School of Social Science

A Global Politics of Knowledge

by Didier Fassin 

The Summer Program brings together its participants for two-week sessions each summer for three years. (Credit: Andrea Kane)

Doing social science across different worlds

Let us imagine a conversation between a literary scholar from Palestine interested in the reception of Ibn Ruschd’s commentary on Aristotle, an anthropologist from Iraq examining the experience of exiles fleeing the war, an economist from the Ivory Coast assessing the impact of microfinance projects, a sociologist from Benin investigating gas smuggling across the border, a political scientist from Brazil analyzing clientelism in local elections, and a legal scholar from Chile studying anti-discrimination laws. This conversation did take place at the Institute for Advanced Study as part of the Summer Program in Social Science that was launched in September 2015. Other scholars involved in the program were conducting research on environmental conflicts in Buenos Aires, crack use in Rio de Janeiro, income inequality in Egypt, water shortage in rural Iran, corruption practices in the Cameroonian health system, debates over the age of sexual consent under South African law, and negotiations at the World Trade Organization—among other themes.

Einstein’s Pacifism: A Conversation with Wolfram Wette

by Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee 

Albert Einstein, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and novelist Thomas Mann at the previous of the anti-war film The Fight for Peace in 1938 (Credit: Herbert McCory/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

A lifelong struggle for peace amid militarism, Nazi mobilization, and the threat of nuclear war

Wolfram Wette is one of Germany’s foremost military historians and Professor at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg. He is the author or editor of over forty books, including The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality (Harvard University Press, 2007), which was translated into five languages and radically reshaped the way historians think about the role of the German army in World War II. In 2015, the German government awarded Wette the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the only federal honor bestowed upon German citizens for their exceptional accomplishments. In July, Wette sat down with me to talk about Albert Einstein’s little-known activism in the German peace movement.

Most people know Albert Einstein for his theory of relativity of 1905, but they don’t know about his lifelong struggle for peace. But when you speak with some of the people who knew him, they will tell you that half of his life’s energy was dedicated to the struggle for peace and the other half to his atomic research. In 2005, there was an international congress in Berlin celebrating the centenary of the theory of relativity: “Thinking Beyond Einstein.” A good portion of the papers presented there focused on his role as a peace activist during the time of the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1933.

Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life

by Lucas Bessire 

An ethnographic account of the seeming destruction of a small group of South American Indians

This ethnographic project and I have grown up together. It evolved through repeated returns over the course of forty-two months of fieldwork carried out in Bolivia and Paraguay between 2001 and 2013. Its focus has sharply changed since I began traveling to the Chaco as a twenty-one-year-old. From the outset, I was an active participant in representing Ayoreo humanity to fellow outsiders, most notably in two documentary films. Yet I soon came to feel that there was something profane about anthropology as commonly practiced in the Chaco. And Ayoreo-speaking people wouldn’t let me forget it. Unsettled by the process of making my second video during the aftermath of a 2004 “contact,” I resolved that a collaborative project was the only option for the immersive research that I began in 2006 among Totobiegosode—Ayoreo in northern Paraguay.

How Do You Know a Nuclear Weapon Works if You Can’t Test It?

by Hugh Gusterson 

Under the Stockpile Stewardship program, laboratories like Livermore obtained some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world on which they could simulate nuclear tests.

And what would an anthropologist know about that?

In 1987, in my third year as a graduate student in anthropology, I arrived in the small California town of Livermore, host to one of two nuclear weapons design laboratories in the United States. Thanks to an indulgent dissertation committee, which had allowed me to abandon my original goal of doing fieldwork in Africa for a much more unconventional project, I came to Livermore intent on understanding the culture of the scientists, mainly physicists, who worked on the most powerful weapons on Earth. The anthropology of science did not yet exist as a recognized sub-field of anthropology but, in retrospect, that is what I was doing.

I came to Livermore at a moment when the nuclear weapons labs at Livermore and Los Alamos were on the defensive. The nuclear freeze campaign of the early 1980s had had some success in reframing the nuclear arms race as a danger to, not a guarantor of, security. “End the race or end the race,” as their slogan went. In 1982, more than a thousand protestors were arrested for civil disobedience at the gates of the Livermore Laboratory. Then, in 1985, the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, suspended Soviet nuclear testing for eighteen months, challenging the United States to join him. And at the Reykjavik Summit of 1986, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev astonished the world by coming close to an agreement to abolish nuclear weapons. 

A Larger Pattern of Institutional Racism

by Michael Hanchard 

Protesting in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in 2014 (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The multiple dimensions of state-sanctioned violence against black and brown youth

I first met Emery Robinson at Albert Leonard Junior High School in New Rochelle, New York. He was two grades behind me, a seventh grader when I was in the ninth grade. He was known as a manchild, not only in terms of size, because he was much bigger than most ninth graders even then, but because he had the physicality and presence of a young man. He could have easily passed for seventeen or eighteen years old when, by my recollection, he could not have been much more than eleven or twelve.

His face, however, betrayed his youth; cherubic, at times shy, an easy laugh and mischievous smile, he was what one would refer to as “not a bad kid,” to indicate someone who was a bit mischievous but not malicious. Because of his size he made the basketball team, though it did not seem as if he had a great interest in basketball. He gravitated to kids who were a little older, bolder, and who occasionally got into trouble, petty theft, but no violence to my knowledge. In my hometown, junior high school was a pivotal point in the lives of many poor and not so poor, black, brown, and working class kids from many diverse backgrounds.