March 15, 2017 News

The Division of the Social Sciences is bringing new attention to international scholarship with the creation of the Center for International Social Science Research (CISSR), under the direction of Department of Political Science professor Dan Slater.

In October 2016, David Nirenberg, Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences announced that the new Center would promote the research of University of Chicago scholars exploring topics that address “fundamental challenges in international and global affairs.” CISSR will motivate and support critical research that traverses disciplinary, methodological, and geographic boundaries, and that is focused on exploring global complexities related to critical issues like development, inequality, and social change.

This month, the Center is accepting applications to its initial call for research fellowship proposals. In Spring Quarter, the Center will announce its inaugural cohort of fellows, host a series of lectures delivered by prominent academics, and sponsor book workshops for faculty book projects.

The new Center extends CIS’s mission into the 21st century to increase knowledge and understanding of societies across the world in the pursuit of more accurate explanations of social and political behavior.

CISSR is the successor to the Center for International Studies (CIS), which was founded over 50 years ago to stimulate programs that “probe deeply into the historical, political, economic, and cultural characteristics” of the world. The new Center extends CIS’s mission into the 21st century to increase knowledge and understanding of societies across the world in the pursuit of more accurate explanations of social and political behavior.

While CIS programs became an integral component of the University’s international offerings to students and the public, Nirenberg observed in his announcement that faculty research needs “have grown dramatically over the past decade as many fundamental questions in the social sciences have become global in scale.”

This academic year alone, there are more than one hundred internationally focused research projects led by faculty across the eight departments of the Division of the Social Sciences. These projects span the globe and dozens of countries on every continent.

CISSR will meet the faculty’s needs by “providing funding and administrative support to set new research agendas, pilot new methods, and integrate new perspectives through deeper collaboration with scholars from across campus and around the world,” Nirenberg wrote.

The Center will maintain its home in the former CIS offices in Pick Hall, where it will apply the same spirit of interdisciplinary inquiry that was a hallmark of CIS’s scholarly programs.  The new Center hopes to become a destination for international social science practitioners and their varied approaches, methods, and questions.

“Social science isn’t about any specific method, discipline, or orientation toward causality,” said Slater, who was appointed as the Center’s Director in August. “It’s about looking systematically at empirical evidence and being willing to entertain alternative arguments and perspectives to our own. International social science will be an extremely big tent at CISSR.”

Energizing Scholarship

CISSR’s Advisory Board will select CISSR’s first group of faculty and doctoral Fellows from the proposals submitted this spring. Along with Slater, board members Emily Lynn Osborn, Paul Poast, and Jenny Trinitapoli reflect the diversity of methods and areas of interest that the Center will support. This group brings together expertise in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe as well as perspectives from public policy, history, political science, and sociology.

The Center’s call for proposals invites “research projects addressing contemporary and historical topics that will increase our knowledge and understanding of the world beyond the United States. Projects should be theoretically informed and empirically grounded, and should stand to benefit from critical dialogue across disciplinary, methodological, and geographic boundaries.”

“Things get most interesting when we strive and struggle to translate the particulars from our favorite corners of the world to audiences whose greatest expertise and intellectual passions lie elsewhere.”

CISSR will support a number of new research initiatives beginning in Summer 2017, providing financial support up to $25,000 per project for one year of funding, along with administrative support for research development. The resident Doctoral Fellows Program provides $5,000 funding for research along with office space in CISSR’s Pick Hall suite. Proposals for both fellowships are being accepted through March 22.

“An ideal CISSR project is one that generates excitement by asking questions that can energize scholars from across the social sciences,” said Slater. “We’re looking for work with a major empirical component, whether it generates its evidence through ethnographic fieldwork, archival digging, field experiments, interviews, cross-national datasets, or what have you. And we’re looking for fellows with a genuine desire to engage intensely with perspectives and methods that are quite different from their own.”

In the upcoming Spring Quarter, CISSR will sponsor book workshops for Robert Gulotty (Political Science), Adom Getachew (Political Science), and E. Summerson Carr (School of Social Service Administration). Each day-long book workshop will provide an opportunity for faculty members to gain insights from visiting and local scholars to refine their research and arguments before their manuscripts go to press. A call for proposals to fund the 2018 faculty book workshops will be issued during the next academic year.

Translating the Particular

CISSR projects are expected to deal with issues that resonate across borders. The Center encourages its fellows to find novel ways of leveraging the expertise and insights already found at the University’s renowned area studies centers, which bring together faculty whose research focuses on specific regions of the world. Twice-monthly workshops will gather scholars across campus in the same room, providing fellows an opportunity to improve their work and enrich the work of their colleagues as well.

Drawing on his own experience researching political order and conflict in Southeast Asia, Slater noted that, “regional knowledge often blossoms best through cross-regional conversations and collaborations. I was drawn to Southeast Asia by the fascinating and distinctive ways that very general and even universal social and political processes have played out there historically. The particulars are never just particulars – and I think things get most interesting when we strive and struggle to translate those particulars from our favorite corners of the world to audiences whose greatest expertise and intellectual passions lie elsewhere.”

“My own research has benefitted tremendously from engaging with my colleagues who work on similar themes in other parts of the world, and who work with different methodologies,” Slater said. “I look forward to working with our faculty advisory board and with our awardees to make CISSR a vibrant scholarly community for such research, that transcends regions, disciplines, and methodologies.”

“The end goal at CISSR will never be just good conversations. It’s for the fruits of our conversations to find expression in the kind of world-class research output that is UChicago’s hallmark.”

In the years since CIS was founded at the height of the Cold War, complex economic and political transformations have only increased the demand for an interdisciplinary study of global topics. While the new Center will continue supporting and showcasing international scholarship, Slater noted that its intense research focus will distinguish it from CIS and many of the international studies programs at peer institutions.

Slater said he envisions CISSR becoming a major destination where new ideas will flourish and where conversations will expand in creative and unforeseen directions. “But the end goal at CISSR will never be just good conversations,” he said. “It’s for the fruits of our conversations to find expression in the kind of world-class research output that is UChicago’s hallmark. The good questions in international social science are not so different from the good questions being asked by international policymakers, journalists, or other experts and practitioners. And the best academic questions are generally the ones with the biggest potential impact and implications for the world we care about outside our universities.”

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Dan Slater is the Director of CISSR and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science