September 5, 2007
Social science departments welcome 12 new faculty for 2007-08
Twelve new members of the regular faculty are beginning work in the social sciences at Brown during this academic year:
Francoise Hamlin in Africana Studies;
Samuel Zipp in American Civilization and Urban Studies;
Paja Faudree in Anthropology;
Hsin-I Tseng in East Asian Studies;
Geoffroy de Clippel,
Kfir Eliaz and
Marilda Sotomayor in Economics;
Deborah Rivas-Drake and
Tracy Steffes in Education; and
Gianpaolo Baiocchi and
Mark Suchman in Sociology.
Imagine a society where the average citizen, not government officials, decides how local money is spent. Gianpaolo Baiocchi has witnessed this form of democracy and hopes to someday see it happen in the United States.
Baiocchi, associate professor of sociology and international studies, researches, collects and publicizes information on the concept of participatory budgeting (PB) – turning over budgetary decisions to the citizens who are impacted by the budget. The City of Porto Alegre, Brazil, is the best-known case of PB, which has been in existence for more than 10 years.
“When I went to do this research in graduate school, I was so struck by the way that average people and people with not a lot of education and resources could be effective decision makers and make a real difference in their lives and in the way their governments are run,” Baiocchi says. “You don’t expect residents of slums with third-grade educations to be able to debate municipal policy or where sewage lines should be put.”
Baiocchi was also struck by how altruistic the residents could be. “You would expect that a meeting to decide where the next road would be laid in a slum area would be a fierce battle over who gets it. But what I actually saw was people having pretty selfless discussions sometimes.”
So how can these citizens debate complicated issues with such limited education? It boils down to three very important things: decision making, accessible rules and language, and transparency. “The citizens are making the actual decisions – this is not a theoretical discussion, and it’s not some community visioning exercise where you go and discuss how you would like your neighborhood to be in an abstract way. This is about the decision for next year’s project, and there are tangible results,” Baiocchi says.
“There was also a real effort to make the meetings and the language accessible to whoever the particular audience happens to be. I’ve been to a lot of other meetings where technical decisions are so mysterious and made so complicated by jargon –and here, they made the discussion accessible to everybody. The whole process was pretty transparent – people knew the rules and knew what was expected to happen next. They could elect somebody to be a delegate for them, but they could also recall that delegate.”
Currently, there are 500 cities worldwide mimicking the government in Porto Alegre. Britain is next with plans to implement PB in 10 cities next year. And what about the United States?
“The local governments in the United States are pretty good; they’re not corrupt for the most part,” Baiocchi says. “City governments in Brazil are under-funded and corrupt and people have just come out of 20 years of military dictatorship and depression. If anything, it shouldn’t have happened in Brazil in the first place and yet it is happening. It makes me think that one of these days it’s bound to happen here in the United States. There are a lot of people interested.
“My wildest dream would be for PB to be part of a broader movement for social justice and not just a technical fix,” Baiocchi says.
There is more information on participatory budgeting on Baiocchi’s website, partipatorybudgeting.org.
– Amy Morton
Kenneth Chay was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he discovered that by studying economics, he could bring “the credibility of science” to interesting social issues, such as civil rights and social policy. Now specializing in applied microeconomics, Chay brings to Brown research expertise that is relevant to policy in the areas of health, labor and the environment.
After earning a B.A. in economics from MIT in 1991, Chay attended Princeton University, where he received his M.A. in 1993 and Ph.D. in 1996. He was most recently the Michael R. Peevey and Donald Vial Associate Professor in the economics department at the University of California–Berkeley. Chay has also served as a visiting professor at Princeton and MIT and held posts at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was the recipient of an Outstanding Teaching Award at Berkeley in 2005, the Kenneth J. Arrow Award for best paper in health economics in 2004, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and research grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Chay says the main thrust of his work is about finding causal relationships. His numerous research publications include studies on the relationship between high-stakes testing laws and student performance; the impact of air pollution on infant mortality; and the effect of civil rights laws on the economic status and health outcomes for African Americans.
Currently, Chay is exploring whether one’s social status can be linked to one’s life expectancy.
“To identify any type of causal relationship, you need random assignment, as if something happened by luck,” Chay said. “It’s hard to think of instances in life where status is assigned randomly.”
He and his colleagues came up with using induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a measurement of one’s status for every Major League Baseball player born before 1946. Examining induction voting histories along with player obituaries, Chay found that inductees do not live longer, on average, than players who were not inducted. However, players who narrowly missed induction have a significantly shorter lifespan than all other players.
“The players who barely missed getting inducted are living a shorter life than those who never had a shot,” Chay said. “They’re being told they’re just not quite good enough and our research suggests that message could be hurting them.”
A professor in Brown’s Department of Economics, Chay is stationed at the Population Studies Training Center and has big plans to collaborate across disciplines at Brown, including work with the Center for Environmental Studies, Taubman Center for Public Policy, and Department of Community Health.
“Most of my work is viewed as multidisciplinary and I know that’s part of the ethos on this campus,” Chay said. “That’s definitely one of the things I’m looking forward to at Brown.”
– Deborah Baum
As a game theorist, Geoffroy de Clippel is interested in the question of cooperation from an economic perspective.
“A question I’m trying to answer is how self-interested individuals can reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” he explained. “What type of procedure leads to that? What are the terms of the agreement?”
Though cooperative games attracted much attention in the 1950s and 1960s, de Clippel says there have been only few significant scholarly developments in the field since then. Understanding cooperation is nevertheless of prime importance for economics and the social sciences in general, and de Clippel is currently trying to “revive the theory by adding new components that have been overlooked.” Specifically, he is exploring environments with externalities (e.g., the profit of a cartel may depend on whether other cartels form as well) and with asymmetric information (e.g. the seller of a used car may be better informed about the intrinsic quality of the car than the potential buyers).
Testing out of the last two years of high school, de Clippel attended Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he earned a B.Sc. in mathematics and both a B.A. and M.A. in economics. After receiving his Ph.D. from the university’s Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) in 2003, de Clippel joined Brown’s Department of Economics as a postdoctoral research associate and visiting assistant professor. He most recently served as assistant professor of economics at Rice University for two years.
De Clippel’s already impressive list of publications includes articles in the International Journal of Game Theory, Journal of Mathematical Economics, and two forthcoming papers in the Journal of Economic Theory. His 2005 article in Games and Economic Behavior has been called “a breakthrough” by some colleagues in the field. It discussed whether it is fair for agents to be rewarded for their sole informational advantage. After working on other projects during the last two years, de Clippel is currently revisiting questions of equity and fairness under incomplete information along with colleagues at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, and Ben Gurion University, Israel.
A native of Belgium, de Clippel feels at home at Brown and looks forward to future collaborations with colleagues.
“It’s difficult to know when a joint contribution can emerge. You cannot plan that,” he said. “You need those informal meetings and meals and gatherings in the hallways. There are so many people to talk to here and each one is so outstanding in their field.”
– Deborah Baum
Kfir Eliaz, associate professor of economics, researches topics in both economics and psychology. “My research combines both experimental and theoretical work,” Eliaz says. “I construct mathematical models that try to capture how individuals interact in an economic environment – how single individuals make decisions on things like consumption or savings and how an outcome depends not only on what you do but what others do as well.”
Winning an auction, for example, depends not only on an individual’s bid, but also on the bids of others. In an election, the winning candidate depends on an individual’s vote but also on the votes of many others – and that requires strategic thinking. “You try to forecast what others may do and try to respond to that,” Eliaz says.
At Tel-Aviv University, Eliaz received his B.A. in economics and management, his M.A. in economics and his Ph.D. in economics, all with honors. He recently concluded six years as an assistant professor of economics at New York University.
Eliaz’s work is both mathematical – trying to construct mathematical models to capture a way of thinking – and experimental. He tests mathematical theories by trying to see how people actually make decisions.
“A computer program simulates a certain environment, like an auction or an election, and students are asked to make decisions within that environment – to do what they would have done in the real world,” Eliaz says of his experiments. “We then try to infer from the results whether mathematical models accurately capture how people make decisions.”
Eliaz is also researching the concept of speculative trade. “Speculative trade is a trade that takes place between individuals solely because they have different views or beliefs about how the future will unfold,” Eliaz says. “The question is whether or not we can carry out efficient speculative trade even if we don’t observe each other’s beliefs.”
Eliaz also loves to teach. “I try to make students as interested and fascinated about some of the questions I research and to recognize the insights that come from economic modeling. Most people think that economics is a bit dry and has to do with numbers, but there are actually many interesting questions that have to do with everyday life that we can use economics to analyze. To have students be excited about that always makes my work worthwhile.”
– Amy Morton
Paja Faudree, Brown University Class of 1992, rejoins her alma mater as an assistant professor of anthropology. Her work focuses on the intersection of language and culture in indigenous languages spoken in southern Mexico, particularly on modern efforts to write the languages down. She has worked primarily on Mazatec, a language spoken by about 200,000 people, making it one of the larger indigenous languages spoken in North America. Her work involves ethnographic research in rural Mexico and focuses on language politics and discourses about ethnicity as vehicles through which social persons are constructed and, ultimately, society itself is affirmed and renewed. She’s continually widening the scope of her analysis concerning modern questions of ethnic identity and political mobilization.
After a degree earned in philosophy and pre-medicine, Faudree began an M.F.A. at Brown in poetry and playwriting. But while she was writing a play for a graduate writing workshop with Paula Vogel, she encountered a psychological case study about a native American war veteran written by an anthropologist. The story intrigued her. It was “a turning point for the kind of writing I was doing for a while,” she says, and sparked her interest in anthropology. While freelancing for the literary supplement of The Village Voice in New York City, she researched on article on indigenous writers, a subject which captivated her and became the center of her doctoral dissertation.
Faudree comes to Brown from the University of Chicago, where she was an assistant professor in the social sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in linguistic anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also took a Master of Arts in anthropology and folklore. The poet-playwright turned anthropologist has many academic grants and awards to her credit, including a Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research Fellowship, a dissertation fellowship from the Social Sciences Research Council, a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and residencies at numerous artist colonies.
– Molly de Ramel
Francoise Nicole Hamlin is Brown’s newest assistant professor of Africana studies. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in England – a B.A. at the University of Essex and an M.A. at the University of London — both in U.S. studies. She went on to Yale University, where she earned a Ph.D. in African American and American studies in 2004. Her fields of interest include U.S. 20th-century history, American culture, African American history and culture, and African American women’s history and culture.
Her award-winning dissertation, The Book Hasn’t Closed, The Story Isn’t Finished’: Continuing Histories of the Civil Rights Movement, looks at the movement through a local study in Coahoma County, Miss. from 1951 to 1999.
Hamlin has published articles about African American women in the movement in Proteus: A Journal of Ideas and in the edited volume, Mississippi Women. She has also published an article about the role of oral history in research and writing in Sound Historian. Other publications include book reviews and encyclopedia entries. She has presented her work at national and international conferences and has won numerous awards including her most recent, the Franklin L. Riley Dissertation Prize from the Mississippi Historical Society in 1996.
In March, 2007, Hamlin was a panelist and organizer for a panel titled “Civil Rights and Social Inequality” at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. Her paper was titled “Waging War on Poverty with Double-Edged Swords.”
Hamlin is currently on sabbatical and will being teaching at Brown in the fall of 2008.
– Amy Hamlin
Bridging interests in adolescent development and education, Deborah Rivas-Drake has always been curious about how underprivileged children and adolescents perceive inequality in educational and economic opportunities.
“I’m interested in figuring out how kids succeed when the odds are stacked against them,” she said. “What helps project them forward to become upwardly mobile? This is an important question because we need more people from under-resourced backgrounds to be in positions where they can turn around and help others.”
Her research interests are partly due to her own background, including her experiences as a college counselor for first-generation college students. Rivas-Drake believes the success of ethnic minority students depends on “a combination of individual drive and access to institutional resources.”
Rivas-Drake comes to Brown from a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at New York University’s Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education. She received her master’s in developmental psychology in 2002 and a Ph.D. in the combined program in education and psychology in 2005 from the University of Michigan. She completed her undergraduate work at Pace University, graduating in 1999 with honors in psychology. Rivas-Drake’s research has appeared in publications including the Journal of Black Psychology, and she has forthcoming articles in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
Rivas-Drake’s most recent work centers on social development among ethnic minority adolescents and how they formulate ideas about schooling, work and identity. Do a child’s own perceptions play a role in the achievement gap? She says her research refutes the idea that a strong minority identity is inconsistent with doing well in school.
“Much of the discourse about the minority achievement gap tends to implicitly blame a culture of opposition for students feeling disenchanted with the educational system. But I’ve found that the opposition isn’t as pervasive as it appears,” Rivas-Drake explained. “Most of what I’ve done shows that the more positive a child feels about their ethnicity, the better they tend to report feeling about school.”
She is currently working on two projects. One tracks Latino college students, examining how their perceptions of occupational and institutional discrimination change from freshman to senior year. The other tracks young adolescents’ perceptions of opportunity as they progress through middle school.
Kenneth Wong, chair of the Department of Education, says Rivas-Drake’s work has already attracted national attention and he looks forward to the way her research will extend the department’s scholarly agenda on human development to young adults and adolescents.
– Deborah Baum
Marilda Antonia de Oliveira Sotomayor’s research interests include matching games, market design, related areas of game theory and their application to economics. She’s been a pioneer in the field in her home country, Brazil, organizing the First Brazilian Workshop of the Game Theory Society.
That’s only part of the trail she’s blazed, earning an bachelor’s master’s, and Ph.D. in mathematics and a ‘Privat Dozen’ in math and economics, also in Brazil.
An undergraduate wouldn’t be mistaken in calling her colloquially an “active gamer.” She’s member of The Econometric Society, Game Theory Society, Brazilian Society of Mathematics, and the Brazilian Society of Econometrics. Sotomayor is also a reviewer for the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Economic Theory, the International Journal of Game theory, and many others. Her book, Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game Theorhetic Modeling and Analysis (with Alvin Roth), was published by the Cambridge University Press and won the Lanchester Prize of 1990.
Sotomayor arrives at Brown from the Universidade de Sao Paulo, where she is a professor of mathematical economics. She has taught for most of her career in Rio de Janeiro and has been honored as a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and a member of the Econometric Society.
– Molly de Ramel
Tracy Steffes initially planned to focus her scholarly career on law and citizenship, but things changed during graduate school while she was browsing the stacks in the library at University of Chicago. She stumbled upon a huge wall of old civics textbooks and said the binding on the volumes, dating from 1890 to 1920, just caught her eye. Steffes used the texts for her master’s thesis project, which explored the development of civics in the public schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“During my research, it became clear to me that something very large was happening in schools. It wasn’t just the curriculum – there were large structural and organizational changes taking place as well,” Steffes said. “That’s when I became interested in this time period and where schools fit into the larger picture of nation-building and cultural change.”
Steffes arrives to Brown’s Department of Education from the University of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. in history in 2007. Her teaching record includes courses at the University of Chicago, Denison University, and Indiana University–Northwest. She is currently working to turn her dissertation, A New Education for a Modern Age: National Reform, State-Building, and the Transformation of American Schooling, 1890-1933, into a book.
Steffes’ forthcoming research article in the journal History of Education Quarterly examines transformations in rural school governance in the early 20th century. The constant tension between local control and central authority documented in the article is something Steffes says still very much characterizes American education.
“It seems to me these things are being fought out in similar ways between the state and federal level today,” she said. “We really see it in No Child Left Behind, where there’s tension over federal requirements and local support and how these initiatives are being set and applied. I think there are both models and cautionary tales in this earlier period.”
Kenneth Wong, chair of the Department of Education, calls Steffes one of the top young historians of education in the nation.
“Steffes’ research integrates historical inquiry with legal and institutional analyses,” he said. “Her study of schooling expansion as a process of state building will make a significant contribution to the current scholarship.”
– Deborah Baum
Mark Charles Suchman has blazed a path through many of the Ivies and now has found his way to Brown.
His sociology career began with a summa cum laude bachelor’s degree at Harvard, a J.D at Yale (editor of the Law Journal), then a master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Stanford. Recently, Suchman has been a visiting professor of law at Cornell Law School, conducting teaching and research in corporations law and sociolegal studies.
Suchman says his sociological teaching interests include formal organizations, the sociology of law, economic sociology, and technology and entrepreneurship. His legal interests include intellectual property and criminology. But why the combination of sociology and the law?
“In sociology, I was attracted to the study of organizations and law because they both embody a persistent tension between uniform rules and idiosyncratic exceptions, and between formal principles and informal practices,” Suchman says. “Often in our modern world, laws and organizations seem to be at odds – yet the social and cultural tasks that they seek to accomplish are often quite similar.”
His research background is equally impressive, including grants from the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for his innovative studies of the organizational, professional and legal challenges of new information technologies in health care.
“I love finding new patterns, organizing ideas in new ways, and trying to explain the social world in terms that other people (and my students, in particular) will find clear and memorable,” Suchman says. “I’m always interested in getting to that ‘Aha!’ moment, when suddenly the world seems a little different from how it had seemed before. I cherish those ‘Aha’ moments whenever I experience them myself, and I try to share that experience with my students in my teaching and with my colleagues in my scholarship.”
In his work at Brown, Suchman is looking forward to the development of the COE program, and he’s also hoping to draw together Brown students and faculty who are interested in legal studies.
– Molly de Ramel
Hsin-I Tseng has one thing to say to all her future students, “Learning Chinese is not hard. Don’t be scared.”
Born in Taiwan, Tseng, professor of Chinese and East Asian studies, learned to speak English in middle school. “I had five hours of English classes every week – one hour every day,” she says. “But I didn’t have many opportunities to practice because I had 50 classmates at that time.”
Her first chance to speak with a native English speaker didn’t arrive until three years after she started learning the language. Like many students, she admits that at first, she wasn’t very motivated to learn English because she didn’t understand the importance of it. But one summer, she went to camp. “They had an instructor from America and that was the first time I knew I could communicate with a foreigner. That’s when I became very motivated to study English.”
A member of the American Language Teacher’s Association, Tseng believes that learning Chinese, especially business Chinese, is very important because China’s economy is growing. While at Brown, she hopes to start a course in business Chinese for the expanding department. “Right now, a lot of students are interested in business and they want to do business with the Chinese people, so there is a demand for the class. Unfortunately, a lot of Chinese professors and instructors don’t have a business background too.”
Tseng is also very focused on teaching advanced Chinese, but that comes with its own set of difficulties for students. “There are a lot of synonyms which are more advanced. For example, the English words ‘impact’ and ‘influence’ – in Chinese they are the same word, but in English they are used in different contexts. Students have to remember that although some verbs have the same meaning, they have to have different objects, and those must be memorized.”
She also wants to focus on advanced learners’ writing skills. “Usually for a lot of advanced students, their writing skills don’t improve as much as speaking and listening.”
Tseng has advice for future students: Practice is the key. “A lot of people think that Chinese is a very difficult language to study, but actually, for English speakers, the grammar isn’t so bad. You will spend a lot of time in the beginning on the writing system because there are no letters – we call the Chinese words characters. But the more you practice, the faster you can pick it up.”
– Amy Morton
If you have any questions about 20th-century New York, Sandy Zipp is probably the person to ask. His primary work is a history of urban renewal in the seminal first 20 years after World War II, focusing on four areas: Stuyvesant Town, the United Nations Headquarters building, the Lincoln Square project (home of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts), and public housing in East Harlem.
He “tracks the rise of the idea of urban renewal ... and the defense of locality and neighborhood life, finding both the hopeful vision at the heart of urban renewal” and the fact that “Many of the places that were seen as wasteland perhaps were not so disposable.”
He’s currently turning this idea (once a dissertation) into a book for Oxford University Press, tentatively called Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York. Some of his thoughts on Stuyvesant Town were published in a New York Times op-ed titled “A Landmark’s Middle-Class Myth.”
How did Zipp become so fascinated by cities? Partly it was growing up in Washington, D.C., but his interest really took hold through a job as a bike messenger. He says zipping along the streets of San Francisco gave him a real appreciation for urban geography and the need to learn a city’s social, political, and economic structure from the inside out. He even brings music into his maps of these cities – and will teach a class about the interaction between urban environments and the music that springs to life from the streets. (His undergraduate thesis examined punk music’s rise in Washington.)
Zipp holds a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale, a master’s in American studies from George Washington University, and a B.A. from Northwestern. He has been awarded a Rockefeller Archive Center research grant, a Franke Interdisciplinary Fellowship from Yale, and a Presidential Fellowship from George Washington.
In sum, Zipp calls himself a “cultural and political historian of the post-World War II United States, interested in urbanism and issues of the built environment.” From the history department at the University of California–Irvine, he joins Brown as an assistant professor in American civilization and urban studies, hired through the Urban Studies Program.
– Molly de Ramel