Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First projects funded under Social Sciences Annual Institute

U-M social science faculty teams will organize two sets of novel, interdisciplinary research activities this year with funding from the Social Sciences Annual Institute (SSAI), an initiative recently established by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

The purpose of the SSAI is to provide initial support for unique and innovative projects that are as yet outside traditional funding streams. By targeting projects that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, the SSAI is recognizing that these cutting-edge ideas may require preliminary support during the initial stages of development.

The funded projects, while completely different from each other, are similarly novel and cross-disciplinary.

The first project is titled "Against Monosequentialism: Understanding Tradeoffs, Synergies, and Drives of Joint Social Outcomes." It will examine the intersection of social, ecological and biophysical sciences in support of positive and sustainable relationships between humans and their natural world.

Professor Arun Agrawal, a faculty member in the School of Natural Resources & Environment (SNRE), and colleagues plan to organize their activities around the topic of sustainability to understand the trade-offs and synergies that can develop through sustainability-related social-ecological processes.

Others working on the project include:

• Daniel Brown, professor, SNRE.

• Ted Parson, Joseph L. Sax Collegiate Professor of Law and professor of law, Law School; and professor of natural resources and environment, SNRE.

• Elisabeth Gerber, professor of public policy and political science, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

• Knute Nadelhoffer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and director of the Biological Station, LSA.

• Margaret Somers, professor of sociology and history, LSA.

• Don Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute; Graham Family Professor of Environmental Sustainability; professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering; professor of natural resources and environment, SNRE; special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability.

• Carl Simon, director of Center for Study of Complex Systems; professor of economics, mathematics and public policy, LSA; and professor of public policy, Ford School.

Activities by the Agrawal group will include biweekly research discussions, preparation of research papers and grant applications by faculty-graduate student teams, several weekend workshops involving scholars from the U-M and other institutions, and a conference in August. One of the group's research papers on the subject of synergies and tradeoffs in social and ecological outcomes recently was accepted by the journal Science and will draw further attention to the work they are launching.

The second project is titled "Neuroscience and Socioeconomic States: The Merging of Social and Brain Science." It will be led by Pamela Davis-Kean, assistant professor of psychology and research associate professor in the Institute for Social Research, and her colleague Fred Morrison, professor of psychology. They will assemble researchers from the social sciences and neurosciences to examine how socioeconomic disparities and cognitive environments interact to influence child development.

They plan to bring together social scientists and neuroscientists, groups that have approached the study of neurocognitive development in children in various socioeconomic climates, independent of one another. The June conference will pair scientists from psychology, economics and public health with those from neurophysiology and genetics. The goals of the conference are to consider how cross-disciplinary teams might carry out research differently, and how such teams can be identified, organized and funded.

In establishing the Social Sciences Annual Institute, OVPR and Rackham seek to promote social science research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries and advances innovation in the social sciences. In addition, the SSAI will provide seed funds to support research topics that are not yet likely to be funded through the traditional channels and agencies.

The SSAI stems from the work of the Joint Initiative on the Future of the Social Sciences Committee, chaired by Toni Antonucci, associate vice president for research, professor of psychology and research professor in the Institute for Social Research. Requests for proposals for a second round of funding under the Social Sciences Annual Institute will be announced later this semester.