Message from the Director

Producing research within our walls and diffusing it beyond

As casual observers of the social science scene at Harvard have been quick to notice, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs has been bustling with activity this fall. Our events have ranged from the typical to the exceptional.

Photo of His Highness the Aga Khan The truly exceptional has included, first and foremost, a visit from the Aga Khan, who delivered the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture on the theme “The Cosmopolitan Ethic in a Fragmented World” on November 12. This sold-out event, hosted jointly with Harvard’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program and held on the eve of the Paris attacks, provided a unique occasion to reflect collectively about group boundaries, what brings human beings together despite our many differences and how to overcome religious and other conflicts.

In the meantime, we continue to host our more typical events, including the many conferences, workshops, and meetings organized by the more than thirty WCFIA-supported seminars. For example, Alison Mountz, the William Lyon Mackenzie King Chair in Canadian Studies, is hosting a series of talks on timely questions of immigration, refugees, border crossings, and spatial boundaries—topics that are at the center of Alison’s scholarship.

In addition to hosting a full range of events, we are developing specific activities to increase research activities conducted within the Center’s walls. The Center’s Executive Committee just approved two new Weatherhead Initiative research clusters. One cluster will center around Afro-Latin American Studies and will involve several researchers, including Professor Alejandro de la Fuente of the Department of History and the Department of African and African American Studies; Professor Doris Sommer of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and the Department of African and African American Studies; and Professor Davíd Carrasco of the Department of Anthropology and the Harvard Divinity School. Another cluster will focus on climate engineering and will be led by Professor David Keith of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Harvard Kennedy School. We will share details about these exciting Weatherhead Initiatives as they unfold. These projects are only part of our ongoing effort to strengthen multidisciplinary and transversal research themes within WCFIA.

One such theme is the burning topic of comparative inequality, which generates considerable interest across all the social science disciplines. We will explore this theme in at least two major ways: a Weatherhead Initiative research cluster on gender inequality and a series of faculty conversations on topics surrounding comparative inequality across a range of dimensions.

Last year we awarded a Weatherhead Initiative research cluster to researchers behind the Dynamics of Inequality: Gender and Work in Comparative Perspective. This Weatherhead Initiative on Gender Inequality (WIGI) just officially launched their project. The team is led by five faculty members with complementary expertise: Professors Mary Brinton and Jason Beckfield of the Department of Sociology, Professor Claudia Goldin of the Department of Economics, Professor Iris Bohnet of the Harvard Kennedy School, and Professor Kathleen McGinn of the Harvard Business School. This interdisciplinary team will be spearheading research across a variety of topics from the earnings gap to work/family policies.

The research team aims to tease apart the forces behind this “stalled revolution.” The researchers will hold conferences and workshops throughout the three-year term, focusing on the interaction between two of the three following institutions: households and families; public policy; and labor markets and employment. The activities will include short- and long-term stays from visiting scholars, a biweekly lunchtime workshop featuring papers and presentations, and additional workshops geared toward undergraduates and graduate students. Indeed, one of the major goals of all our Initiatives is to foster more interaction across generations within the walls of WCFIA. Of course, we expect WIGI to contribute mightily to Harvard’s reputation as a leading center in the comparative study of gender inequality.

The repercussions of inequality extend even beyond gender, so we must address inequality in other ways as well. This fall we launched a series of conversations around the topic of comparative inequality and social inclusion. This series is intended to foster dialogue between our Faculty Associates and stimulate new research questions and interdisciplinary agenda setting. In true collaborative fashion, these conversations are co-organized with other centers across campus and beyond.

The first conversation, “Frontier Questions in the Study of Inequality—Globally, Comparatively, and Beyond,” regarded how inequality interacts with cultural context to influence well-being. It was co-organized with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and brought to Harvard researchers from the Successful Societies Program, which has pursued the interdisciplinary study of inequality for a dozen years.

The session, which was followed by a lively faculty dinner, featured presentations by the following four scholars: Hazel Markus, Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, who considered how traditions of interdependence may shield people from the negative consequences for inequality; David Grusky, professor of sociology and director of the National Center on Poverty and Inequality, Stanford University, who discussed how the process of commodification is seeping into increasingly intimate domains of everyday life; Will Kymlicka, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Queens University, who discussed the challenges of reliably measuring status inequality as distinct from income inequality; and Peter A. Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies, Harvard University, who analyzed how increase in inequality has been accompanied with a decline in support for redistribution to the poor. These four presentations tackled in complementary ways various causal paths connecting worldviews, inequality, and the transformation of group boundaries.

Subsequent conversations in the series will focus on racial inequality (February 24); gender inequality (March 10); stigmatization and recognition (April 6); and social inclusion and poverty eradication (fall 2016). Details for these events will be circulated in the next few weeks. While a number of faculty members have already joined these conversations, we hope that the series will become a forum for broader discussions. Comparative inequality and social inclusion will be only one of several transversal foci that will bring our faculty associates together to conduct research within the walls of WCFIA.

As we move to intensify our research efforts, we are also strengthening our communications strategy to include media outreach and a larger social media presence, so we may reach audiences beyond both the Weatherhead Center and Harvard—this includes revamping our Epicenter newsletter to give broader resonance to the Center’s many research activities.

The communications team is also investing resources to help publicize the cutting-edge research done by our affiliates. We are developing a strong social media strategy and have recently launched a Twitter account (@HarvardWCFIA) to readily promote research findings and pertinent events. Many of our faculty and student affiliates are on Twitter, and rich academic discussions abound here. We are thrilled to jump in and take part in these conversations.

In addition to connecting with our affiliates via social media, the communications team hopes to forge new connections through more direct contact with our faculty and students. By sending out online surveys, we are gathering data on how we can best serve the Center’s vast academic network in publicizing their research. Our goal is to narrow the gap between the research conducted by Center affiliates and a wider audience, and our communications team can serve as this liaison.

The intellectual vibrancy of the Center depends on ensuring that its resources are directed toward frontier topics in international, comparative, global, and transnational research. With your involvement, we will continue to support—and now promote—the landmark research that is produced within our walls, as well as the research we enable throughout the Harvard community.

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

Photo Caption

His Highness the Aga Khan (left); Ali Asani (center), professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures and director, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University; and Michèle Lamont (right), Center director, Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, and professor of sociology and African and African American studies, Harvard University. Photo credit: Martha Stewart