A Message from the Director

A Bright Year Ahead

For those of us whose lives follow the rhythm of the academic calendar, September often generates excitement as we find ourselves anticipating the unknown. The influx of new colleagues—scholar, student, and practitioner alike—brings intellectual stimulation and novelty to our lives. This feeling is even more acute for me this year as I enter my new role as director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs after having served as acting director in spring 2014 before a sabbatical leave in 2014–2015.

I write to share what is in store for this new academic year in several areas of Center activities, namely, in our promotion of multidisciplinary research, funding, and communication strategy. I also provide information concerning the upcoming external review of the Center.

Multidisciplinary Research Activities

The intellectual vibrancy of the Center depends on ensuring that its resources are directed toward frontier research in international, comparative, global, and transnational social science research. We intend to maintain a broad intellectual umbrella over the substantive interests of all our Faculty Associates, while honoring the principles of disciplinary and methodological pluralism.

I wish to mention two specific areas in which we will deploy our efforts in the upcoming year:

The Weatherhead Initiative Research Cluster in International Affairs: To further cultivate the intellectual activity inside the walls of the WCFIA and foster research collaboration across disciplines, we continue to focus on our past, present, and future Weatherhead Initiative Research Clusters. We maintain some support for the first cluster, the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH), to help them secure additional outside funding. (Warm congratulations to Professors Sven Beckert (History) and Charles Maier (History) who have already received a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation!) Meanwhile, the most recently awarded Weatherhead Initiative, The Dynamics of Inequality: Gender and Work in Comparative Perspective, will begin its activities this fall under the leadership of Professors Mary Brinton (Sociology), Jason Beckfield (Sociology), Iris Bohnet (Harvard Kennedy School), Claudia Goldin (Economics), and Kathleen McGinn (Harvard Business School). Soon we will hold a round of competition for the newest Weatherhead Initiative Research Cluster (the deadline is October 1), with the chosen grantee starting in the spring and receiving funding for up to $500,000 over three years.

Faculty Conversations on Comparative Inequality: After consulting several colleagues, I am developing a series of conversations around the topic of “inequalities compared.” This series is intended to foster dialogue between our Faculty Associates and will be co-organized with other centers across campus, with a program to be announced in September. We are looking for faculty interested in spearheading other interdisciplinary efforts that will appeal to our various constituencies.

Funding Activities

Student Grant Programs: We are introducing two pilot programs. The first is the Weatherhead Center Dissertation Writing Grants program. It aims to reduce teaching obligations of fifth-year graduate students as they are writing their dissertations. The second is called Social Engagement for Social Inclusion, and is a participatory research internship opportunity in France. It will be co-sponsored by the WCFIA; Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; and the FAS Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. I thank Clare Putnam, coordinator of student programs and fellowships; Professor Erez Manela (History), director of our graduate student program; and Professor Bart Bonikowski (Sociology), director of our undergraduate student program for their efforts in these new developments.

Peer Review: After writing about evaluative cultures in the social sciences in How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, I am particularly attuned to the importance of shared evaluation and deliberation in the development of intellectual communities. As a result, I hope to increase the involvement of our faculty grantees in all aspects of our evaluation process. Those who have benefited from the largess of the WCFIA in the past should expect to hear from us soon, as we plan to put in place a number of rotating evaluation committees.

Communications Strategy

We are excited to be adding staff to our communications department. We have hired Meg Murphy as our new communications specialist. Her primary mission is to improve media awareness of WCFIA-supported research and events, and to write original content for the Center and the media at large. We will also be bringing in Amanda Pearson, a longtime associate of the Center, to help improve our social media strategy. These individuals will work closely with Kristin Caulfield, manager of communications, and Lauren McLaughlin, communications coordinator, to expand the Center’s visibility with the media and develop a broader social media presence.

Fall 2016 External Review

The new FAS dean for the social sciences, Professor Claudine Gay (Government), has authorized an external review of the Center to be held next year, and much of the spring will be spent preparing for this review. The last one was conducted in 2006 and resulted in several recommendations, most of which could not be implemented in the post-2008 financial context. We plan to appoint faculty taskforces to help us reflect on the future of the Center and take stock of our various programs—ranging from faculty and student funding to conference support, as well as our six formal programs: the Canada Program, the Center for History and Economics, the Fellows Program, the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the Program on Transatlantic Relations, and the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations. The results of a faculty survey conducted in the spring of 2014 and various other data-gathering efforts will inform this review. In addition, Ted Gilman and I are initiating conversations with faculty and plan to broaden our outreach to colleagues in the months ahead.

Of course, the WCFIA Executive and Steering Committees will be centrally involved in this effort. We have recruited several stellar faculty members to join these groups: Professors Andrew Gordon (History), Lisa Berkman (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), and Bart Bonikowski (Sociology) join the Executive Committee; Professor Beth A. Simmons (Government) joins the Steering Committee; while Professors Dani Rodrik (Harvard Kennedy School), John Comaroff (Anthropology and African and African American Studies), and Melani Cammett (Government) join both the Executive and the Steering Committees.

Reflecting on Transitions

In parallel with the WCFIA’s transitions, I am facing significant changes in my own professional and family life. While on sabbatical, I completed a challenging multi-authored book to be published by Princeton University Press in 2016 titled Getting Respect: Dealing with Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel. I was also elected president of the American Sociological Association, and will have the honor of setting the agenda for the 2017 annual meetings. And last but not least, I am about to deliver my eldest of three children to her freshman college dorm at the University of California, Los Angeles.

With these challenges behind and ahead, I am eager to become broadly engaged with the WCFIA, its rich intellectual community, and its remarkable staff. I also look forward (as does Ted Gilman) to becoming acquainted with and learning from our faculty, students, visitors, and wider community as the WCFIA moves into a dynamic new phase of its long (over 55 years!) and distinguished existence.

Here’s to a bright year ahead!

Michèle Lamont
Weatherhead Center Director
Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies
Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies