Weatherhead Research Cluster on Climate Change

Establishing an Academic Pipeline in the Social Sciences

This cluster catalyzes the study of climate change—a global and local challenge throughout the world—by supporting the next generation of social science scholars in economics, political science, and sociology. 

Human-caused climate change is an existential problem for modern society. Preventing catastrophic and widespread harm will require not only technological innovation and creative engineering, but will also necessitate effective economic, social, and political innovation. Decarbonization will be disruptive to political economies and societies around the world, with disorienting economic, sociological, and political effects. It will be difficult but imperative for democratic societies to understand these disruptions and anticipate barriers to progress and political backlash.  

Understanding this complex process is challenging. At the same time, decarbonization provides an extraordinary opportunity for the social sciences as academic disciplines to make contributions to public policy and to ensure that human society continues to thrive. Crisis, as usual, denotes opportunity. 

There do exist communities of social scientists tackling this challenge. In political science, relatively young political scientists have taken up this challenge. They, along with senior scholars, have proven that good political science work can be done on climate change issues. In economics, there are a significant number of senior scholars working on climate change issues, as well as mid-career academics, and a growing set of younger scholars. In sociology, research on climate change builds on foundations of environmental sociology and environmental justice research, overlapping but distinct subfields. Building on senior level strength, we are seeing mid-career scholars making an impact. Nevertheless, our ranks are thin, especially in comparison with the challenge at hand. 

We tackle this pipeline problem by intentionally targeting current PhD students and people who have recently completed their PhD degrees to work on climate issues. The range of our attention is broad. Our cluster covers three core social science fields: political science, economics, and sociology. And within these disciplines we are inclusive of all subfields.  

Each discipline will convene a set of virtual workshops and in-person conferences with senior scholars. Our purposes are to:  

  • enable cross-institutional networking among young scholars;  
  • establish connections and informal mentorships with more senior, and prominent, scholars working in this space;  
  • expose editorial teams of mainstream social science journals to up-and-coming work;  
  • create a prevailing sense that work in this space is valuable and part of contemporary research that should be published in top journals; and
  • prepare the way for specific joint projects among scholars who may not yet know one another. 

In short, we aspire to institutionalize climate change as a major cross-subfield topic for study in political science, economics, and sociology.

The Weatherhead Research Cluster on Climate Change is chaired by Professor Dustin Tingley.

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