IRiSS is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2020-21 Dissertation Fellowships. The 13 members of this year’s cohort of Dissertation Fellows hail from all six social science departments: Anthropology, Communication, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated financial downturn have impacted graduate students in a myriad of ways, including research disruptions and potential cutbacks in financial support. Given this situation, IRiSS leadership was pleased to reaffirm its commitment to graduate students by carrying out the Dissertation Fellows Program at full capacity.
In addition to receiving financial support, Dissertation Fellows are inducted into a multidisciplinary community of graduate students that pushes intellectual boundaries. Through discussion and research presentations, fellows receive feedback on their dissertation research from different social science disciplines.
The topics covered by this year's cohort of Dissertation Fellows are diverse and represent the cutting-edge research taking place in Stanford's social science departments. The following research abstracts provide an overview of the projects supported in this year's program.
Grace Alexandrino Ocana, Anthropology - Rights to a Heritage City: working-class citizens, urban heritage and conservation in Lima, Peru
My interdisciplinary research asks two deceptively simple questions: How do states decide which heritage sites to protect and which to neglect? How does this affect or benefit nearby communities? I center this study in the metropolis of Lima: one of the oldest cities in the Americas, and an urban landscape entangling hundreds of archaeological monuments with nearly ten million inhabitants. Most of the few conservation academic studies in Peru emphasize material conservation or conservation policies, neglecting the human dimension of these problematics and, even more, neglecting the intersection between these three elements. Focusing in Lima's non-tourist-oriented archaeological monuments and its impacts upon working-class urban communities this research is not only novel, but important to understand the politics of the past in a nation that is currently marketing itself on its past.
Paul Christians, Anthropology - Mirages Past and Future: Foreign Expertise and the Political Economy of Cultural Heritage in Qatar
From Qatar's 2022 World Cup to global museum franchising in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia's new tourism push, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states spend billions annually on cultural projects. Qatar itself has deemed culture critical to national survival in its National Vision 2030, investing in museums, archaeology, historical conservation, public art, and cultural tourism for two decades. These heritage projects contribute to Qatar's national identity and international prestige while creating the local. Yet most of the people working in this industry are elite foreign professionals, not Qatari citizens. Christians' research explores this system of expertise's prevalence and consequences by asking: what makes someone an expert in and about the Gulf‚ a place still stereotyped as without a culture of its own, just made by oil? His Ph.D. dissertation examines the practices of cultural professionals in Doha; how local views of labor, heritage, and expertise influence their work; and how Qatar's historical context shapes this system. While typical studies focus on material culture, identity, or the politics of the past, he instead uses heritage as a strategic entryway to understand how cultural projects become useful to nations such as Qatar. This approach contributes to anthropologies of expertise by rethinking the complex relationship between experts, authority, and culture in a non-democratic state.
Grace Zhou, Anthropology - Parasitic Intimacies: Life, Love, and Labor in Post-Socialist Central Asia
Based on ethnographic research in Kyrgyzstan, "Parasitic Intimacies" narrates the exploits and travails of entrepreneurial traders traveling to China and Turkey, rural migrants and undocumented women in the sex trade, and marginalized, hustling drug addicts in search of recognition. It explores transformations in the meanings of work and welfare, especially for those who are situated on the moral margins of society.
Jihye Lee, Communication - Digital Inequality: A Screenomics Approach to Understanding the Digital Engagements of Low-Income and High-Income Individuals in the United States
This study explores how individuals of different income levels navigate digital spaces with the aim of understanding the changing nature of information inequality in society. Most studies on digital divide focus on unequal access to new technologies such as home broadband penetration or income disparities in the skills, motivations, and attitudes associated with making effective use of the Internet. While understanding inequality of technology access and use is central to understanding the contours of inequality in the digital age, existing scholarship has been based on narrow conceptions of haves and have nots based on access to technology or on self-reports. This project fills this gap by observing digital engagements among samples of low-income and high-income individuals in U.S. major metropolitan areas via an innovative research method called Screenomics. In brief, it captures a comprehensive record of a person's digital experience using software that runs in the background of participants' phones and takes screenshots of all the content every 5 seconds. This set of screenshots presents a unique opportunity to observe differences in the types of information sought and received by individuals with low and high incomes, including their use of social media, news sites, games, and streaming services.
Hernan Barahona, Economics - Food labeling: Effects on demand and supply of nutritional content
We study front-of-package labels (FoPL), alone of the most prominent and increasingly popular policies to fight obesity. We leverage the implementation of a mandatory policy in Chile that introduced warning labels on packaged products that exceed certain thresholds of sugar and calorie concentration. Combining detailed scanner-level data from Walmart, field-collected data on products' nutritional content and consumers' beliefs, we document an overall decrease in sugar and caloric intake of 9% and 7% respectively. We zoom in on ready-to-eat breakfast cereals market and find a large shift in demand from labeled to unlabeled products, mostly driven by products for which consumers experienced a larger update in beliefs. On the firms' side, we find substantial bunching at the regulatory thresholds. To study the equilibrium effects on nutritional intake and welfare, we develop and estimate a model of supply and demand for food and nutrients. We find that firms' strategic responses enhance the effects of FoPL on nutritional intake by 20 to 30 percent but with little change in consumer surplus. Finally, we compare FoPL with calorie and sugar taxes. Our results suggest that food labels obtain similar average consumer surplus gains than optimal taxes but benefit the poor and the old more.
Luca Braghieri, Economics - Social Image Concerns and Communication
This project studies experimentally whether social image concerns around topics related to political correctness on college campuses lead students to publicly state opinions that they do not privately hold, and whether such distortions diminish the informativeness of statements made in public. Consistent with the predictions of a signaling model with lying costs, I show experimentally that: i) social image concerns drive a wedge between the sensitive socio-political attitudes that college students report in private and in public, and ii) public utterances are less informative than private utterances along two empirical measures of informativeness suggested by the model. Lastly, I study whether information loss is exacerbated by the fact that other college students, the natural audience in the environment, may be naive about the ways in which social image concerns distort their peers' public statements.
This paper provides evidence on how the presence of debt affects individual decision making. We show in a lab-in-the-field experiment that a debt frame reduces payoff maximization and leads subjects to be more forward-looking but only when it allows repaying debt faster. Future work will explore if when given the possibility, participants are reluctant to borrow, and if the pool of borrowers is positively selected. Our preliminary results suggest that debt has an associated psychological cost that leads to faster repayments at the expense of lower overall earnings.
Hans Lueders, Political Science - The Political Consequences of Domestic Migration
Many citizens move within their country ever year. While a large literature studies the economic causes and consequences of this domestic migration, little is known about the political impact. My dissertation fills this gap. I argue that domestic migration has important political consequences because migrants and non-migrants differ sharply regarding their level of political participation. Domestic migrants are more likely to participate in national politics, while non-migrants are more invested in local politics. Domestic migration thus results in a concentration of national-level political activism in in-migration areas, while it increases local political activism in out-migration areas. Mainstream parties are more likely to respond to the preferences of voters in in-migration areas because these voters are easier to mobilize. Voters in out-migration areas feel less represented in politics as a result and turn to protest and populist parties. I test this argument using novel data on federal and local elections, civil society organizations, party campaigning, political recruitment, and party platforms in Germany.
William Marble, Political Science - Political Responses to Economic Decline
In the United States, economic opportunity is increasingly concentrated in large urban centers and away from many formerly prosperous industrial cities. My research explores the political consequences of this shift in economic geography. In one project, I examine how candidates' campaign strategies are affected by the local economy. I show that when negative economic shocks hit a region, conservative congressional candidates de-emphasize safety net policies --- policies that might benefit candidates' constituents but run counter to their personal ideological slant. I am also investigating how partisan polarization moderates to the relationship between the local economy and political campaigns. In another part of the project, I investigate how changing economic geography can influence public support for safety net policies. I develop a formal model of migratory decisions, where people in a declining region must weigh the benefits of migrating to a more prosperous region against the costs of giving up social network ties in their home region. These social ties are psychologically important but may also affect support for the welfare state. I use the model to explore how a change in the local economy induces a migratory response that then changes the region's support for safety net policies.
Lucy King, Psychology - Maternal life stress, prenatal inflammation, and the developmental origins of child temperament
Risk for psychopathology may manifest as early as age 3-5 years in the form of temperament characterized by negative affectivity (i.e. a profile of more intense negative affect in response to frustration and threat). The proposed project will advance our understanding of the etiology of risk for psychopathology by examining a potential intrauterine biological pathway to negative affectivity in early childhood: elevated maternal levels of inflammation during pregnancy. Through an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University, this project will leverage an existing sample of women who provided repeated blood specimens during pregnancy; by adding comprehensive measurements of maternal life stress and conducting new assessments of negative affectivity in these women‚ (now) preschool-age children, this project will address gaps in our knowledge of the etiology of risk for psychopathology by elucidating the associations among maternal life stress prior to conception and during pregnancy, prenatal proinflammatory cytokines, and child negative affectivity. Findings from this project promise to yield critical insights about the developmental origins of child risk for psychopathology by delineating the associations between maternal life stress, prenatal inflammation, and child temperament.
Kari Leibowitz, Psychology - Making Mindset Matter: Understanding and Harnessing Psychological and Social Forces to Improve Healthcare
Kari's dissertation work aims to improve healthcare by helping care teams understand and harness psychological and social forces in clinical practice. Her dissertation assesses a series of studies targeting physician mindset to strengthen the patient-provider relationship. This research includes implementing and analyzing the effects of an original two-hour training for healthcare providers, the Medicine Plus Mindset training, throughout Stanford Primary Care. Medicine Plus Mindset helps care teams recognize the influence mindsets have in shaping health outcomes and provides strategies for shaping mindsets in practice. Other research in her dissertation explores the role of provider assurance on patient symptoms, the role of beliefs in shaping response to non-deceptive placebos, and how reframing minor side effects as a sign treatment is working can improve treatment experience and outcomes. The ultimate goal of this work is to provide tangible solutions that improve the healthcare experience for patients and providers alike.
Scott Westenberger, Sociology - Fashion Changes: The Role of the Audience in the Fashion Cycle
Why do we like the things that we like? Why do our tastes change over time, and why are we unable to predict these changes in advance? Despite a long tradition of research into these questions, it remains notoriously difficult to predict which previously unpopular and unfashionable things will become fashionable or popular tomorrow, and it is even more difficult to anticipate the reverse. My dissertation project takes up three competing explanations concerning the social mechanisms involved in constructing this thing we call 'taste:' (1) taste is some function of power and authority (2) taste is some function of social identity (3) taste has nothing to do with either power or social identity. I use a combination of empirical approaches (two online survey experiments, and one agent based simulation model) to make progress toward disentangling these explanations for taste. Overall, this research contributes to ongoing debates regarding the mechanisms governing fashion change.
Jeff Sheng, Sociology - Invisible Power: How the Internet Changed LGBT Inclusion in the 21st Century
The focus of my dissertation is a project on how the 21st Century LGBT Rights movement was facilitated and made possible by advancements in social media and internet connectivity. In particular, I theorize about how underground social movements made possible through online interaction are a display of what I call 'Invisible Power,' which is a phenomenon I describe where a social movement foments and gains inertia from the intense relationships that are formed amongst members having to mobilize in secret. A central question drives my research agenda: How has the internet influenced the ways we interact amongst each other, and how has this changed culture, attitudes, and laws?