Ideas

Explore firsthand accounts of research and questions posed by IAS scientists and scholars. From art history to string theory, from moral anthropology to the long-term fate of the universe, contributions span the last decade to the research of today.

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Like many Americans, my family and I were riveted by the Roots miniseries when it first aired in January 1977. I vividly recall sitting in front of the television with my mother, father, sister, and two brothers, watching the story of Alex...

On February 13, 1960, students line the counter of a dime store in Greensboro, North Carolina, in protest of the store’s refusal to serve them.

Originally published in 1971, Political Action: A Practical Guide to Movement Politics by Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus in the Institute’s School of Social Science, was republished by New York Review of Books in...

Ruha Benjamin speaks during an After Hours conversation at IAS

I spent part of my childhood living with my grandma just off Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. My school was on the same street as our house, but I still spent many a day trying to coax kids on my block to “play school” with me on my grandma’s...

Michael G. Hanchard during a 2014 Social Science seminar on "Sociology’s Promise"

As sociologists have reminded us, race, like power, is a relational concept. A so-called race is invariably defined in distinction to other presumed races. Where racial reasoning and the practice of comparison have combined in modern politics is...

Book cover for "Knowledge, Power, and Academic Freedom" by Joan Wallach Scott

In my lifetime, academic freedom has been repeatedly under threat. In the 1950s, in the McCarthy era, hundreds of teachers were interrogated about their political beliefs and summarily fired, whether or not those beliefs had anything to do with...

In 2019–20, Julia Ott, Member in the School of Social Science and Associate Professor at the New School for Social Research, is examining the origins of venture capital as an...

Book cover for "A Time for Critique"

Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science, and Bernard E. Harcourt, Visiting Professor (2016–17) in the School, have edited A Time...

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Conventional wisdom today says that the sciences—natural, physical, and even the quantitative social sciences like economics—are especially good for teaching effective truth practices. That is surely right to a degree. But just as much, we might...

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On November 22, five days into the gilets jaunes protests, with some 2,000 roads and roundabouts barricaded across the country and 280,000 demonstrators having taken to the streets in the major cities, Emmanuel Macron welcomed journalists...

Social Science

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By Alondra Nelson

Genetics is today engaged in practices of identity formation, in philanthropy and socioeconomic development projects, as corroborating evidence in civil litigation and historical debates, and elsewhere. Thus, although the therapeutic utility of the genome may be arguable, the social life of DNA is unmistakable: the double helix now lies at the center of some of the most significant issues of our time.

Arnold Levine converses with several students in a circle

By Arnold J. Levine

By the 1970s, genes were cloned and isolated and the sequences of the nucleotides revealed the proteins that they made, which could then be expressed and produced in bacteria. […] A common question was “What does one learn from all this reductionism without the organism?”

Historical Studies

Gossuin de Metz's "Image du Monde"

By Suzanne Conklin Akbari

At the Institute, while each School certainly has its own character and researchers’ work is highly specialized, there is nonetheless a sense of common purpose and shared environment. We inhabit the same space—the same woods—and not just in the literal sense. We share the experience of bewilderment, and the perpetual yearning for clarity.

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Watch talks from some of the world’s foremost science communicators on the close relationship between mathematics and physics.

View talks by experts on topics ranging from virology, cancer, and immunology to machine learning and neural networks. 

Portrait of Karina Urbach

This summer it became known that the Hohenzollern family, Germany’s former royal house, has been in secret negotiations with the German government, claiming restitution payments and the return of paintings and historical objects. Karina Urbach explains how her research is connected to the current debate.

“Imagine you knew nothing about baking, but someone gave you a million different muffins. Could you figure out how to bake a muffin? That's the problem of machine learning,” says Chris Maddison, Member in the School of Mathematics. At IAS, he is developing methods for machine learning and exploring foundational questions about how learning from data is possible.

Social Science

“Myths about venture capital stand in the way of democratic deliberation about how our society might direct the socially generated surplus of today's economy towards building a better economy for the future,” says Julia Ott, Member in the School of Social Science, who is examining the origins of venture capital as an idea, as a form of investment, and as an organized industry.

Social Science

On February 13, 1960, students line the counter of a dime store in Greensboro, North Carolina, in protest of the store’s refusal to serve them.

By Michael Walzer

Every political activist who has fought for a good cause dreams of a chance to fight again. We live, right now, in a bad time; American politics has not been this ugly since the Joe McCarthy years or the Red Scare and anti-immigrant frenzy of the early 1920s. We need movements of resistance, and we need citizen activists who remember the old labor union imperative: Organize!

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By Graham Farmelo

One of the biggest leaps forward in our understanding of these scattering amplitudes took place at the Institute for Advanced Study in the fall of 2003, when Edward Witten discovered a new approach to the subject, based on Roger Penrose’s twistors. They had yet to become part of mainstream physics, and most theorists regarded them as merely a mathematical curiosity. Witten’s work propelled them into the mainstream of theoretical physics, generated new lines of research, and opened up new ways of thinking about scattering in the subnuclear domain. 

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By Didier Fassin and Anne-Claire Defossez

How could a leaderless grassroots movement, involving often quite small groups of protesters, monopolize the national news, capture the attention of the wider world, and destabilize a government that had swept to power by a landslide victory in 2017? As Jacques Rancière has suggested, it is as difficult to understand why some people mobilize when confronted with situations they regard as unacceptable, as it is to understand why others in similar or even worse circumstances do not. 

Historical Studies

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By Angelos Chaniotis

The developments that Alexander’s campaigns set in motion ultimately led to the creation of a complex network of political, administrative, economic, and cultural connections that came close to the modern phenomenon of globalization. 

“My research offers scholars, activists, and community organizers a new way to see race—as a rhetorical practice with historical roots that extend back well beyond the periods of Enlightenment science and American slavery to which it is often attached,” says Cord J. Whitaker, Member in the School of Historical Studies, who is examining the history and development of race and racism in medieval English literature.

By Francesca Trivellato

The Promise and Peril of Credit examines key episodes in the West’s millennium-long struggle to delineate the place that finance ought to occupy in the social and political order. It does so by introducing readers to modes of thinking about the morality of credit that have become increasingly alien to us even as the questions that animated those early modern discussions remain as vital now as they were then.

Ideas

By Robbert Dijkgraaf

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this discovery. There is only one moment in human history when we will have seen a black hole for the first time. And that moment is April 10, 2019. 

By Kelly Devine Thomas

An IAS teatime conversation in 1935 between Nathan Rosen, Boris Podolsky, and Albert Einstein, about a fundamental issue of interpretation related to entangled wave-functions, introduced an ongoing debate over quantum physics.

Lia Medeiros, a Member in the School of Natural Sciences, is interested in using astronomical objects and phenomena to test fundamental theories of physics. She recently won a 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics as a member of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which produced the first image of a supermassive black hole.

Natural Sciences

By Juan Maldacena

What if black holes behave like ordinary quantum mechanical objects—and information about them is not lost, as previously thought, but retained on their horizons?

Natural Sciences

Black holes were thought to be something that existed somewhere else in the universe and were produced by the four-dimensional gravity that we experience. Now we can associate them to a physical system that does not contain gravity, such as a superconductor or some other system made of subatomic particles. And if these systems are interacting strongly enough, they can generate their own spacetime, and then the black holes can exist. 

By Karen Uhlenbeck

It's not so easy being a role model. One of the things you learn when you’re going through life and so forth is that you need role models, but you don’t need perfect role models. You need role models who fall down and pick themselves up. You need role models who show how even though you can’t do everything, you can do some things. You need role models to keep you going.

Historical Studies

By Konrad Schmid

In light of more than two hundred years of scholarship, the most precise answer to this question still is: We don’t know. The tradition claims it was Moses, but the Torah itself says otherwise.

Historical Studies

By Christopher S. Wood

The world is emergent and always unfolding in time. Painting has difficulty representing this kind of time. The portrait tries to do that, paradoxically, by representing the individual fixed in his­torical time. 

Historical Studies

By Myles W. Jackson and Arnold J. Levine

What can the history of science contribute to two controversial aspects of biomedical research: gene patenting, and race and genomics?

Social Science

By Joan Wallach Scott

Some of the reasons usually offered to explain the persistence of gender inequality include large abstractions: patriarchy, capitalism, male self-interest, misogyny, religion. These are, of course, useful categories to work with, but none of them can account for how deep-rooted these inequalities are in our psyches, our cultures, and our politics. 

Natural Sciences

By Freeman J. Dyson

I do not take the Prisoner’s Dilemma seriously as a model of evolution of cooperation. I consider it likely that groups lacking cooperation are like dodoes, losing the battle for survival collectively rather than individually.

Historical Studies

By Myles W. Jackson

My work in the history of science probes the porous boundaries between science and culture over the past two centuries. Much of it gestures toward the role of history in public policy.... We historians are rather good at illustrating that controversies have histories: how we arrived at where we are today is very informative. There have always been, and always will be, alternatives. 

Social Science

By Didier Fassin

Cyclical movement of nature and worldly events, biology and biography: these are the two series that make life an entity at once overdetermined in its material dimension and indeterminate in its course . . . Can this binarism be resolved? Is it possible to think of life as biology and life as biography together?
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By Kevin W Martin

After seizing power on his own behalf in December 1949, Army Colonel Adib al-Shishakli effectively ruled Syria for much of the next five years, during which he wrought long-term changes in Syria’s political culture and initiated a host of policies and practices subsequently adopted by Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and other authoritarian rulers.