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Other Research Projects

How Low-Level Misdemeanor Courts Regulate Populations (Doctoral Dissertation Research)

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Becky Pettit
Co-Principal Investigator /  Mentee:
Ilya Slavinski
Funded by:  National Science Foundation

Drawing on ethnographic methods, including participant observation of at least 12 misdemeanor courtrooms around Texas and interviews with misdemeanor court defendants, prosecutors, and judges, this project will explore the ways in which misdemeanor courts actors and practices manage and regulate marginalized populations and how these populations react and resist to this regulation. To do so, my dissertation will ask the following questions: 1) Whether and how the criminal justice system, particularly low-level misdemeanor courts, regulates people 2) Whether status hierarchies affect this regulation 3) Whether and how defendants react to and resist this form of state regulation.


Theraputic Alternatives in the Criminal Courts (Doctoral Dissertation Research)

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Becky Pettit
Co-Principal Investigator /  Mentee:
Mary Ellen Stitt
Funded by:  National Science Foundation

Following a precipitous rise in incarceration rates over the last four decades, U.S. policymakers face increasing pressure to reduce the financial and social costs associated with the criminal justice system (Goodman, Page, and Phelps 2017). Among proposed reforms, few have garnered more widespread support than the assignment of some adult felony defendants to therapeutic programs in lieu of probation or jail. These pretrial diversion programs allow defendants who successfully complete treatment to exit the justice system without further supervision or the stigma of a felony record (Bellassai 2010). But sociological research on diversion is still scarce. Does this therapeutic alternative make good on its promises? Drawing on 80 in-depth interviews with legal decision-makers and diverted defendants, field observations, two original experiments, administrative data from four jurisdictions, state-level criminal justice data, and a national dataset, we examine the consequences of adult pretrial diversion along three key dimensions. First, we ask whether diversion does in fact function as a one-to-one replacement for traditional sanctions or whether it is ever assigned to defendants who could not otherwise have faced those sanctions, in effect “widening the net” of the justice system. Secondly, we ask whether diversion is equivalent to a referral to services, with positive or neutral legal consequences, or whether it can adversely affect defendants who are unable to complete diversionary programs. Finally, we ask what is gained or lost by sending defendants to therapeutic treatment rather than simply freeing them from supervision. For each of these three dimensions, we explore differences by defendant race and class as well as the institutional processes and logics shaping the observed outcomes.


Not Left Behind: Rural Women in an Era of Urban Migration in Southwest China (Doctoral Dissertation Research)

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Sharmilla Rudrappa
Additional Investigator /  Mentee:
Rujie Peng
Funded by:  National Science Foundation

We examine the experiences of rural workers in migrant origin households and communities against the backdrop of rural-urban migration in southwest China. We aim to understand if and how middle-aged rural women facilitate male-dominated urban migration, and the gendered effects of rural-urban migration on poor rural families and communities. We highlight the experiences of middle-aged women to document and analyze the gendered division of labor in poor rural households; understand how gender relations and norms become salient for migrants and non-migrants; and develop theories to capture how gender relations act as an organizing principle in shaping division of labor and access to resources in the households, the market, and state welfare institutions. We will analyze ethnographic observation on rural workers’ day-to-day lived experiences, gendered social relationships, and gender norms; we will also conduct in-depth interviews with rural women and men, market intermediaries, and local government officials. We will explore archival materials to historically contextualize the experiences of rural women and men in the first wave of rural-urban migration that started in the 1990s.


Climate Change and Age-Specific Migration Patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa

Principal Investigator: Alex Weinreb
Funded by: University of British Columbia

Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are continuing to grow at a very rapid pace. This IFAD-funded project will generate the first estimates of whether the age- and sex-specific patterns of this rural-to-urban migration are driven by climate change. The study covers 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1985-2015 period. It focuses on age- and sex-specific patterns because households’ adaptive responses to crises in poor countries tend to vary along these parameters. Our primary indicator of climate change is rainfall. However, we also use other remote-sensed information covering the 30 year period, including vegetation indices, soil quality, elevation and proximity to the coast. We can therefore check how both the overall amount of rainfall, as well as its intensity and variability, interacts with other spatial characteristics, as people decide whether to stay put, or whether to join the many others streaming towards the cities.


The Revolt of the Rust Belt: The Communal Roots of Anti-Systemic Politics in the US and the UK 

Principal Investigator: Michael McQuarrie (LSE)
Additional Investigator: Harel Shapira
Funded by: National Science Foundation

We propose to do a project explaining how place shapes orientations to time in economically declining territories and how this orientation to time shapes political motivation and affinity. We believe that this helps unpack a key question posed by the emergence of radical ethnonationalist movements in the contemporary United Kingdom and United States, namely, how is the experience of economic marginalization translated into political action and motivation? Material interest and rationality is often used to explain this connection, but such an understanding of action cannot explain the variation in political orientation among economically marginal communities or the particular forms that political expression takes. , we would like to assemble scholars who are especially experienced and well-equipped for analyzing the relationship between place, disposition, and time and who also have established track records of disseminating this work to a broader public. We would like to utilize the Atlantic Fellows Programme to bring together Lisa McKenzie, Michael McQuarrie, Harel Shapira, and Cassim Shepard to illustrate the connection between place, time, inequality, and politics. Given the unique skill-set of our proposed collaboration, we want to leverage these distinct skills to produce both a distinct perspective on the emergence of radical ethnonationalist politics in devalorized territories, but also distinct ways of representing these insights which will enable different avenues of dissemination and enable a break with more conventional understandings of these issues.  


A Lifespan Conceptual Model of Ethnic-Racial Identity

Principal Investigator: Esther Calzada
Funded by: National Science Foundation

The University of Texas at Austin proposes to host a work group that will bring together an interdisciplinary team of scholars to develop a lifespan conceptual model of ethnic-racial identity. The group will include 11 scholars (professors at all ranks) along with doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.  The participating scholars were selected to represent group of researchers whose work examines ethnic-racial identity in children and youth from the perspective of various disciplines (i.e., Social Work, Human Development and Family Studies, Psychology, and Public Health).  Collectively, the group has expertise in early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence, and with Latino, African American, Asian American, and American Indian populations. During a two-day meeting, the group will conduct a critical analysis of ethnic-racial identity in early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence to consider: a) When do different aspects/components of ethnic-racial identity emerge?; b) What are the processes through which ethnic-racial identity components emerge? Our critical analysis will serve to inform a lifespan conceptual model of ethnic-racial identity that will be the main product of the work group.  Importantly, our model will consider: a) diversity across pan-ethnic and racial populations, including Latino, African American, Asian American, and American Indian children and youth; b) diversity within pan-ethnic and racial populations (e.g., based on country of origin, immigrant status, receiving community context) c) intersectionality of ethnic and racial identity (e.g., racial heterogeneity among Latinos; mixed-race children and youth).


Fortune's Favor: Implications of Behavioral Genetic Research for Distributive and Retributive Justice

Principal Investigator: Paige Harden
Funded by: University of Virginia

This project will accomplish the following aims: (1) curating public conversations about genetic research in the lay media, (2) reviewing the behavioral genetic literature to highlight similarities and differences among target phenotypes with regards to genetic etiology, (3) reviewing the philosophical literature on conceptualizations of luck, and how luck should or should not be neutralized to achieve distributive and retributive justice, (4) integrate the scientific and philosophical literatures to build a theory regarding the empirical criteria for considering a phenotype a matter of genetic luck, and (5) disseminating the results of our scientific and philosophical integration, with an emphasis on engaging with and informing public debates about the implications of genetic research. Specifically, we have selected target phenotypes related to distributive and retributive justice, ranging from traits proximal to the individual (intelligence, conscientiousness, aggression) to outcomes that operate within a particular national and economic context (educational attainment, income, and crime). Our project will impact both academic scholarship (via writing individual journal articles, presenting at an academic conference, and organizing a scholarly workshop resulting in an edited book or journal) and undergraduate teaching (via a publicly available course syllabus and a series of faculty teaching seminars).


Plea Negotiation and Criminal Justice Reform

Principal Investigator: William R. Kelly
Funded by:  Charles Koch Foundation

The goal of this project is a book that provides a detailed, in-depth analysis of pea negotiation.  Part of the analysis will focus on problems associated with plea negotiation, such as the lack of due process protections and the fact that significant numbers of innocent individuals plead guilty. The primary purpose is an analysis of how plea bargaining fits into the broader problems of the criminal justice system.  In turn, we will also develop remedies for changing plea procedures to facilitate criminal justice reform. A key component of the research includes face-to-face interviews with judges, prosecutors and public defenders.


Conference Series on Aging in the Americas: United States and Mexico

Principal Investigator: Jacqueline Angel
Funded by:  National Institute on Aging

The next three installments at The University of Texas at Austin (2016), University of Southern California (2017), and University of Arizona, Tucson (2018) build upon the same very high quality of work at previous meetings to address a new theme that is a priority for the national health agenda. This will be accomplished by commissioning 36 papers, including six keynote speakers from sociology, psychology, demography, social policy, medicine, gerontology, and economics to address two major goals: First, to provide a vehicle for reviewing and analyzing the contemporary social research on “place,” the major dimensions of which are physical, cultural and economic, as it relates to supporting the health of aging Latinos, and second, to further the development of emerging scholars through their increased exposure to this body of knowledge, developing their individual research, and career mentoring.


Identifying Genomic Signatures of Evolutionary and Cultural Change in Native Americans

Principal Investigator: Deborah Bolnick
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project investigates how Native American genetic diversity changed over time and across space in response to sociocultural and demographic shifts over the last 1000 years. During this period, Native American populations in the continental US were affected by expanding trade networks, a growing reliance on agriculture, increasingly permanent settlements, and population growth. After AD 1492, European contact led to significant cultural changes as well as disease epidemics, demographic collapse, population restructuring, and genetic exchange with new tribes and non-native peoples. These developments are well documented, but it is not known how they influenced the genetic makeup of Native American populations. By characterizing genetic diversity, this project will help elucidate the genetic structure and evolutionary history of Native North Americans, improve our understanding of how sociocultural, demographic, and evolutionary change influences the human genome, and fill a critical need for genome-wide data from the indigenous inhabitants of the continental US, who have been underrepresented in scientific research and public genetic databases. The project provides research experience and training for undergraduates, graduate students, a postdoctoral researcher, and a K-12 public school science teacher. Educational modules are also being developed for high school and college science courses and for the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING). This project therefore advances scientific knowledge, expands the participation of underrepresented groups in science, improves science education, and increases public engagement with science.

Specifically, this project is evaluating temporal and spatial patterns of genetic diversity in the Midwestern US using existing datasets from the region and new genetic data being collected from three burial populations in the Ohio River Basin. The three major goals are: (1) characterize genomic diversity across time and space in the Ohio River Basin, (2) reconstruct the maternal population history of the Midwestern US using spatially and temporally diverse samples from the Ohio River Basin and the Illinois River Valley, and (3) evaluate whether sociocultural and evolutionary changes between 1000 and 1700 AD altered the genomic structure of an ancient population in the Ohio River Basin. To achieve these goals, genomic data will be collected using newly developed target capture and next-generation sequencing technologies. An extensive set of genomic markers (genome-wide SNPs, mitochondrial DNA sequences, and 23 Y chromosome STRs) will be analyzed, which will make it possible to test hypotheses about how post-1000 AD migration, genetic drift, and selection altered the genetic structure of Native Americans. Mitochondrial data from seven other eastern North American sites will be analyzed to develop models of regional interaction.


The Evolution of Social Networks and the Robustness of Human Societies to Population Growth and Climate Change

Principal Investigator: Deborah Bolnick
Additional Investigator: Robert Hard, parent project PI, The Univerity of Texas at San Antonio 
Funded by: National Science Foundation

We either learn from our ancestors or we face the challenges of a globalizing planet undergoing rapid population growth and climate change hamstrung by our ignorance of the past. Our project combines an archaeological case study, mathematical modeling, and social network analysis to understand how human societies can successfully cope with the interrelated forces of globalization, population growth, and climate change, and, sometimes, why societies fail to cope with these interrelated forces. Our research is part of an emerging science of complex systems that seeks to understand why some systems display gradual change and others experience tipping points and cascades of rapid change. Our project is centered on the prehistoric Texas Coastal Plain, where hunter-gatherer societies developed a ritual and economic system that persisted for 6000 years through periods of population growth, climate change, and increasingly well developed social networks (globalization), but, then, suddenly collapsed. Our study of hunter-gatherers on the Texas Coastal Plain provides sufficient complexity to investigate the process of globalization, yet enough simplicity that we can develop general insights that will be useful for understanding more complex human systems. Our project draws on theory and practice from four disciplines in the social sciences: archeology, economics, biological anthropology, and demography.


Understanding Long Term Relationships Between Environmental Chane, Human Resilience and Territoriality

Principal Investigator: Deborah Bolnick
Additional Investigator: Robert Hard, parent project PI, The Univerity of Texas at San Antonio 
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project will investigate the evolution of human territoriality across deep time and will allow Drs. Robert Hard, Raymond Mauldin, Jacob Freeman, and Deborah Bolnick to address fundamental questions about the emergence of territorial systems. How and why territorial systems emerge is poorly understood although its importance as a fundamental social process is clear. Territoriality has been linked to the development of property rights and social scientists have argued that territoriality enhances the sustainable use of natural resources such as fisheries and forests. Anthropologists know that human societies develop widely varying approaches to maintaining and holding territories. Some hunter-gatherer societies have little concern for maintaining territorial boundaries while others closely patrol and defend small patches, yet the conditions underlying this variability are not well understood. While most information about human territoriality comes from ethnographic cases, the archaeological record is the only source of data concerning the changing nature of human territoriality across hundreds of generations. Such information contextualizes and has the potential to shed new insight on territorial changes occurring in the world today.

Over thirty years ago, anthropologists used ethnographic data to propose the Model of Economic Defensibility. The model states that as resources become more dense and predictable, given a sufficient level of competition, individuals will maximize their fitness by claiming ownership over a territory. In the Model of Economic Defensibility, the productivity and predictability of resources determines the area (i.e., the home-range) an individual needs to find food. In turn, the size of an individual's home-range changes the costs versus benefits of investment in territoriality. To adopt territoriality, individuals must expend time and energy to monitor boundaries and attack intruders. As an individual's home-range size increases, the costs associated with restricting access rise more quickly than the benefits attained. That is, holding competition equal, the larger an individual's home-range, the lower the net benefit of territoriality. Despite its fundamental importance, this model has yet to be rigorously evaluated with archaeological data. The Morhiss site, located in the Texas Coastal Plain, is an ideal setting to evaluate this model. Located 20 miles from the coast, Morhiss represents at least 6000 years of use, and contains a record of shifting territoriality. Excavated 75 years ago, these collections hold data necessary to evaluate this model. Drs. Robert Hard (University of Texas at San Antonio), Jacob Freeman (Utah State University), Raymond Mauldin (University of Texas at San Antonio), and Deborah Bolnick (University of Texas at Austin) will use an array of laboratory analyses including, radiocarbon dating, carbon, nitrogen, and strontium isotopes, and ancient DNA to conduct this research. This work will be fundamental to the formation of regional databases, will contribute to a general procedure to assess the assumptions of the Model of Economic Defensibility, and will contribute to understanding the evolution of property rights. Finally, our approach will establish a protocol to use minimally destructive techniques to build datasets from curated collections. The team's work will contribute to the education of graduate and postdoctoral students as well as an outreach program for high school teachers.


Environmental Uncertainties and Livelihood Thresholds in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Principal Investigator: Kelley Crews
Additional Investigators: Brian King, The Pennsylvania State University, Co-Principal Investigator; Kenneth Young, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This research will combine insights from both social and natural sciences to understand how variability and uncertainty in time and space impact human-environment interactions. The project will examine social responses to environmental variability, particularly precipitation and flooding. Of interest is how people maintain their livelihoods, and further how these strategies change in anticipation and in response to environmental change. Thus this work will also characterize the patterns of precipitation and flooding as well as their impacts on household farming, household collection of materials such as reeds, grasses, and wood, and individual entry into the tourism sector. The work will be positioned in the international treaty-recognized Wetland of Importance, the Okavango Delta (OD) of Botswana. Nestled within the Kalahari (Kgaligadi) Desert and flooded each year from Angolan highland precipitation, the OD has experienced vastly dramatic changes in precipitation and flooding in the last several decades. This rural area's population is highly dependent on the natural resource base, either directly (e.g., farming, reed collection) or indirectly (e.g., the wildlife-oriented ecotourism industry). It is therefore further hypothesized that these fluctuations have increased people's uncertainty about the availability of water and the timing / magnitude of flooding, impacting their decisions about which and how many livelihood strategies to employ. The overall project research goals are as follows: 1) quantify environmental change in the OD human-environment system, with particular respect to precipitation and flooding; 2) capture the distribution of natural resources over space and time using field-collected and satellite-derived data; 3) map resource activity areas and management / tenure systems to better understand livelihood decision-making; 4) assess how environmental change impacts livelihood strategy selection, and, in turn, how these decisions impact the environment; and 5) evaluate the utility of a human-environment system framework for understanding dynamic systems such as the OD.


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