Graduate students at The New School have a unique opportunity to enrich their academic experience through cross-disciplinary study in graduate minors. These programs give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in disciplines outside of their primary field of study, gain exposure to new ideas and research methods and practices, and develop new ways to think about the world. Recently The New School for Social Research (NSSR) announced three new minor programs launching in the fall 2021 semester: Global Mental Health, Anthropology and Design, and Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism.
These new minors build on NSSR’s innovative academic approach, combining social theory, policy, and design. “These new graduate minors will enhance the experience of graduate students at The New School by giving them access to focused knowledge outside the boundaries of the standard learning pathways,” says Will Milberg, dean of The New School for Social Research.
Today mental health problems are among the leading causes of mortality and disability around the world. The Global Mental Health graduate minor explores some of the most pressing issues contributing to the ever-increasing number of people living with mental health disorders worldwide. Organized by Adam Brown, associate professor of psychology and vice provost for Research, the program is open to graduate students across the university and draws on a variety of disciplines and methodologies to give students a foundation from which to critically examine mental health treatment gaps and disparities in care. Brown was interested in creating a program that would address the many intersections that factor into this problem.
“There continue to be major gaps in access to care and stigmas that make it hard for people to gain access to mental health care throughout the world,” says Brown. “Some of the current challenges require the development of new mental health interventions. However, many of the challenges are related to policies, inequities, and other aspects of basic human rights. We need not only psychology graduates, but also students from across the university to think carefully and ethically about ways to work across sectors and contexts to re-imagine mental health delivery and care.”
The field is expected to experience tremendous growth in the next few years, as concern about mental health and well-being expands to new environments . “We are already seeing companies, schools, and governmental agencies investing more in mental health strategies to support their staff. I am hopeful that this minor can prepare our graduates to take on leadership and transformational roles in this space, whether they are coming from the perspective of psychology, strategic design, political science, economics, and so on.”
Blending social science with design, the Anthropology and Design minor prepares students to think more critically and creatively about anthropology and ethnography, the designed world, and their own research. Students have the opportunity to study design and technology through an established discipline that emphasizes reflective methodology, ethical frameworks of analysis, and awareness of the political stakes of both research and creative practice. It builds on the Anthropology + Design area of study, which was created two years ago and attracted students from various programs in NSSR, Parsons School of Design, the Schools of Public Engagement, and Eugene Lang College.
In organizing this program, Shannon Mattern, professor of anthropology, drew on the relationships she’s built from her numerous collaborations with faculty and students — everything from organizing events to curating exhibitions to serving as a guest critic in Parsons studios — in her 17 years at the university. “Every semester, I reach out to select faculty to make sure Anthropology students would be both welcome in and prepared for their classes. Students in those other programs — Data Visualization, Design and Technology, Design and Urban Ecologies, Environmental Policy, History of Design and Curatorial Studies, Media Studies, Public and Urban Policy, Theories of Urban Practice — also join us in NSSR. This intermixing makes for a dynamic, constructive space of collaboration and knowledge sharing,” says Mattern.
Also launching this fall is Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism, which explores the theoretical foundations and political manifestations of radical democratic and anticolonial traditions. Organized by Carlos Forment, associate professor of sociology, and Andreas Kalyvas, associate professor of politics, the minor examines the changing meanings and practices of dissent, resistance, and self-rule that have emerged in the modern world. Currently available only to NSSR students, the minor will provide participants with a sophisticated understanding of alternative approaches for the study of power relations, regimes of knowledge, and the social movements that develop in response to them.
“The minors allow participants to engage more deeply with faculty and students from different disciplines who share their intellectual interests,” adds Milberg. “This represents an important innovation in our graduate curriculum, and I look forward to seeing how students take advantage of this opportunity.”
After a three year hiatus, the Memory Studies Group at The New School for Social Research regrouped and reemerged in March 2020. Less than a week after their first event, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world — and halted many of their plans.
“The idea for the Memory Studies Group came up…in Krakow, Poland, during the Democracy & Diversity Summer Institute in 2007,” recounts faculty advisor Elzbieta Matynia, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS), which conducts the annual summer study intensive. She had just taught her first class in collective memory. As her students walked through Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter, they noticed a pattern: “…beautifully renovated buildings, various institutions, cafes, restaurants, and the streets were all named for its Jewish past. The only thing missing was the Jewish people, who had been taken to the Nazi concentration camps, and murdered there. It became visible to us then, this uncanny presence of absence.”
This experience sparked an interest in memory among Institute students, who became the founding cohort of an independent Memory Studies Group: Amy Sodaro, Sociology PhD 2011; Lindsey Freeman, Sociology & Historical Studies PhD 2013; Yifat Gutman, Sociology PhD 2012; Alin Coman, Psychology PhD 2010, and Adam Brown, Psychology PhD 2008 and now Associate Professor of Psychology at NSSR. They organized a conference in the group’s first year, where scholars discussed questions like “Which past is official? What is it that we remember? How do we forget when we are not allowed to remember? How do groups remember their history when their memory is being repressed, and what is happening to people whose very existence is repressed from memory?”
When Malkhaz Toria, group coordinator and a Sociology MA student, came to NSSR as a Fulbright scholar in 2011, the Memory Studies Group became an intellectual home for him. “That inspired me to establish a similar sort of group at my home university, Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia,” he says; he also heads that university’s Memory Center.
Upon his return to NSSR in 2019, Toria was instrumental in reviving the group, which had gone on a brief hiatus. Now part of TCDS, the group has new core members of Franzi König-Paratore, Sociology PhD student; Elisabeta “Lala” Pop, Politics PhD student; Malgorzata Bakalarz Duverger, sociologist, art historian, and Sociology PhD 2017; Chang Liu, Sociology MA student; and Karolina Koziura, Sociology and Historical studies PhD student.
“Our goal is also to have some continuity of the transnational and transdisciplinary projects and exchange that Sodaro and Freeman envisioned and implemented when they were steering the group,” König-Paratore says. “My hope is that the group continues to connect past and present members. I personally hope that we open up the group more for professionals or cultural workers outside of academia.”
The revived group’s first and only in-person event was a March 2020 book launch for Museums and Sites of Persuasion, which was edited Sodaro and Joyce Apsel, and includes work by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at the School of Public Engagement, Toria, and many others. Since then, the group has held several online lectures and webinars and on discourses within the field, from a look at revisionist narratives in Russia to an examination of how Frida Wunderlich — the first female economist at NSSR and a founding member of the University in Exile — is remembered.
Memory Studies: A Transdisciplinary Field
Memory Studies spans disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities to explore the ways collective memory is constructed, experienced, repressed, and rebuilt. “The complex field of memory studies employs whole repertoire of approaches from different disciplines including comparative literature, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and politics, among other areas, to address the multifaceted phenomena of both individual and collective memories ,” Toria says. Matynia describes the field as “transdisciplinary.”
For example, Silvana Alvarez Basto, Liberal Studies MA student, looks at the intersections between politicization of art, history, and visual representations of memory in her home country of Colombia. “The topic of memory is very popular right now, since in 2016 the government ended an armed conflict with the FARC,” she says. Her research focuses on the construction of Simón Bolívar’s image as a national symbol across Latin America, in groups like the FARC and beyond. “I’m interested in how his face has become a guiding locus or a symbol for these movements,” Alvarez Basto explains. While her work has primarily dealt with 19th century portraits of Bolívar, she has recently begun looking at the ways “new technologies modify our relationship with canonical images and with the Western tradition of painted portraits.”
Toria works on the role of memory construction in authoritarian regimes and their aftermaths. Collective memory, he explains, does not come into existence organically. “It’s controlled and dependent on political conjunctures…Across the globe, if you have a totalitarian government, they are more keen to control how you remember.” His research looks at citizens in countries that were part of the Soviet Union. “Ukrainians, Georgians, and Estonians have different pictures of the past and past relationships with Russia. That’s why these clashes in questions of the past happen; it is quite a universal mechanism.”
“My first encounter with the Memory Studies Group at the New School was in 2009 when I was pursuing an MA degree. Through the [group] and TCDS I became connected with the interdisciplinary research and networks of the field and it greatly influenced my own MA thesis work,” Pop explains. “Now [that] I’m back at NSSR, I’m excited to be part of the team of graduate students continuing the group’s work and re-launching its activities.”
Memory Studies Today
Memory Studies takes on particular relevance in periods of upheaval, when democracies come into existence or are threatened, when social movements gain power, or when societies experience unprecedented change — periods like today.
Matynia points to several factors that make the current moment crucial for the field. Many countries have experienced what Matynia calls “de-democratization,” under the influence of dictators and “would-be dictators” who weaponize collective memory. “Politics of history and politics of memory became a part of the playbook of many dictators and aspiring dictators,” she explains.
Additionally, social movements have begun exposing and dismantling parts of the past that had been manipulated or repressed out of collective memory. Think of activists taking down statues of Confederate leaders in the U.S, slaveholders in the U.K., and a conquistador in Colombia. “There’s this rippling where people want to ask, ‘what does it mean to memorialize these figures?’” Alvarez Basto says.
Memory Studies doesn’t just look at the past; the field is equally interested in the ways that people form collective memory now in preparation for the future. The massive shift in March 2020 into lockdown and onto Zoom inspired the group’s April 21 conference, “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Speakers will include Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University; Hana Cervinkova, Professor of Anthropology at Maynooth University; and Juliet Golden, Director of the Central Europe Center at Syracuse University.
Toria explains, “There’s a kind of eternal presence that feels never-ending. Our world is reduced to these small screens, where our lives are… We’ll cover multifaceted aspects of Memory Studies in this new light, the context of the pandemic, like problems of democracy, remembrance, the problem of forgetting, shifting senses of time and space, and new issues in memory discourse surrounding gender and race.”
“We call it memory studies, but so much of what we think we are rooted in and call our past actually projects into the future,” Matynia adds. “So which past will we download as we moveout of today’s situation, and draw upon as a springboard for reinventing our intellectual lives, spiritual lives, and social lives?”
Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.
Santiago Mandirola, a Sociology and Historical Studies PhD candidate, has been awarded the competitive National Science Foundation Science and Technology Studies Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (HEGS-DDRI) for his dissertation “Markets in the Making: Financial Technology and Socio-Economic Life in Latin America.”
Mandirola’s research explores the role of consumer credit scoring systems and Financial Technology (FinTech) in the socio-economic lives of people living in South America’s Southern Cone.
While credit scores have become cornerstones of socio-economic life in the U.S., determining who can afford to buy a house or go back to school, large-scale credit scoring systems have not been able to take hold in Latin America in the same way. The most obvious reason for the disparity, Mandirola says, is that far fewer people there engage with formal banking systems — only about half of the population has access to a bank account, and they generally have enough resources to meet their needs without credit.
Mandirola is particularly interested in the methods FinTech companies have adopted to fill that gap since moving into Latin America’s credit industry in the 2010s. “I’m trying to look at what programmers, engineers, and risk analysts do in order to take information that is traditionally non-economic, like a certain person’s browsing patterns…and how they refine that information so they can make economic predictions about whether or not that particular buyer is credit-worthy,” he explains.
With the NSF grant, Mandirola hopes to travel to agencies developing new methods for credit scoring to observe their processes and conduct interviews with staff. He also plans to attend FinTech conferences and seminars to learn about innovations in the field. While COVID-19 may change his methods, Mandirola says his research style will remain the same. “I’m always concerned about trying to get as close to the subject as I can, and to try to use that information in a way that is as faithful as possible to the source.” he says. “There’s time later to analytically interpret the data collected.”
The topic is a personal one. As a sociology undergraduate in his home country of Argentina, Mandirola became “interested in the processes that try to impose a certain order to that uncertainty, and reliance on that order to make plans, calculations and estimations of how things will go in the future.” When he moved to New York for graduate school at The New School for Social Research (NSSR), he found that every lease he applied for required a credit score — something he did not have — and his interest in that magical three-digit number ignited.
Mandirola says two NSSR faculty members in particular, have played an integral role in this research. Carlos Forment, Associate Professor of Sociology and Mandirola’s doctoral advisor, has provided important guidance that has helped the project evolve. Forment is the Principal Investigator for Mandirola’s project, and has had a pivotal role in supporting his application and in crafting and improving the project itself.
“Working with Santiago over the years has been immensely rewarding. He taught me what I know about the current debates on FinTech,” Forment says. “Once I had a basic understanding of them, I encouraged him to break with the standard accounts that, not surprisingly, remain focused on the ‘Anglo-European’ world. In studying the particularities of FinTech in Argentina, Santiago is in uncharted territory and joining a small group of scholars who are seeking to rethink the terms of the debate. Santiago is eminently qualified for the task he has set himself.”
Emma Park, Assistant Professor of History and a 2020-2021 Heilbroner Center Faculty Fellow, has supported Mandirola by closely and thoughtfully reading his proposal, and helping him perfect his writing.
“Working and thinking with Santiago over the past couple years has been tremendously gratifying,” Park says. “I have no doubt that his research will not only contribute to our understandings of how the market for credit has been assembled by FinTech firms in the Southern Cone, but is poised to make important contributions to the growing scholarship within Science and Technology Studies that takes sites outside of Euro-America as their point of departure. The research is timely and politically consequential. I couldn’t be more thrilled!”
Ultimately, Mandirola aims to de-mystify credit scoring tools and determine what influence they have on people’s lives.
“I think this is a moment in which we have to focus more on the impact that these elements can have on our economic lives, our social lives, and especially the lives of more vulnerable populations, who are the ones usually resorting to alternative financial services,” Mandirola proposes. “Is it an impact that’s improving the lives of the people affected by it or not? Just as simple and complex as that.”
Read about how The New School’s Office of Research Support worked with Santiago Mandirola on his dissertation here.
Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.
Karolina Koziura has won a Józef Tischner Junior Visiting Fellowship at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna to work on her dissertation, tentatively titled “Erasing Disaster: The Global Production of Silence and the Great Ukrainian Famine.” From June through October 2021, Koziura will focus on her research, which explores “the production of silence and denial of disasters as shaped by political, media, and scientific narratives.”
Koziura is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research. The roles of political memory and constructed narratives in Central and Eastern Europe play a central role in her work, which has also included a project on the Great Ukrainian Famine. Her work has appeared in many publications, including East European Politics and Societies, Culture, and Ukraina Moderna. Her advisor is Virag Molnar, Associate Professor of Sociology. Koziura is also part of the Decolonizing Eastern European Studies group at NSSR, organized by Jessica Pisano, Associate Professor of Politics.
At The New School, Master’s programs provide an opportunity to forge new paths in one’s professional and intellectual lives, build career-focused and academic skills and networks, and push the limits of interdisciplinary education.
What is that experience like? To find out, Research Matters spoke with two current BAMA students and a BAMA alum about why they chose the program, how it’s helped them, and what they advise undergraduates considering this special program.
Anya Isabel Andrews
BA Sociology 2021 from Lang, MA Liberal Studies 2022 from NSSR
“The BAMA program is such a good opportunity for students to challenge themselves and get the most out of their school.”
Anya Isabel Andrews began her academic career as a neuroscience student at another college. But after an opportunity to tutor students in a juvenile detention center, she decided to transfer to The New School, study sociology, and pursue her longtime dream of becoming a teacher.
The BAMA program gives Andrews the opportunity to broaden the scope of her education in support of her professional ambitions.
“I want to be a teacher, but I have a lot of work to do to become the teacher I want to be, Andrews says. “I’m really interested in trying to expand the classroom into something that it hasn’t looked like for the last 150 years, to see and serve the whole student.”
Together with her advisor, Andrews built her own interdisciplinary curriculum by asking herself, “how is it that I would want to learn?” She added two undergraduate minors, in Politics and in Ethnicity & Race. Classes like “Other Worlds: Exploring the Critical Realms of Science Fiction” with Ricardo Montez, Professor of Performance Studies; “Blind Spots of NYC,” co-taught by Benoit Challand, Professor of Sociology, and Kamau Ware, artist, storyteller, and creator of The Black Gotham Experience; and “Fugitive Planning” with Mia White, Professor of Environmental Studies at Milano School of Management, expanded Andrews’ ideas of education and the world.
The class that has most influenced Andrews’ BA thesis work centered was an art history course, a discipline she had never previously studied. Race, Empire and Archive with Iliana Cepero, Professor of Modern/Contemporary Art History and Visual Studies, examines imperial artists’ representations of colonized peoples. Cepero’s use of art as a means to “engage with the complexity of colonization and socio-racial relations in Latin America” inspired Andrews to create a research project.
“I examined racism and the erasure of African culture from Puerto Rico’s history as it appears in, inspires and is reinforced by, art in social, educational, and institutional realms,” Andrews says. She hopes to show how art “changes the way that we see each other in social life, but also see how it can rearrange inherently racist, colonial thoughts.” Andrews presented this research at the Spring 2020 Dean’s Honors Symposium, and she plans to develop it into her MA thesis.
Andrews recently began taking graduate-level courses and has felt a palpable shift in the energy in graduate classrooms. While being the youngest person in the room can be difficult, “other people in my class never fail to be able to push the bar a little higher for me,” she says.
The BAMA program encourages an attitude of growth, a quality Andrews values. She’s a student activist and was a member of the Black Student Union’s board for two years. “An institution should grow just as much as we should,” she says. “The BAMA program is such a good opportunity for students to challenge themselves and get the most out of their school. An institution has its limitations. If you can use it to further your education, you can turn around and say to that institution ‘Hey, do you want to come along, too? Do you want to grow as well?’ That’s what I want to do coming out of this school.”
Andrews plans to go abroad in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Education after graduation, so she can apply the skills she’s learned to rebuild the United States’ education system.
BA Global Studies 2020 from Lang, MA Anthropology 2021 from NSSR
“The BAMA program helped me get two degrees done in five years. As a non-traditional student, that was a big plus for me.”
Oscar Fossum had an unconventional path to The New School. In 2014, he began a BA in Political Science at another university, but took leave to work for a start-up nonprofit called WeCount. There, he designed a web-based tool that connected unhoused people with services and resources, working under the guidance of an anthropologist who showed him the critical human element of design.
“We were able to use his research to better understand one of our big user groups,” Fossum explains. “If you really understand the population of the people you’re trying to serve, you know how to reach them, how to connect with them, how to engage with them, how to build something for them.”
WeCount was a “genesis point” for Fossum’s interest in anthropology and design. The New School’s BAMA program provided a direct path for Fossum to continue the research he had become passionate about. He entered the Global Studies program at Lang with a Chinese Studies minor.
“The BAMA program helped me get two degrees done in five years. As a non-traditional student, that was a big plus for me,” Fossum says. “As a person with a background in making a technology for a marginalized group of people that actually understands this population, The New School seems like a good place to get a design research background, not from a corporate money-making angle, but as a generative way to make better experiences for people.”
Fossum’s undergraduate classes gave him room to explore different disciplines while remaining oriented toward his goal. “I was taking classes that critically examined infrastructures, but I was also taking design classes with an emphasis on community engagement,” he says. One of his favorite classes was “Technopolitics” with Antina von Schnitzler, Professor of Anthropology, which helped lay the groundwork for his research on infrastructures as social artifacts, and the social formations built around them.
“I feel really glad that I was able to assemble my curriculum to meet the goals that I have for anthropology and design,” Fossum says.
Shannon Mattern, Professor of Anthropology and head of the Anthropology and Design subject area for MA students, has worked with Fossum since 2018. She guided him from his undergraduate research on zoning laws in New York City to shift his focus to the topography of the internet, specifically mesh networks.
For the last year, Fossum has researched mesh internet networks in New York City, and created a podcast chronicling his interviews with people like Greta Byrum from the Digital Equity Laboratory. “This technology was an immediate case of internet infrastructures being deployed in a non-mainstream, anti-corporate way…it’s a great project for The New School, where we think about subverting dominant narratives,” Fossum says.
Since completing his BA, Fossum has worked to create a more formal space for anthropological design research within The New School. “I’m glad to say that, since coming here, I’ve seen the focus on anthropology and design become more sophisticated,” he says. In April 2021, he and a small group of other MA students, working closely with Mattern, will lead the university’s first Anthropology and Design Exposition.
“I’ve been really glad to be met with open arms,” Fossum says. “There is space for students to come in here and make things happen.”
After he graduates in May, Fossum hopes to work with a technology company or doing city-planning. “If I can get a job where I’m creating systems better for people or making them cause less harm to the people interacting with them, then that’s a win.”
BA History 2018 from Lang, MA History 2019 from NSSR
“[Due to] the fact that the professors at The New School treated me with respect as a budding academic, I have gained the confidence to reach out and talk to scholars that I admire at various conferences and lecture events.”
Grace Song pinpoints the beginning of her academic journey to a 2013 encounter with the College Board handbook.
“I always knew I wanted to do U.S. history,” Song says. The handbook put The New School on her radar, and even before she applied, she began researching historians at Lang and NSSR she might want to work with.
Enrolling as a History BA student, Song remembers that Neil Gordon, her faculty advisor and a Literary Studies professor and former Lang dean, was incredibly influential in her academic path. Gordon recognized her drive and recommended that she apply to the BAMA program. He also encouraged her to hone her interests by declaring minors in Museum and Curatorial Studies and Politics.
Song began taking MA-level classes as a junior, taking two graduate classes and four undergraduate classes at once. She completed two theses — one for her BA and one for her MA — all while applying for PhD programs. Additionally, she studied abroad in Florence, Italy; interned at a small art gallery; coached the Debate Club; worked in the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies and in the Provost’s Office, and did research with faculty.
While Song says her schedule sometimes felt stressful, she credits the entire History faculty with supporting her and reminding her constantly of her abilities.
“I had no confidence coming in; I didn’t realize my intellectual capacity and what I was capable of doing,” Song says. “The faculty at Lang and NSSR really opened that up for me…They’re so accessible and they really treat you like you’re their colleague. They really treat you with respect.”
As an undergraduate, Song became interested in the ways objects facilitate historic memory. “I wanted to ask questions about the ways we remember, and how and why people are preserved,” Song says. “What do we do with too much memory? How do we use a physical object to do history? Whose history?” Her BA thesis examined these ideas through the Christopher Columbus monument in Columbus Circle. Her MA thesis looked at President William McKinley and the storage of his monuments.
Now a PhD student in History at the University of Notre Dame, Song finds the same questions guiding her new research on diplomatic history and the history of U.S. imperialism in Korea. And, she finds that the skills she developed as a BAMA student are helping her thrive. “The historical training and intellectual community that I had the honor of being a part of have prepared me to bring new and fresh ideas to the table,” Song says. “[Due to] the fact that the professors at The New School treated me with respect as a budding academic, I have gained the confidence to reach out and talk to scholars that I admire at various conferences and lecture events.”
Song has two pieces of advice for students interested in the BAMA program: “Manage your time well; don’t push yourself too much. And get to know your cohort. These peers will be your colleagues.”