associate Professor of History and co-founder of the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, which helped support his research. “The New School is really unique in that…there’s a real openness to disciplinarily risky research,” Dutkiewicz remembers.

His dissertation, Capitalist Pigs: The Making of the Corporate Meat Animal, traced how the U.S. meat industry seeks to produce a commodity that best suits changing market conditions. He is currently turning that dissertation into his first book, which he places at the intersection of political economy, economic sociology, and economic anthropology.

After graduating from NSSR, Dutkiewicz was the Connie Caplan Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. There, he started asking questions around normative ethics and bioethics in the animal production industry, especially around new food products. In particular, Dutkiewicz began to dig deeply into plant-based meat alternatives and the potential of cellular agriculture — the production of animal products from cells rather than from animals themselves, also known as lab-grown or cultivated meat — to transform the global food landscape. In addition to his peer-reviewed publications, Dutkiewicz now writes and speaks extensively on the meat and alternative protein industries for media outlets ranging from The Guardian and Jacobin to Forbes and Business Insider. “Bringing this research to the public is a really important and valuable part of my work,” he says.

In his 10+ years studying the topic, Dutkiewicz has witnessed an enormous growth in public awareness, concern, and debate over the effects of animal production and consumption on anthropogenic climate change. He believes that recent advances in the alternative protein industry will make it easier for more people to decrease their meat consumption

“What cellular agriculture will do is that it minimizes switching costs. It’s saying, we’re not asking you to actually change what you like eating, what your tastes are, what your culinary and dietary habits are. We’re just asking you to switch between products that are ultimately very similar. From a social impact perspective, you can’t underestimate the power in our society of providing people with more consumer options and technologically developing superior products,” Dutkiewicz says, citing empirical evidence from the fast-food industry showing the popularity of alternative meats among people who aren’t vegans or vegetarians 

Dutkiewicz will continue his work this fall as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Concordia University and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Mushrooms as Ethnography

Peggy Tierno (MA Anthropology ’20) loves mushrooms. Sporting a pair of tiny dangling red mushroom earrings, she explains how a paper on the kinship of fungi for her Anthropology Master’s program evolved into a multidisciplinary collaborative journal.

“The paper explores multi-species and multi-sensory ways relating and building community and kinship relationships with other species,” Tierno says.

Her infatuation with mushrooms started when one grew miraculously among her spruce saplings. This led her down a path to research the species’ other incredible natural interactions.

“When you’re thinking about food, for a lot of people, food might be the only way they are interacting daily with the natural world,” Tierno shares. “So I’m thinking about our relationship to food, thinking about how mushrooms relate with their environment, and thinking about those reciprocal caretaking relationships.”

Because of her passion for the subject, Tierno decided to expand and evolve the life of her work beyond a paper. “I was thinking on how I could turn it into a collaborative project, with  submissions of poetry, personal writing and artwork alongside research on mycelium and mushrooms,” she says.

While taking a class on design and publishing and using the resources at the Making Center at Parsons School of Design, Tierno created a prototype for her journal. Now, she hopes to establish a journal of diverse multimedia work that is created collaboratively, and that has the potential to eventually develop into a larger project around community and food.

“Food is something very intimate, it’s very important to my personal life and my personal relationships, and how I connect with people. I love to cook for people. I love to be cooked for,” Tierno says. “Another thing I am thinking about with this project is how to do DIY cultivation or communal cultivation of mushrooms that people can have access to, expanding the collaboration of relating with mushrooms.”

Anyone interested in contributing can email her at peggy.tierno@gmail.com  


Alexa Mauzy-Lewis is a Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student. She is a writer, editor, and the student advisor for CPCJ with her cat, Goat. Read more of her work at www.alexamauzylewis.xyz

New Ways to Approach Global Mental Health Challenges

Mental health disorders are currently the leading cause of disability worldwide. Still, access to culturally relevant treatment is complicated by a wide range of social and economic barriers. And with more than 40 percent of the world population under the age of 25, many child and adolescent mental health problems are largely neglected.

Faculty and students at The New School for Social Research are spearheading a major effort to expand both research on global mental health and interventions to help people on the ground.

An Interdisciplinary Cohort

In Fall 2019, NSSR launched the Global Mental Health subject area as a way for Psychology students to explore this specialized area of study while deepening their research, developing closer relationships with faculty, connecting with outside job opportunities, and more. 

Adam Brown, Associate Professor of Psychology and head of the subject area, notes that courses on the topic have filled up quickly, and that the cohort of students interested in Global Mental Health — like Psychology PhD student Evan Neuwirth — is growing substantially. And it’s not just Psychology students who are involved; increasing numbers of Parsons School of Design students interested in how design can support mental health are enrolling in courses, too.

Adam Brown, Associate Professor of Psychology and head of the Trauma and Global Mental Health Lab at NSSR

Opportunities in the field are also growing. Students in Brown’s Spring 2020 Global Mental Health course were excited to partner with the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC to help address critical gaps in New York City’s mental healthcare system — a project that was unfortunately disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Brown says, “it speaks to amazing potential community partnerships that exist locally with international implications about ways to work with different organizations and agencies, while building on the creativity and knowledge basis of New School students.

New External Support

One of the classes offered in the Global Mental Health subject area is Child and Adolescent Global Mental Health, taught by Miriam Steele, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Attachment Research

 “This is a very innovative program because there are very few global health programs within psychology doing this kind of work,” Steele says. Steele’s work has largely looked at childhood development, bridging psychoanalytic thinking and clinical practice with contemporary research practices.

Her current course explores current trends in child and adolescent mental health services and examines responses to social and cultural traumas, with specific focus on refugee populations and displaced children. NSSR MA and PhD students from across disciplines, as well as Parsons design students, engage in team-based project work, partnering with government agencies and NGOs working to deliver interventions to children in Africa and South Asia. Together, they work to find innovative solutions and prototypes for the global mental health challenges their stakeholders propose. 

The course’s Teaching Assistant, Zishan Jiwani, is a Psychology MA student and a Zolberg-IRC Fellow in Mental Health in Humanitarian Settings who has also studied transdisciplinary design at Parsons. “Zishan and I will really co-teach the class,” Steele says. “Together, we will deliver a blend of psychology, intervention science and design education to guide students in conducting user experience research, prototyping, and testing solutions remotely.”

Miriam Steele, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Attachment Research (left), and Zishan Jiwani, Psychology MA student (right)

“An important objective of this class is to support the cultivation of a deep understanding of how mental health and psychosocial support is delivered for children and families in low-income settings in the Global South,” Steele says. “The interdisciplinary design challenge helps students engage meaningfully with the promise and pitfall of mental health interventions.”

The course will benefit from a distinguished list of guest speakers who are at the helm of child and adolescent global health include Aisha Yousafzai from Harvard School of Public Health, Lisa Cogrove from the University of Massachusetts – Boston, Marinus van IJzendoorn from Erasmus University Rotterdam & the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, UK.

Mentors from partnering organizations will help guide the student teams through the nuances of their specific challenges. Current projects include partnering with Strengthening Families for the Well-being of Children in Nairobi, Kenya to support teen mothers reintegrate into society after giving birth, and working with the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital in Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana to help parents of special needs children cope with their children’s diagnosis. 

For the Fall 2020 semester, Steele and Jiwani were successful in securing funding from the Association for Psychological Science Teaching Fund, which was then matched by the Two Lilies Fund, a global early childhood mental health initiative. Microgrants will be awarded to all group projects that show courage, creativity, depth and provide a clear rationale for how they plan to use the funding. Teams will also have an opportunity to request a small amount of funding to develop prototypes midway through the semester. 

Steele hopes that publicizing this work will inspire students from across a range of disciplines to engage with these crucial issues at The New School, which is unique in its ability to blend design and psychology in this particular way. The class, which will be offered online in Fall 2020, will also set up a protocol for other universities to develop their own global mental health studies, as well as offer an outline for an engaging and experiential online classroom experience. 

“COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for teaching complex subjects like child and adolescent global mental health through an online format,” Steele said. “However, we plan to use the online format to greatly benefit the classroom experience by expanding our reach outside of New York and bringing in more collaborators virtually.”

From the Lab to the People

In Brown’s Trauma and Global Mental Health Lab, faculty and students are investigating disparities in mental health issues as well as developing innovative solutions and interventions that can reduce barriers to care in low and medium-resourced contexts, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Recently, Brown connected with the World Health Organization about a short-term mental health treatment plan called Problem Management Plus (PM+). The pilot program to train his Lab students in PM+ would have been conducted in partnership with the Danish Red Cross, which has used PM+ primarily in areas facing humanitarian crises. Now, his ab students are learning PM+ remotely so they can help deliver it online to those in need. Read more in this New School News story

Brown is also working with three students — Psychology MA students Camila Figueroa Restrepo and Jamie Gardella, and Milano MA student Maria Francisca Paz y Mino Maya — on a study about intergenerational memories among immigrant communities in New York City.

Together with a local nonprofit, they’re working with families of Ecuadorian heritage to understand how their narratives of migration get passed down through generations, and the extent to which knowledge of that narrative is connected with better mental health outcomes.

And, funded by a grant from the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Brown and his lab students are working with Danny Horesh of Bar Ilan University on an international study examining the psychological implications of the pandemic. Together, they are assessing multiple factors including stress, anxiety, and quality of life, and looking at predictors of distress and well-being. 


Alexa Mauzy-Lewis is a Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student. She is a writer, editor, and the student advisor for CPCJ with her cat, Goat. Read more of her work at www.alexamauzylewis.xyz

Who Climbs the Academic Ladder?

NSSR PhD Economics students publish paper on career trajectories of Black and Hispanic economists and sociologists

Across disciplines, academia is reckoning with its own whiteness. In 2017, 76 percent of university faculty members in the United States were white. While racial diversity has increased over the past two decades, professors are still much more likely than their students to be white.

The path to tenure is riddled with obstacles. White men are the most likely to become full-time professors, and as a result are more likely to set the agenda and priorities for departments and academic institutions. They receive the highest salaries and positions of power, creating a cycle and social atmosphere that can be difficult to infiltrate.

In collaboration with the American Sociological Association (ASA), two Economics PhD candidates and one Economics PhD alum from The New School for Social Research (NSSR) co-authored three papers on the academic barriers that underrepresented minority (URM) PhD graduates and faculty members face. Published in the Review of Black Political Economy — the leading peer-reviewed journal for research on the economic status of African-Americans and the African diaspora throughout the world their main paper, “Who Climbs the Academic Ladder? Race and Gender Stratification in a World of Whiteness,” looks at the career trajectory of Black and Latino economists and sociologists. The other two publications explore the experiences of women of color in economics and sociology how “raced” organizations influence the tenure process for faculty members in sociology.

Economics PhD candidates Kyle K. Moore and Ismael Cid-Martinez (left to right in cover photo) worked alongside Jermaine Toney, Assistant Professor of Economics at Rutgers University and an NSSR Economics PhD 2017 alum, to co-author the papers with other scholars of economics and sociology; Roberta Spalter-Roth, PhD, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Social Science Research, and Amber Kalb, a PhD candidate in sociology at George Mason University spearheaded the work demonstrating how the social sciences exclude women of color from intellectual legitimacy. Other co-authors include Jean H. Shin, PhD, and Jason A. Smith, PhD, of the ASA.  The team presented their findings at the 2019 American Economic Association annual meetings and in 2018 as working papers.

Using a sample population of Black and Latino students in the U.S. who graduated from PhD programs between 1995 and 2006, they set out to uncover what percentage of these URM scholars in sociology or economics succeed in moving up the academic career ladder, identify the existing social structures that can prevent them from doing so, and lay out policy recommendations to remedy the lack of diversity.

Moore and Cid-Martinez spoke with Research Matters over Zoom to discuss the interdisciplinary nature of “Who Climbs the Academic Ladder” and what this work means for the future of economics, and academia at large.

Of Economists and Sociologists

Moore and Cid-Martinez are in the last year of their PhD programs, currently working on their dissertations, and both are former research assistants at NSSR’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Moore is also a Senior Policy Analyst with the Joint Economic Committee in the U.S. Congress, while Cid-Martinez is a consultant for UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Unit. They got involved in the project when ASA approached NSSR’s Department of Economics about comparing faculty diversity within economics and sociology.  

“There was a lot of energy behind wanting to compare the two disciplines, to see whether or not things were different for underrepresented minority scholars in economics versus sociology,” Moore says. “We were asking the same questions, looking at pipeline problems with diversifying both disciplines and asking which things matter in becoming a tenured professor.”

Cid-Martinez added, “Despite the fact that they are often treated as disparate fields, both sociology and economics share similar concerns with issues of inequality and inter-group disparities.”

“Our project invokes W.E.B. Du Bois, who is the shared heritage of economics and sociology, having completed coursework in economics and spearheaded sociological inquiries on stratification,” Toney says.

For “Who Climbs the Academic Ladder? Race and Gender Stratification in a World of Whiteness,” the researchers set out to measure stratification by the distribution of academic rank and examine differences based on discipline, institution type, race/ethnicity, gender, and publications in terms of academic career success. To understand the exclusivity of academia in economics and sociology, the researchers embarked on a labor-intensive, mixed-methodologies approach, reviewing the resumes and CVs of PhD cohorts in the two fields between 1995 and 2006. They reasoned that these graduates should have had enough time to have moved from tenure-track assistant professors to tenured associate professors within eight years, though not all did so, and some should have had time to become full professors within 14 years.

“One of the main contributions that we wanted to have with the paper is that we wanted it to be non-intrusive,” Moore says. “So we didn’t want to have to rely exclusively on survey data. We wanted to be able to identify folks and gather as much data in a secondary way as possible to build out the trajectory of their careers.”

This is where the interdisciplinary nature of the project became crucial. “That intensive sort of mixed methods research is not something economists typically do,” Moore says. “But our sociologist colleagues were more familiar with doing that type of work.”

Together, they discovered that the career paths of URM faculty can be limited due to a process that legitimates a non-Hispanic White male set of rules and practices, including value-neutrality — the idea that a researcher must be totally impartial — and objectivity.

One of the major frameworks for the study was the idea of social and human capital and its relationship to advancing an academic career path. There is, of course, the well-known aphorism in academia of “publish or perish” — meaning that how often and in which journals scholars publish work can be a critical metric in the tenure process. Their findings confirmed that publications are likely the most significant measure leading to promotion. But authoring and getting an article to publication goes much deeper. “Having a group of people to relate to and publish work with and co-author with, build relationships with, is key,” Moore says. 

As a discipline, sociology was founded upon the idea of social stratification, or classifying groups of people based on inequalities in power and resources. Applying this approach to economics illuminated how, traditionally, the discipline focuses on the individual rather than looking at larger social structures. The emphasized focus on publication status and other forms of human capital perpetuates a system of exclusivity. By bringing social theory into economics, the researchers were able to identify how critical inclusive social networks can be to progressing a career in academia.

“These disciplines don’t account for the fact that minority faculty do a lot of service work with respect to minority students, and that’s not often captured in determining who gets tenure, who doesn’t get tenure, whether or not those support networks exist in those fields,” Moore says. Participation in ‘raced’ organizations and activities was similarly devalued, and URM faculty who did not receive tenure likely dropped out of academia and found alternative employment. “I think that’s the case for the social sciences more broadly.  A lot of these insights from the paper are going to be able to apply more broadly.”

Looking Inward and Ahead at The New School

Broadening the scope of traditional economics and fostering interdisciplinary approaches is at the core of NSSR. “One of the advantages coming from the New School and our department is that we started with a very pluralistic, or heterodox, perspective in looking at economics” Cid-Martinez says. “So that in itself provided us with a different lens from which to view and treat these issues.”

 “The paper itself is a product of The New School,” Moore says. “More people should do more interdisciplinary work and The New School encourages that in its curriculum. I think it’s a very valuable thing to do just as a scholar.”

While the New School provided the perfect environment to build out this research, no institution is immune from reflecting on faculty diversity. “We make important recommendations in the paper,” Cid-Martinez says. “They have a lot to do with not just stopping at diversity hiring. That’s part of the solution, but it’s not enough. We share a responsibility to bring in underrepresented minorities to enrich diversity of representation, methods, and thought, but it is even more important to make sure that they have positive opportunities to climb the academic ladder, that they feel included in their universities and departments, and that they are part of the conversation about the direction in which these need to move. These recommendations are pretty universal; they apply to disciplines outside of the social sciences and even to the most progressive universities and departments in the country.”

These papers have gained widespread attention within the greater economics field. With the momentum of national discourse around internalized racism in hiring structures, Moore and Cid-Martinez are hoping to continue the work and move forward these conversations.

“What we studied were the things that allowed folks to gain access to tenure in the eight years after their initial cohort in our sample population,” Moore says. “But moving forward, there are new areas of social capital that are important that we haven’t considered. The main one that’s big on my mind right now is EconTwitter,” a community of economists active on the social media platform. “Twitter is a relatively new and important vehicle that is driving impact in the profession and academia more generally. I suspect that participation on that platform may be a valuable tool for URM scholars in leveling the playing field. A junior scholar can put their ideas out there and have them be digested in the same format and reach as an established academic.”

These new ways of putting out work and rising within disciplines could be extremely relevant to changing the structure of academia, and deciding who climbs the career ladder towards tenure.

Works Cited

Moore, K. K., Cid-Martinez, I., Toney, J., Smith, J. A., Kalb, A. C., Shin, J. H., & Spalter-Roth, R. M. (2018). Who Climbs the Academic Ladder? Race and Gender Stratification in a World of Whiteness. The Review of Black Political Economy, 45(3), 216–244. https://doi.org/10.1177/0034644618813667

Spalter-Roth, R., Shin, J. H., Smith, J. A., Kalb, A. C., Moore, K. K., Cid-Martinez, I., & Toney, J. (2019). “Raced” Organizations and the Academic Success of Underrepresented Minority Faculty Members in Sociology. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 5(2), 261–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332649218807951

 Spalter-Roth, R., & Kalb, A. C. (2019). Women of Color in Economics and Sociology: Poor Climate, Unequal Treatment, and Lack of Legitimacy. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.  https://iwpr.org/publications/race-ethnicity-economics-sociology-inequality/

 


Alexa Mauzy-Lewis is a Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student. She is a writer, editor, and the student advisor for CPCJ with her cat, Goat. Read more of her work at www.alexamauzylewis.xyz

New Social Philosophy Prize Awards Challenges to Canon

A collaboration between NSSR and Vanderbilt reflects the evolving field of social philosophy

Within the broader field of philosophy, an increased focus on social thought has led to an upsurge of interest in critical theories of race, gender, and class. In response, a group of faculty and students at The New School for Social Research (NSSR) and Vanderbilt University — including Alice Crary, University Distinguished Professor at NSSR, and Matthew Congdon, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt and NSSR Philosophy PhD 2014 alumnus — have created the Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Social Philosophy, which seeks to recognize “groundbreaking, courageous, critical work” in the field. 

The inaugural recipient of the biennial prize is Robert Gooding-Williams, M. Moran West/Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies, Professor of Philosophy and of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University.  

Research Matters sat down digitally with Crary, Congdon, and Gooding-Williams to talk about social philosophy and its history at The New School, as well as what this award represents.

Collaborating for Visibility in the Field

Crary and Congdon’s collaboration began when Crary served as Congdon’s PhD advisor in NSSR’s Philosophy department. Crary, who has written extensively on ethics, was a natural fit as a mentor for Congdon, whose research focuses on moral psychology and the intersections of ethics and epistemology. 

The two continue to talk often, and in 2019 ran a successful workshop at Vanderbilt on social visibility; topics included the visibility of racism in the United States, the critical significance of art and aesthetic experiences, and the epistemology of ideology critique. They met for coffee the day after the workshop to debrief and both were pleased with how the presentations had gone. That was what led to the idea of further collaboration.

“Partly we were interested in the significance of the fact that, in Anglo-American circles, the idea of social philosophy is a relative newcomer,” says Crary. “We wanted to look afresh at what it means to explore specifically social thought and criticism. What we were doing in pulling together the original workshop was  identifying a set of exciting philosophers and political theorists who are working across intellectual traditions not only in theorizing about these things but also in bringing theory to bear on practice.”

They felt momentum growing in the field and wanted to turn their one-time effort into something more sustained. Crary and Congdon developed the Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Social Philosophy and formed a prize committee, which includes Karen Ng, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt and an NSSR Philosophy PhD 2013 alum; Dora Suarez, a current NSSR Philosophy PhD student; Daniel Rodriguez-Navas, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at NSSR; and Eric MacPhail, a current Vanderbilt Philosophy PhD student and an NSSR Philosophy MA 2016 alum.

It makes sense that NSSR is so strongly represented on the committee. The field of social philosophy has strong connections to intellectual traditions represented at The New School since the 1930s, in particular Critical Theory. So while analytic philosophers have increasingly turned to social philosophy in the past 20 years, “these conversations were happening at The New School many decades earlier,” Congdon says. Here, “philosophy is looked at as a distinctively social phenomenon. How inhabiting shared forms of life shapes one’s vision and perception of that world, and shapes what objects are actually in that world. Or how our shared history shapes one’s perception of that world…. That was something that was just in the air at The New School from the beginning; to study just about any philosophical problem was already to want to situate it in a kind of a social context.” Congdon also found the intellectual climate of The New School to include a shared sense of political activism, with students often involved in community organizing and political events on and outside of campus.

Vanderbilt also has a pluralistic Philosophy department, which Crary says is not something to be taken for granted. “Here pluralism means something like — we’re not going to be factional and say the only legitimate kind of philosophy is the kind that’s being practiced in the Anglo-American world, or is in the European philosophical scene, or elsewhere. We both think that this kind of open-mindedness is decisive for philosophizing that is productively engaged with the world and guided by a commitment to social justice. It’s rarer than you would think.”

Changing Who Gets to Be a Philosopher

The first prize recipient, Robert Gooding-Williams, has been instrumental in legitimizing social philosophy.  

Challenging the philosophy canon since the 1980s, Gooding-Williams has helped make discussions about race a decisive area for philosophical study — one now recognized by the American Philosophical Association. As a historian of African-American philosophy and a scholar of W.E.B. Dubois, Gooding-Williams has questioned the exclusion of Dubois, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass from consideration as prominent political philosophers. 

“My contributions to social philosophy have largely concerned the diagnosis of social problems, specifically racism and white supremacy,” Gooding-Williams says, as well as “the analyses and political-philosophical responses to racism and white supremacy in the history of African American political thought.”

His essay collection, Look, A Negro! Philosophical Essays on Race, Culture and Politics (Routledge, 2005), explores the concept of Black identity, the nature of Black political solidarity, the significance of Afro-centrism for American democracy, and the impact of racial ideology on aesthetic judgment, while In the Shadow of Du Bois (Harvard University Press, 2011) analyzes Afro-Modern political thought in the U.S. In a forthcoming paper, Gooding-Williams builds on other philosophers’ recent efforts to understand racial domination in terms of practices and the concepts that constitute them; an excerpt of that paper revisits the Ferguson Report and how anti-Black concepts influence police practices.

“He is doing great historical work and also telling a story about what good political philosophy is.  He leads us to see clearly that the exclusion of Du Bois and others is a function of racism,” Crary says. “His work is incredibly important and powerful.”

Congdon describes the courageousness in Gooding-Williams’ methodology: “His contribution [is] basically creating and legitimizing whole areas of philosophy that had been delegitimized or not recognized as important.”

Crary and Congdon had planned to make an occasion of the first prize, honoring Gooding-Williams as well as organizing a public lecture featuring prominent philosophers and social theorists, and recognizing graduate students with the NSSR-Vanderbilt Graduate Student Prize in Social Philosophy. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are monitoring the situation and will make a decision about the event in the coming months, making the health and well-being of the event’s participants a top priority. More information, as well as the organizers’ full congratulatory message to Gooding-Williams, can be found on the NSSR website.  

Photo Credits: Left: Matthew Congdon and Alice Crary at a philosophy conference in Paris, 2019; Right: Robert Gooding-Williams via American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018.


Alexa Mauzy-Lewis is a Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student. She is a writer, editor, and the student advisor for CPCJ with her cat, Goat. Read more of her work at www.alexamauzylewis.xyz

NSSR Politics Alum Camila Gripp Wins Dissertation Award

Camila Gripp (Politics PhD 2019) has received the 2020 Best Dissertation Award from the Urban and Local Politics Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA), the leading professional organization for the study of politics.

In her dissertation, entitled “New Dogs, Old Tricks: The Inner Workings of an Attempt at Police Reform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” Gripp explores the failed implementation of a comprehensive public security initiative that sought to impose a new kind of community policing in Brazil’s second largest city, and to reclaim territory from criminal organizations through military force. The APSA committee called her research “an incredibly important case about a significant question, with policy implications for police reform, both in Latin America and the Global South, and beyond.” Gripp also received NSSR’s Hannah Arendt Award in Politics for her dissertation.

“I was not expecting it at all!” says Gripp about the APSA honor. But David Plotke, Professor of Politics and one of her NSSR advisors was not surprised. “It’s great that Camila Gripp’s excellent dissertation has been recognized in this way,” Plotke says. “Her work makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of how to reform and regulate policing, and her insights travel across contexts and countries.”

Bringing Qualitative Research to Politics

After finishing her PhD and delivering a heartfelt address as Student Speaker at NSSR’s 2019 Recognition Ceremony, Gripp dove directly into a new job as Senior Research Associate at the Justice Collaboratory of the Yale Law School. There, she is involved in several research projects on criminal justice, including a study to improving communications and trust-building interactions between corrections staff and incarcerated persons in Connecticut, and an interview-based project on how frontline workers of six key institutions in New York City’s criminal justice system — prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, corrections officers, probation officers and Criminal Justice Agency interviewers — perceive the legitimacy of their roles and the institutions in which they work. She’s also helping increase the role of everyday people in decisions around policing and justice via community based participatory action research.

Qualitative research is key to Gripp’s work. She spent one year doing ethnographic fieldwork for her dissertation, including 800 hours of observation while embedded with Rio police officers, as well as 80 interviews with officers and 30 interviews with civilians. The APSA committee was impressed with “the in-depth nature of her ethnographic field work, which involved considerable risk,” stating that Gripp “provided a model discussion of how she conducted ethnographic research, including ethical tensions that can arise, the challenges of gaining sufficient access and trust to study policing, and a thoughtful consideration of her positionality.”

Gripp credits the interdisciplinary nature of her NSSR education with helping her develop this particular skill set. “I’m originally an economist who became a political scientist, and now I work at a law school. This is not a regular trajectory!” she laughs. “This is only possible because I wasn’t constrained by the frames of a certain discipline. I really had an opportunity to study with different scholars, take different classes, and have conversations at other departments.” 

Two NSSR faculty members in particular — Plotke and Jim Miller, Professor of Liberal Studies and Politics — mentored Gripp as a student, and she continues to turn to them for guidance today. “I often contact them to talk about career perspectives, publications and next steps,” she says. Plotke also officially submitted her dissertation for the APSA award consideration.

The Future of Policing

Gripp’s work on policing is gaining more attention as movements to defund and abolish the police gain traction across the United States. While she is supportive of discussions on these topics, she is also cautious around demands for immediate change. “I think we don’t necessarily know yet how much communities that need police rely on the police, and what replacing the police with different services would look like,” she says. “The retreat of the role of police needs to come with a reframing of what it means to be a police officer.”

Gripp warns about expanding the social services functions of police officers without proper funding and support, citing her dissertation research. “By having police officers [in Rio] performing functions not generally associated with police, they thought they could bring the police closer to the poor communities and instill empathy in police officers,” she says. Ultimately, the opposite happened; police officers were not given appropriate support to take on their new role, their organizational structure did not support internal procedural justice, and officers progressively shortchanged the innovative model. U.S. cities must think carefully about the role we want police officers to have in communities, Gripp says. We may not want them to take on roles that can be performed by other agencies, but we also do not want them to see themselves as only armed, almost militaristic, enforcement officers who do not need to address other community problems.

She hopes U.S. cities will choose a positive path, and believes strongly in the real-world impact of her work at Yale. Read more in the Justice Collaboratory’s latest report, “Changing the Law to Change Policing: First Steps.”