Q&A: Professor Barry Eichengreen

A Q&A with Professor Barry Eichengreen, author of The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era.

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Barry EichengreenPopulism—a political ideology that vilifies economic and political elites and instead lionizes ‘the people’—has spread like wildfire throughout the world. In his recent book, Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press), Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science at UC Berkeley, examines the recent resurgence of populism around the world and places it in a deep historical context.

He also explores possible responses to the “populist temptation”: “A first step is for policymakers to do what they can to reinvigorate economic growth, giving young people hope that their lives will be as good as those of their parents and older people a sense that their lifetime of labor is respected and rewarded,” he explains, in a preface to the book. “Equally important is that the fruits of that growth be widely shared and that individuals displaced by technological progress and international competition are assured that they have social support and assistance on which to fall back. Assuring them starts with acknowledging that there are losers as well as winners from market competition, globalization, and technical change, something that economists are taught at an early age but which they have a peculiar tendency to forget. It continues with acknowledging that economic misfortune is not always the fault of the unfortunate. It concludes by putting in place programs that compensate the displaced and by providing education, training, and social services to help individuals adjust to new circumstances. This is not a novel formula. But if its elements are commonplace, they are no less important for that.”

Professor Eichengreen will be discussing his book in an upcoming “Authors Meet Critics” event, to be held on October 3, 2019 at 4pm at Social Science Matrix. He will be joined on the panel by two fellow UC Berkeley faculty members: Paul Pierson, Professor of Political Science, a renowned specialist in populism, social theory, and political economy; and Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics, a distinguished economist who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy during the Clinton Administration and is currently a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. (Please RSVP here to attend the October 3 panel discussion.)

We asked Professor Eichengreen some questions in advance of the panel. (Note that his responses have been lightly edited.)


What exactly is this political category called populism? How can it be so capacious that it encompasses Bernie to Trump to Modi? Is it even a political ideology?

As I say in my book, efforts to define populism remind one of Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” My preferred definition is a political movement with anti-elite, authoritarian, and nativist tendencies. Since populist movements combine these tendencies in different ways, there are different variants of the phenomenon: populist movements of the left, which emphasize the anti-elite element, and of the right, which emphasize hostility toward foreigners and minorities.

You write that populism is activated by “economic insecurity, threats to national identity, and an unresponsive political system.” How is it that the confluence of these three factors leads people to turn toward populism? Are there other factors involved, such as educational disenchantment?

There’s a long-standing, active debate on the relative importance of economic grievances and identity politics.  From the subtitle of my book, and from my disciplinary background, you’ll guess that I have a tendency to privilege economic factors.  But I would acknowledge the importance of identity concerns. In fact, I have some related research suggesting that the appeal to voters of populist messages lessens with educational attainment. I’ll be happy to talk about that.

Are there inevitably within populisms authoritarian tendencies, as political scientists such as Princeton’s Jan-Werner Müller have suggested?

As my own preferred definition of populism (above) suggests, I agree with this assessment. Populists of the left are impatient with technocratic governance, populists of the right with diverse constituencies.  Both see appeal in so-called strong leaders with authoritarian tendencies.

You write that populism in the U.S. is moving us away from the “constructive policy responses to the problem of economic insecurity whose absence gave rise to that populist tendency in the first place.” How can we get out of this cycle?

Without necessarily endorsing a candidate or candidates whose slogan is “I have a plan for that,” a critical element is for leaders, actual or potential, of mainstream political parties to develop and then explain clearly, in detail, why their proposed policies are in fact constructive responses to problems of economic insecurity. Then it’s necessary to mobilize the social solidarity needed to implement such plans.

What follows populism, typically? Does history suggest a common pattern?

No, I point to examples in my book where disenchantment with populist leaders who had offered flawed policy suggestions leading to failed responses was followed by a descent into something worse, but also cases where “the center held.”

The coming years seem likely to bring significant labor displacement by AI and other technologies. What recommendations would you have for policymakers to address the social changes likely to result from this shift?

I have a chapter in the book about the relative importance of technological change versus China, NAFTA and emerging markets generally in contributing to labor displacement. I conclude that technological change has been the main factor in the decline in the share of employment in manufacturing for three or four decades now. There are, alas, no quick fixes. To talk our own book, as it were, investments in education and training, including lifelong learning, can help to prepare workers for 21st-century jobs. I’m not a fan of the idea of a universal basic income, whether one presidential candidate’s proposal for $1,000 a month per household or something else. I’d much rather push for wage subsidies or an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit so that employers considering whether to replace workers with AI-enabled robots can be tilted in the direction of the workers, and where people get paid for working rather than for not working.

RSVP here to attend the October 3 “Authors Meet Critics” Panel



Urban Planning in China’s “Ecological Civilization”

Jesse Rodenbiker, a Ph.D. student in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography, studies the process of ecological planning in China's growing urban areas.


For the past four years, Jesse Rodenbiker, a Ph.D. student in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography, has traveled to China to research ecological urban planning projects. Over time, he has noticed that many of the planners responsible for ecological zoning in modern-day China rely on an ancient Chinese aesthetic concept known as shan-shui, a term made from the characters for “mountain” and “water” that is translatable as “landscape.”

Shan-shui has traditionally been expressed through landscape poetry and painting, but today the concept is finding a new medium in cities, as the concept has become part of what Rodenbiker calls the “distinctly Chinese imaginaries of sustainable urbanism.”

Jesse RodenbikerIn 2017, Rodenbiker published “Superscribing Sustainability: The Production of China’s Urban Waterscapes,” in UPLanD, the Journal of Urban Planning, Landscape, and Environmental Design, which explores how the concept of shan-shui originally emerged in third-century Chinese landscape poetry, but now “is used to reconfigure and reimagine sustainability and contemporary China’s urban landscapes.”

Rodenbiker’s interest in Asia dates back to his undergraduate days studying classical Indian and Chinese philosophies. After graduating, he worked for a non-governmental organization near the border of North Korea and China, where he worked closely with second and third-generation Korean-Chinese who had emigrated to China from North Korea. In the process, he developed Chinese language skills, and he later wrote for a magazine in China on environmental issues, foreshadowing his future research focus. Once he was back in the U.S., Rodenbiker worked with the Sustainable Cities Initiative and began studying geography at Berkeley. He has since made contributions to the field in both Chinese and American journals.

“I find geography so compelling in part because it’s so unabashedly promiscuous: it draws on so many different types of disciplinary research methods,” Rodenbiker said in an interview. “When I started to read geography, I found it really spoke to me. I thought, if there’s a future doing research, it would be this kind that transects the social sciences and humanities.”

For “Superscribing Sustainability,” Rodenbiker focused on two municipal ecological projects, Tangshan Nanhu Eco-City and Meixi Lake. These projects were ideal for research because of their ambitious, environmentally conscious designs, which included alternatives to automotive transportation, carbon sequestration, and material reuse. They also both provided for ample connection to nature, through habitat preservation, park space, integration of gardens, and other measures. Tangshan features a massive “Tea Island” constructed out of repurposed coal ash and a constructed wetland with over 80 species of birds, according to Tsinghua University. Meixi Lake centers the city around a 40-hectare lake; in the aerial photo on the architecture firm’s site, the lake is an attractive deep topaz.

“I show how this aesthetic concept, originally emerging in third century Chinese landscape poetry, is used to reconfigure and reimagine sustainability and contemporary China’s urban landscapes,” he explained in the publication’s abstract. “I draw on original mixed methods fieldwork, including interviews over a two-year period, digital archiving, historical texts, and discourse analysis. Through these methods, I detail the emergence of shan-shui aesthetics, then draw on the concept of superscription, the historical process of layering symbolic meanings, to understand the contemporary superscription of shan-shui with urban sustainability through the writings of prominent Chinese scientists and urban planning experts.”

Rodenbiker discovered that, while ecological zoning projects are often executed at the municipal level, the dictates for their creation come from all levels of Chinese government and society. He notes that the work of ecological scientists from the 1980s, along with the work of ecological Marxists and economists from the 1990s and 2000s, coalesced to “articulate this green development platform that now goes under the name of ecological civilization-building.”

The concept of ecological civilization-building is evident at the highest levels of government. In 2007, President Hu Jintao proposed the concept of “ecological civilisation” as part of the nation’s plan for economic growth, and years later, the CPC enshrined ecological civilization-building in the Party Constitution. As an article by Dr. Ben Parr and Professor Don Henry explains, “The Congress stressed that the development of ecological civilisation should be integrated into all aspects and the whole process of economic development, political development, cultural development, and social development.”

The dominance of ecological discourse is also visible in arenas of popular consumption, like TV advertisements. “It seeps into the national ethos,” Rodenbiker says. “Different branches of the municipal state communicate with state-led urban design firms. They draw on these kinds of classical imaginaries of Chinese landscape poetry and classical ink painting to derive a reputable city-planning branding rubric that operates as a sustainability fix, while at the same time doing something for the local municipal political economy, which allows cities to generate funds and generate finances to provide services.”

Chinese cities vary in their ability to respond to the central state’s requirements, Rodenbiker notes, and a complex network of different institutions has emerged to provide support. That network includes private-sector architecture firms, government officials who approve bids and sign off on projects, and the municipalities that have to clear swathes of land to make space for ecological building. Cities at a lower level in the Chinese administrative tiao kuai power matrix are able to exert power through their control and use of pieces of land. (Tiao is the vertical line of administrative authority, while kuai is the horizontal, expressing the geographic space over which an institution has local jurisdictional coverage). In this system, cities that might normally be low in the hierarchy of power have influence and jurisdiction because of their control of real estate: Rodenbiker points to cities like Kunming, Chengdu, and Dali, which are lower in the tiao but have vast lands on the kuai side, affording them myriad options for ecological zoning.

Yet while Chinese cities’ integration of shan-shui and ecological planning have spawned utopian images used for marketing, Rodenbiker notes that one element is almost always absent from these depictions: people. The beautiful mock-ups of environmentally conscious buildings almost never depict the lived experiences of residents, who are often asked to move from their homes in order to make room for new projects. Further, Rodenbiker argues, these residents have little power to define or frame the ecological civilization-building that radically shifts the ground beneath their feet.

“Residents do not make the symbolic connections connoted through superscription,” he writes. “The urban spaces designed and promoted as the shan-shui city are not recognized as such in the everyday lives of residents.” He quotes the vice-director of an urban design firm saying that local officials “have Chinese traditions in their bones” and that “utilizing shan-shui incorporates ideas, which are highly ingrained in popularized behavioral norms….” But he also quotes a resident of one of the eco-cities, who told him, “this is just another urban development project, it does not have anything to do with Chinese culture; it is a totally new construction.”

“From the lived experiences of these residents inundated with construction projects, the emergence of Tangshan Nanhu in a previously abandoned brownfield reads as banal,” Rodenbiker writes. “In this banality, the mediating veneers of digital imagery, urban plans, and municipal government rhetoric are affectively transparent enough to evade conscious recognition of living in the ‘shan-shui city’.”

As part of his current work, Rodenbiker is integrating “photo voice” (images produced by research subjects who document their lived experiences with cameras) as he investigates the nuanced consequences of displacement. Not everyone displaced by ambitious government projects experiences that displacement in the same way, Rodenbiker cautions. Varying forms of compensation and options for relocation mean that dislocation might hold disruption in one hand and opportunity in the other, depending on individual circumstance. Rodenbiker arrived at this finding through careful research he undertook in housing for residents who had been displaced by ecological civilization-building projects, and he sees opportunity for further findings in illuminating the lived experiences of everyday people.

Beyond the mountains and water of shan-shui lies a complicated new narrative, and Rodenbiker’s research is showcasing the experiences of individuals to paint a different kind of picture. Some urban planners want to use glorious shan-shui paintings from China’s past to tell the story of ecological civilization-building. But as he writes in “Superscribing Sustainability,” in this process, there is a “significant disconnect between the state framing of urban space and the lived experiences of urban residents,” and “the lack of resonance with everyday residents’ urban experience shows the dearth of power to narrativize urban development outside of state circles.”


Top photo credit: Xia Gui, work in Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Inset photo credit right: Master plan for Nanhu Eco-City in Tangshan, ISA Internationales Stadtbauatelier, Creative Commons 3.0 Germany License


Changing the Face of Economics

UC Berkeley economics professor Dr. Martha Olney explains the importance of diversity in the field, and why she supports initiatives designed to welcome underrepresented groups to the major.


As a teenager, Martha Olney joined her high school’s Women’s Lib group (“that’s what it was called those days,” she says) and watched a screening of the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes,” the tennis match between notorious male chauvinist Bobby Riggs and feminist athlete Billie Jean King. Forty-four years later, Emma Stone and Steve Carell are playing King and Riggs on the silver screen, and Olney, now a professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Economics, is still part of the fight for social justice she first joined in her Women’s Lib days.

Among undergraduates, economics is sometimes regarded with suspicion (or good-natured ribbing) as a major for students hoping for lucrative post-graduation jobs at big banks and trading companies. Olney is quick to challenge that stereotype. “Probably the least important thing we do is create people who can become gurus at Goldman Sachs,” she says. “The most important thing we do is equip people with skills that allow them to be policymakers, to make a big difference in the world, through using their economic skills.”

What might sound like an idealistic vision of economics for the public good is borne out by real-life examples. Olney lists numerous alumni who have gone on to work in public policy, international development, the Department of Labor, public health, and local organizations like Oakland’s Greenlining Institute, which seeks to bring lending to East Bay neighborhoods traditionally excluded by big banks.

Olney feels strongly about shifting perceptions of economics away from the picture of the discipline as a pipeline to Wall Street because that stereotype tends to discourage students from underrepresented groups, including women and people of color. She notes that women tend to seek disciplines with a more clear social-good component, such as Berkeley’s political economy major, which has less of a gender imbalance issue. “People think economics is about Goldman Sachs and political economy is about social change,” she says. “There are a lot of us who disagree and think that economics is a fabulous tool for social change. If you really understand economics, you don’t just take all these economic models at face value. You can change the assumptions behind them, and that changes the model.”

Economic models are a significant part of why Olney has worked to promote diversity in the field. “Economic models are based on assumptions, many of them about how people behave,” she says. “But if we have a profession full of people who look like each other and have life experiences a lot like each other, then the questions we’re going to receive are never going to probe us to think outside of our own personal experiences. If there’s nobody in the room who ever grew up in poverty, we’re more likely to make really bad assumptions about how people in poverty behave. On the other hand, if we have a population of economists who reflect the diversity of the world, some challenges will come from people whose lived experience is completely outside anything you have ever known. And that’s the only thing that is going to make our models better.”

Olney explains that she came to this realization through two “aha” moments from different points in her career. The first occurred when she was a young assistant professor attending a conference, and she listened as a group of male economists delivered a presentation. “The essence of their argument was that when people are old, they can be prepared to care for themselves in their old age by saving, and there’s no reason why their children should have anything to do with their care in their old age,” says Olney.

She was taken aback by this argument and by the cavalier attitude of one of the presenters toward the issue of caring for an elderly parent in his own life. “The man said, ‘I don’t have a comparative advantage in terms of taking care of my mother. Someone else does. I believe in the gains from trade, so I should simply send checks.’” This approach didn’t ring true to Olney based on her knowledge about the gendered nature of caretaking, which is frequently perceived as women’s work, and her own experience seeing the women of her family caring for the elderly. The episode exposed the fallibility of models that are made based on assumptions about human behavior that paint an incomplete picture.

A decade later, Olney was teaching a U.S. economic history class about a similar topic, presenting on why fertility rates fell in the mid-1800s. One theory suggested that, for people on working farms, one of the benefits of having children was the “implicit contract” that those children would later take care of parents in their old age, yet when faced with greater numbers of opportunities away from their farm, children are “likely to default” i.e. move away. That decreases the expected benefit of having children, ultimately causing broader fertility declines. When she finished explaining the model, several Asian-American students raised their hands.

“What about filial piety?” they asked. (The term, Confucian in origin and prevalent in East Asia, refers to dutiful reverence for one’s parents and ancestors—an attitude that would make abandoning elderly parents unimaginable.)

Olney was blindsided. “Filial piety was not a phrase that I had ever heard,” she says. “It was a challenge to the model’s assumptions, a concept in a culture that says, ‘No, we would never do that. That’s a violation of everything that’s true about my culture.’” We have to listen to people whose lived experiences are different from our own, because when we project out of our own experience, we can get it wrong.”

To bring in more students who represent a variety of backgrounds, Olney has been a supporter of two emerging initiatives on campus: Undergraduate Women in Economics at Berkeley (UWEB) and Students of Color in Economics (SOCE). Olney emphasizes the importance of the community and camaraderie these organizations provide, along with their alumni and internship panels, workshops, and mentoring events. “This was my experience, once being one of the few women in math,” she says. “Sometimes you just want a safe space, as we call it now. Sometimes you just want to hang out with a bunch of other women, even if what you’re doing is a problem set.”

Just what a female or minority student in economics needs to be kept “safe” from was laid out in a recent New York Times article “Evidence of a Toxic Environment for Women in Economics,” which Olney shared on the UWEB Facebook page. The article focused on Berkeley alumna Alice H. Wu’s senior thesis research on sexism in the field.

The field of economics has struggled with gender parity at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, and faculty), but recent attention has increasingly turned to the demographics of students selecting economics as their undergraduate major. The Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge, an initiative launched by Harvard economics professor (and former president of the American Economic Association) Claudia Goldin, seeks to encourage more undergraduate women to major in economics. And a recent article for the Berkeley Blog by economics student Hallie Gist focused on gender and racial disparities here at Berkeley, showing a dearth of underrepresented minority (UM) women graduates in economics: “an average of only nine UM women have graduated with a BA in economics each year for the past 10 years,” Gist wrote. Gender bias also finds its way into the field in other ways; past research has shown that female professors receive lower ratings from students than their male peers.

Part of this may have to do with who a young prospective economics student sees when she walks into a lecture hall. “Role models matter,” Olney says. “If you go through all of your undergraduate classes in economics and you never have anyone but a male professor, or you never have any professors who are people of color, that tells you who is in this profession. It matters who’s at the front. People at the front of the room who are not white males take a lot more flak from students. And that’s because we’re breaking people’s notions of who should be in the front of the room.”

Is changing culture an uphill battle? “Yes,” Olney says with a wry smile. “But even steep hills can be climbed.”

Photo attribution: Anthony Quintano, Flickr. “Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal New York City Wall Street“. Via Flickr, CreativeCommons License (Attribution Generic 2.0).


A Tax to Support ‘Made in the USA’

UC Berkeley economics professor Alan Auerbach works with Washington, D.C. policymakers in his quest for corporate tax reform—including implementing a tax focused on where products are consumed, not where they are produced.


When Alan Auerbach last worked at length on Capitol Hill, as Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation in the early 1990s, Washington was a very different place, with no “alternative facts,” Bernie bros, Tea Partiers, or Russian hacking allegations swirling in the muggy air. That Auerbach returned to a far more fractious D.C. earlier this year is a testament to his determination for advocating what Politico has termed “the most controversial proposal in tax policy,” the destination-based cash flow tax.

This proposed tax is intended to fix a key issue related to current corporate income taxation, namely that many large companies move jobs overseas and stash profits in tax havens. Companies like Apple have notoriously taken advantage of tax loopholes with few consequences, at least until the European Union levied a $14.5 billion penalty on the tech giant last year. Because of the economic boost that a large corporation can bring, many nations engage in what Auerbach described in one paper as a “race to the bottom,” slashing their corporate tax rates to woo corporations away from other countries.

In an interview, Auerbach, who is Robert D. Burch Professor of Economics and Law at UC Berkeley and Director of the Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, explained that many of these countries do this at the same time that they increase their consumption taxes, or value-added tax (VAT). Yet that is not currently an option here in the U.S., which has no VAT. Auerbach’s proposal, according to an article he authored last month published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, would begin “relieving tax on export revenues and imposing tax on imports, in precisely the same manner as is done under existing value-added taxes (VATs).”

“The point of this proposal is to shift toward taxing based on where consumption occurs, and to lessen the tax based on the income that companies produce in a particular place,” Auerbach explained in an interview. That would mean “taking away any impediment the tax system would impose” to production in the United States.

Corporate income taxation matters to the average Joe because corporations’ decisions about where to locate production can determine job availability domestically—and the tax dollars these companies aren’t paying have to come out of other people’s pockets. “I don’t think we’re going to start making T-shirts in the U.S. instead of in China or Thailand,” Auerbach says. “[The proposal] isn’t going to make companies that are producing in very low-wage countries for many reasons simply reverse decades-long decisions to move production out of the U.S.” Instead, he says, the proposal’s impact would be highest in industries reliant on high-productivity, high-skill labor (e.g., automobile manufacturing).

Some House GOP members have reacted favorably to the proposal and sought to  incorporate it into corporate tax policy changes, but it didn’t win over everyone. “The strongest organized opposition came from the retail industry,” says Auerbach. “They were convinced that this was going to lead to a huge increase in domestic prices of their products. Many retail companies import a lot of what they sell, and they thought the tax imposed at the border would drive up their costs, hurt their profits, and be bad for their customers. That’s not what the economic analysis suggests, but it’s hard to make subtle points about economic analysis in that context.”

Auerbach says that part of the challenge of implementing the destination-based cash flow tax lies in explaining how it functions. “In order to explain to non-economists how this works, you have to leave a lot of things out,” he says. “At the political level it was just very hard. There were people who liked it—or were against it—for what you might say the wrong reasons, because they didn’t fully understand it. There were opponents who would have been much happier just with a tax cut, and that’s sort of more where we ended up.” (The tax plan that House Republicans recently proposed would significantly lower the corporate tax rate.)

Corporate taxation has been Auerbach’s focus for several decades; he wrote his PhD dissertation on the subject in the late 1970s. But his work has never been restricted to the ivory tower. “As many academics who work on applied topics do, I’ve been testifying on tax reform, writing policy papers, and talking to people in Washington about this for years,” he says. “But it was somewhat unexpected to have this thing go live.”

For Auerbach, “going live” meant immersing himself in the political side of advocating for the destination-based cash flow tax, “talking to people in Washington who were putting this together, people out in industry, and responding frequently on the radio and on television to opponents.” He faced one high-profile opponent, Bay Area Congressman Ro Khanna, on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” in early 2017. Rep. Khanna called the proposal “reverse redistribution” that would “basically be a tax on middle-class Americans and working families.” In that clip, Auerbach’s unequivocal (though characteristically genteel) retort was “[Khanna’s] welcome in Berkeley anytime, so that I can go through with him why what he just said is not correct.”

To advocate for his policy, Auerbach has written pieces for Brookings, the New York Times, and numerous other organizations, and he has learned to work efficiently to make headway in Washington, where he says “things happen very quickly. Ideas come and go on a weekly basis. They have an arc: they’re very popular and then they’re opposed and then they die away. The next idea comes up the next week. So you can’t say ‘I’ll get back to you next week’ on something.”

From his myriad writings and media appearances, a portrait of Auerbach emerges as someone with a willingness to jump into the ring, but with the temperament of an academic, not a politician. He cites the suddenness of the earlier GOP tax proposal as one of the reasons for its failure; the “House Better Way” plan of June 2016 was unexpectedly launched into the limelight after Trump’s win. “It might have gone better if it had been a more gradual process,” Auerbach says. “Historically, the tax reform process takes a long time, and this proposal was not really taken very seriously until all of a sudden it was taken very seriously. That made it more difficult to acquaint people in the political process with it.”

Indeed, GOP lawmakers struck the destination-based cash flow tax from their current proposal after political pressure, citing numerous “unknowns” (CNBC). So is Auerbach hopeful for the current wave of tax reform? “Given the way the current process is going right now, I’m not optimistic that the outcome, if it passes, is going to be very good,” Auerbach says. “They’re trying to make it happen very quickly, and this is complicated. When you take something very complicated and try to make it happen quickly, there’s a good chance that you’re going to mess up. So I’ve been hoping that maybe they’re not successful in changing things immediately so that they have a longer horizon for thinking. And then, of course, I hope to push this again.”

Electing Peace

In her new book, Electing Peace: From Civil Conflict to Political Participation, Aila Matanock, Assistant Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Political Science, looks at the role of elections in post-conflict peace agreements.


What does it take for a nation to maintain peace in the aftermath of a civil conflict involving rebel groups or militants? And what role can the international community play in supporting this peace? Aila Matanock, Assistant Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Political Science, tackles these questions (among others) in her recently released book, Electing Peace: From Civil Conflict to Political Participation (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

“Producing settlements that actually stick is one of the hardest things about bringing peace to civil conflict,” Matanock explained in an interview. “My book looks at peace agreements that allow rebel parties into post-conflict elections. The main finding is, if you have rebel participation in the election process, you’re more likely to have an enduring peace agreement.”

Electing Peace is Matanock’s first book, and is based on her dissertation research at Stanford University, which won the 2013 Helen Dwight Reid award from the American Political Science Association for the best dissertation successfully defended in the past two years in international relations, law, and politics.

Her research drew upon cross-national records of conflicts from between 1975-2005, based on data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program and other sources. She scoured the texts of peace agreements and coded them for electoral participation provisions, and she spent extensive time in the field—in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Northern Ireland—conducting interviews with rebels, government leaders, and other stakeholders from all sides of the conflicts.

Much of her book focuses on the electoral participation provisions that are now included in half of all peace agreements. “In the modern era since end of Cold War, almost half of all agreements have included provisions for rebel parties to participate,” she explained. “There has been a lot of pessimism about post-conflict elections, driven by the Iraq and Afghanistan cases, but if we look at the data, it shows that those with rebel group parties are more likely to have lasting peace. That’s surprising.”

Her research illuminated a striking correlation between inclusive elections and maintaining peace: in only 21% of cases where ex-rebels were allowed to take part in electoral politics did conflict re-escalate, compared to 56% in cases where ex-rebels were left out of the post-conflict election process. The likelihood of maintaining peace is significantly improved, in other words, when the groups involved in the conflict are allowed to form legitimate parties and participate in elections.

Yet beyond merely including rebels lies another important dimension, Matanock says: post-conflict elections engage the international community, which in turn provides a source of third-party oversight to keep the peace process on track. “Legitimacy and buy-in are important, but you see the international community come into these peace agreements in interesting ways,” she explained. “The positive effect on peace is only achieved through this international interaction, when there are outside actors who intervene.”

As an example, she points to the 1994 election in El Salvador, when the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) first participated as a political party. She notes that the government, claiming security concerns, tried to move polling stations from FMLN strongholds into a departmental capital, making it difficult for FMLN supporters to vote. “That’s reducing the power of FMLN in the election,” Matanock explained. “That’s the kind of maneuvering that can lead to a flare-up of violence, but in this case, international election observers were able to see this violation by the government and say, we’re not buying that these are legitimate security concerns. There are going to be consequences if you don’t move these polling stations back, and we can provide logistics and security if you do.”

This example points to another key conclusion of Matanock’s book: that contrary to the perception of many in the international community, sending in military troops is not the only option for “peacekeeping” in a post-conflict period. “Most existing work assumes there will be troops on ground, but I argue they can do it through things like freezing aid, which is enough to overcome minor violations,” she explained. “We talk a lot about peacekeeping troops. What we may need are monitors with leverage, like foreign aid.”

Matanock’s theory has direct relevance to ongoing conflicts (and resolutions), as Colombia’s FARC—formerly a rebel group—has recently become a legitimate political party with the opportunity to participate in national elections. Matanock wrote an analysis of this situation in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, and The Economist also recently cited her work, noting that her data “suggests that turning [Colombia’s] FARC into a normal party might help secure the peace.” You can read more about Matanock’s research on her website.

“One of the main takeaways for the book is that there are very different types of post-conflict elections,” Matanock said. “This type of election really seems to have a positive effect on peace. These elections help bring international attention and pressure that leads to power redistribution over time.”


Dr. Charis Thompson: Critique in the Era of Trump

Dr. Charis Thompson analyzes our political moment and discusses working at the intersections of science, gender, and society.


From the start of her academic career, Dr. Charis Thompson, Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, has been deeply interested in using the qualitative social sciences to explore the role of science in society. As an undergraduate at Oxford University, she was the first woman member of the Artificial Intelligence Society, and she studied a trio of disciplines: psychology, physiology, and philosophy. She has authored books on assisted reproductive technologies and on stem cell research (Making Parents and Good Science, both from MIT Press). Her academic home in UC Berkeley’s Gender and Women’s Studies department has given her a unique lens through which to consider the recent American political landscape; in October 2016, she wrote the article “Three lessons in gender and sexuality in this election” for the Berkeley Blog, in which she asked, “What can we learn from the fact that the scenography of this election has included explicit sexual predation at every turn?” In answering this question, Dr. Thompson argued against the urge to see sexual harassment and vulgarity as distractions from “real issues.”

Early this year, Professor Thompson presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. One of her talks, part of the Forum’s IdeaLabs program, addressed the subject “Cultivating appropriate emotions in a time of nationalist populism,” which questioned the popularization of emotions like mindfulness, gratitude, and awe without accompanying introspection on sources of societal inequality.

We sat down with Professor Thompson to discuss the themes of her election article and Davos talk, and to hear her thoughts on the highly publicized Women’s March and March for Science events. [This interview was edited for length and content.]

Matrix: Last fall, in writing about the election, you wrote, “Social media have become another means by which power reproduces and is in turn reproduced by racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and citizenship status. Little has been done to combat these patterns; on the contrary, we have evidence that algorithms and social media tend to amplify rather than correct for structural bias and discrimination. Our campus’s research on the age of social media is urgent.” Can you expand on this?

Charis Thompson: Many researchers have shown that social media can be used to troll others, isolate people in their so-called “bubbles” or echo chambers, and create places for absence of accountability, places to collect voices of hate, repercussion-free environments, and create anxiety and FOMO [fear of missing out], going all the way up to suicidal ideation. There’s also a growing body of work on the non-neutrality of algorithms, like [Cathy O’Neil’s] Weapons of Math Destruction, which you showcased at Matrix.

Matrix: In your work on science and society, have you ever encountered challenges with people in STEM not regarding social issues and social science as “serious?” Has there been change in that area?

Thompson: I do a considerable amount of work with, and think very highly of, my STEM colleagues. But I think everyone has a bit of disciplinary chauvinism, this “we do this a little better than everyone else” idea. Everyone’s got their hierarchy of “hardness.” There are a few areas where these views are more society-wide, and that’s more problematic. In America, we tend to conceptualize mathematics as intrinsically “hard”, so that somehow if you’re not good at it when you’re a teenager, there are a bunch of things you can never do in this country. However, evidence suggests that it isn’t all over when you’re a teenager. Plenty of people aren’t interested in knowing what “X” is when they’re thirteen, but they really would be, especially if it was connected to a really interesting job, when they’re 23. So there are some places where we need to de-naturalize hierarchies of hardness that have settled a bit too much.

The little bit of disciplinary chauvinism that all disciplines have is fine. There’s a pleasure in one’s disciplinary apparatus and one’s disciplinary expertise that shouldn’t be taken away. I never expect a random STEM person to be remotely interested in or attentive to what I’m doing, but I find that when they are, they’re extremely open to what I and my colleagues are doing. And I try to be extremely open to what they’re doing. I go to labs quite a bit. I’m not interested in making my work either “more” or “less” than theirs, or more in service to theirs or theirs in service to mine. If you’re knowledgeable about each other’s work, what you work on and what you’re good at can get better at helping with the problem at hand.

Matrix: What were your thoughts on the recent March for Science?

Thompson: We’ve enjoyed an era in the postwar period in America where the sciences have been very tightly related to governance—until Trump’s presidency and this recent era. For all that I’m excited to march for truth, evidence, and expertise, I also interpret the “March for Science” as protesting a little bit much. We’ve never been in a better era for science and technology than we are today, and Trump’s election has not changed that. What has changed is that tight relation between governance and science.

At the same time that science stands up for scientific evidence and facts, [the field] would do well to acknowledge straightforwardly that it has been complicit in scientific racism, scientific sexism, and homophobia, and in rendering some of its subfields as ones that have a racial and gendered order.

The disciplines I see under the most suppression and repression are Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, African-American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Indigenous Studies. They are being de-legitimated from multiple sources, rendered as if they are not composed of expertise and facts, but as if they’re just opinion or political correctness. People who use their knowledge and expertise to point out sexism, racism, etc., are being silenced with claims of free speech that are ultimately attributed to individual rights or to the Constitution. This is profoundly problematic and is the real assault in our moment on expertise and evidence.

I understand the critique of knowledge and expertise in the context of globalization and the idea that “everyday people need to have our cultures and jobs and make a living and be heard.” I also get the critique of political correctness or limits to free speech that is against moral censoring of what other people say and moral centering of what you yourself say: “I know more than you about race, gender, class, sexuality, etc., so you and people like you are racist or sexist or…” The first part of that is probably true when race, class, gender etc. scholars are speaking, but the second part can be what people hear.  But the second part doesn’t necessarily follow from the first part, and when it does follow, it indicates a shared social problem, not a hierarchy of political virtue. I think that you need to call people in, not call them out, though those terms can be tricky, too.

But the idea that you can say what you want about race, gender, class, disability, and so forth, that it’s just opinion and there’s no knowledge or expertise [in these fields], so experts have no right to correct you and no right to refuse to treat you like a scholar at a university where we’re supposed to traffic in knowledge—that feels to me like where we should have the real science march: around the obliteration of recognition of expertise in these fields.

The disciplines I see under the most suppression and repression are Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, African-American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Indigenous Studies. They are being de-legitimated from multiple sources, rendered as if they are not composed of expertise and facts, but as if they’re just opinion or political correctness.

Matrix: What were your thoughts on another march, the Women’s March? Given your extensive work on reproductive technologies and gender, I’m also curious to hear your opinion on the debate the march sparked over whether it is possible to be a “pro-life feminist”.

Thompson: I went to the Women’s March with three generations of my family. Like the Science March, it was moving and wonderful and exciting, and it did a better job than the Science March, even though it was still problematic at airing some of the problems with some of the women’s movement, its whiteness and middle-classness. In this department, we approach everything from an intersectional and transnational point of view. If something is about white and middle-class women in the U.S., we say that, as opposed to assuming that [as a default]. We try to be geographically and historically specific, and we try to see the salient axes of power—racializations, or ethnicizations, or religion or colonialism—that operate in the time and the place you’re talking about. I think these conversations were a crucial part of the Women’s March. They didn’t get it perfect, but that’s consonant with the history of American feminism.

On the subject of reproductive rights, I’m relatively pro-life. Politically, I am pro-choice. I don’t like it when people favor a fetus over a living woman, as if the fetus is innocent and that makes them a better citizen than the “sullied woman”. You’ve got to keep abortion available. It has to be a woman’s choice and it has to be free and accessible. But all other things being equal, I’m not a big fan of abortion. All this to say yes, I think you can be pro-life and be feminist. I find it much easier to be pro-life and feminist than to be filthy rich and feminist, in the sense that you get a Lean In book or you get Ivanka Trump telling you what to do with your staff. I find it much harder for those positions to seem feminist to me than for a pro-life position to seem feminist to me.

Matrix: In your Davos talk, you made a provocative argument in saying that we need to question how we throw around emotions like awe, mindfulness, and gratitude willy-nilly, without questioning the social inequalities that might enable those emotions. What motivated you to discuss this subject?

Thompson: At [the World Economic Forum’s] IdeaLabs, the university and the Davos Secretariat decide on a theme that would cut across the people they’re inviting. The theme they gave to Berkeley this year was the Science of Emotions. Because I’m writing this book on science and technology elites at the moment, I had been very interested in the way that inequality is processed affectively. I’m very interested in stratification and the geographies and histories that layer upon each other and cause stratification over time. That’s how I see a place.

We’re in an era where emotions, or pathos from the classical rhetorical tradition, and logos [reason], have kind of come apart. A lot of what is being said is being done by pathos, by appeals to emotion. This is very important politically at the moment. And I really want us to come back to a time when ethos [appeal to ethics, character of a group] mattered, when the things that are historically, normatively, and experientially rich are shared. I want us to get that back. And that’s not a time we live in.

In the particular case of the technology elites, who you could say represent the experts who have been voted against in the rise of populism, I really disliked the way that the structural difference is wiped out [with emotions]. So you become “grateful” rather than being “grateful for something.” You “give back,” but you’re giving back what you took; you just cut out the “took.” Or “We’re grateful for being richer than you”. There, you’re again taking out the uncomfortable term. In that, the relationality is lost, the fact that these emotions play out very differently for different people. Celebrating them without the uncomfortable term launders your privilege instead of questioning it. That was what was problematic to me, and I did want to point to that [at Davos] because of the “happiness industry” that people often talk about.

Matrix: You bring an academic perspective that often leans toward critique. Do you ever find yourself at odds with the “technology can solve all the problems” attitude that is pervasive in Silicon Valley?

Thompson: I have a combination of three attitudes: I have an eye-rolling reaction to the ‘let’s just fix it,’ technophilic, technical-solution-to-all-the-problems attitude. At the same time, I am a real technophile; I love technology, and I love thinking of possible solutions, including entrepreneurial ones. There are a lot of very interesting movements between public and private at the moment, and I’m certainly not ideologically opposed to everything in the private sector.

But it is essential, even in an innovation economy, to keep alive the importance of critique. It’s true in the qualitative social sciences that our work tends to focus more on the historical and critical. That’s essential because in order to do things better, to understand the fundamental nature of historical and material contingencies, hierarchies, and social organizations, you need to be able to imagine that it could be other than how it is. Sometimes what’s needed is just tweaking. Sometimes what’s needed is more fundamental change. For that, you need to understand how things came to be as they are, how they might be otherwise, and what different elements are competing to make people experience major social problems. But I am very interested in responding on the positive side to major social problems, too. It’s not enough to just say “inequality is bad.” I’m interested in solutions.

Top Image Credit: Becker1999 via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License.

Research Highlights

Network for Adolescent Well-being and Development (NAWD)

Matrix has produced a three-minute video profiling the “Network for Adolescent Well-being and Development” (NAWD), a Social Science Matrix Project Team that ran during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Social Science Matrix: Network for Adolescent Well-being and Development from Social Science Matrix on Vimeo.

Matrix has produced a three-minute video profiling the “Network for Adolescent Wellbeing and Development” (NAWD), a Social Science Matrix Project Team that ran during the 2016-2017 academic year. The goal of this team is to develop innovative approaches for research into key issues related to adolescent health, including technology and adolescent well-being, violence prevention, methodological innovations, and reproductive health.

Adolescents make up one-fifth of the world’s population, and many low-income countries are experiencing a “youth bulge,” with a higher proportion of their population made up of adolescents. In the U.S. and globally, youth of color and those in conditions of poverty experience major health and educational disparities. Yet the field of adolescent health is typically organized around individual problems such as pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, or violence. What is lacking is an integrative development lens that factors in how contexts—such as families, schools, neighborhoods—shape adolescent health and behavior.

“Adolescence is such a really key pivot point in terms of the trajectory of the life course,” says Emily J. Ozer, PhD, Professor of Community Health and Human Development in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, who co-led this Matrix Research Team. “It’s really where a lot gets decided in terms of, health and mental health, transition to family, transition to work. There’s a huge demographic increase in adolescents worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.”

This Matrix Team brings together some of the numerous faculty and students across campus whose work is relevant to the contexts and factors that shape adolescent development, including experts in diverse fields such as psychology, medicine, economics, neuroscience, social welfare, sociology, public health, education, policy, and information science.

“One particular discipline can’t do it and one particular scholar can’t do it, because no one knows the full ecology of young people’s lives,” says Prudence Carter, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. “No one is an expert in the full ecology. Collectively, we kind of speak to the full ecology of youth.”

Since the launch of their work at Matrix, this team received a grant from the UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Office (VCRO) to advance their work in reducing inequalities among youth. The “Youth and Inequalities” initiative—to be led by Ozer and Carter, along with Colette Auerswald, Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health—will further strengthen connections with education and economics, as well as other units across campus. The researchers will also continue collaborating with Innovations for Youth (I4Y), a growing UC Berkeley center that focuses on the social determinants of health, health disparities, connectedness, and networks for adolescents through a multidisciplinary and multigenerational approach.

“It’s very hard to get faculty together at Berkeley,” says Ozer. “And so when I saw this opportunity to apply for a Social Science Matrix Group, it was a great opportunity to provide some structure and a place  and some support and to have a standing meeting for us to get together over lunch, exchange ideas, and just really put some structure around what we’ve been trying to do.”

Visit this page to learn more about this initiative. You can also download a PDF of a poster about this team’s work.


Bikes and the Changing City

UC Berkeley Geography Lecturer John G. Stehlin reflects on using the bicycle as a lens to understand gentrification and local inequities.


“Bikes are great…but they’re not infallible,” says Dr. John G. Stehlin, a Lecturer who earned his Ph.D. from the UC Berkeley Department of Geography in 2015.

It’s an unexpected statement from someone whose life and work revolves around urban biking. After graduating from Vassar College in 2004, Stehlin started working at a Philadelphia bicycle shop. He got the job in part thanks to his Spanish-speaking ability, an important asset in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. At work, he met many recent immigrants and low-income workers who were using their bicycles for practical purposes, like delivering food or commuting home. He quickly found a disconnect between the bikers he saw every day and the popular image of the urban bicyclist—someone like Stehlin himself, who says people might describe him at first glance as “‘one of those white hipsters on bikes.’”

That disjuncture made him consider what people think of when considering who qualifies as serious cyclists. This judgment is often informed consciously or subconsciously by race and class, and it literally determines who counts. “There are people who don’t ride to work—they don’t have a job,” Stehlin says. “They ride to social services, but because they do not ride to work, they are not recorded by the U.S. census as someone who rides a bike, and so they become invisible in that way.”

Stehlin says these bikers often have less political power than cyclists from other socioeconomic strata, such as “young professionals who ride to work and are organized in bicycle coalitions.” And because urban planners don’t see these “invisible cyclists,” they don’t design cities for them.

Thinking about this issue led Stehlin to immerse himself in further research, as the bicycle is a lens, providing new ways to view and understand changing urban conditions. “I couldn’t avoid this topic,” Stehlin says. “It ties into a much broader set of things. I often frame it as this puzzle. Bicycling is cheap; it’s way cheaper than a car. But living where it’s easy, relatively safe, intuitive, and practical to ride a bike—that’s getting more expensive.”

Dissecting that puzzle led to his dissertation at Berkeley, “Business Cycles: Race, Gentrification, and the Making of Bicycle Space in the San Francisco Bay Area,” which he is now working to turn into a book. He has meanwhile continued his research on gentrification with a recent article on urban gardening and cycling and another on urban public space, “The Post-Industrial Shop Floor: Emerging Forms of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Innovation Economy.”

Bicycling is cheap; it’s way cheaper than a car. But living where it’s easy, relatively safe, intuitive, and practical to ride a bike—that’s getting more expensive.

Gentrification is a hot topic in the Bay Area, but many conversations focus on neighborhoods’ shifting racial demographics. Stehlin engages with the issue on additional fronts, including gender. He points to the 1990s development of San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood and what he terms its “class-inflected logic of ‘security’.” Stehlin points out that, prior to its recent development, SoMa had been populated by retired dock-workers (largely male). Part of the logic that emerged to justify SoMa’s development was, as he says, “safety with a gendered inflection—’we need to make this [neighborhood] safe for women.’”

Even bike culture can be gendered. Stehlin points out that more men than women bike to work, and that even facetious terms for cyclists, like the “MAMIL” (middle-aged man in Lycra), are gendered. When American women ride bikes, they may be scrutinized for perceived sins like prioritizing aesthetics over safety (for example, a New York Observer article, “The Spokes-Models,” dismissed upper-crust New York City female bicyclists as “beautiful Godzillas” careening about with no regard for road rules).

Associating bicycles with white hipsters and sundress-wearing “spokes-models”—young professionals increasingly seen as the faces of urban gentrification—is a departure from much of urban bicycling history. “People have been riding bikes in cities for a very long time,” Stehlin says, “because it made the most sense to them. It was cheap and flexible.” These people ride, first and foremost, out of need. The problem, Stehlin says, arises “if bicycles make cities attractive to the ‘creative class.’”

In “The Post-Industrial Shop Floor,” Stehlin writes that, “for writers like Richard Florida, for instance, urban spaces are meccas for creative people, the drivers of our economic future. These footloose ‘creatives’, the story goes, are constantly on the move, always innovating and producing value as long as there are spaces and infrastructures that encourage them to congregate and interact.” When these individuals swarm cities like San Francisco for the economic opportunities that await them, they may catalyze improvements to infrastructure (e.g., SF becoming more bike-friendly) while also displacing the people whom those improvements should potentially serve the most. These people, Stehlin worries, “might end up in places that are not as safe to ride bikes, where they can’t ride bikes.”

There are other narratives for what a typical bicyclist looks like, Stehlin notes, pointing to the example of the Scraper Bike Team, a predominantly African-American and Latino youth bike team that started with a YouTube video ten years ago. In the video, Stehlin explains, team co-founder Tyrone Stevenson (also known as Baybe Champ) talks about “scraper bikes,” which are modified bikes in the fashion of scraper cars, “an Oakland vernacular automotive tradition.” The team has expanded since that YouTube video, building the Scraper Bike Shed as a designated site where young people can come to fix their bikes. The bike team is intended to provide motivations for school performance and a positive alternative to gang participation in underserved Oakland neighborhoods. The team has gained visibility in the community and recognition from media outlets like KQED.

Still, these young bikers still face challenges, as the Scraper Bike Team’s current president, Burnette Jr., described in Oakland Voices: “There’s no access to biking in the flatlands of East Oakland,” Burnette Jr. said. “I dream of better bike lanes and networks with no potholes so kids can ride their bikes to school and wherever else they want to go.”

Stehlin considers how equity is not only interlinked with social justice, but with climate change. “A lot of people are saying there’s a kind of ‘green premium’ on certain kinds of spaces that make them unaffordable,” Stehlin says. “That’s not necessarily something that is going to enact the wide-ranging changes that we want to see, and need to see, in the context of climate change. When I talk to the bicycle advocates, I tell them that affordable housing might be our best bet for bicycle advocacy.”

Stehlin says that bicycle advocacy is “wedded to a business-friendly narrative” that is “hard to walk away from that, especially when you have consultants telling you that that’s what you need to do to attract the tech workers.” But he sees hope in the fact that more people are discussing “whether becoming inequitably sustainable is actually a poor way of doing sustainability,” and he expresses the hope that there will be “more awareness from people who are really excited about bicycle issues—and about the way that they tie into much larger processes.”

“It’s exciting that people are interested in how you move in cities, and what it means,” Stehlin says. “I’m not excited about it being thought of in purely instrumental purposes—like ‘let’s increase accessibility in these particular places so that developers will build there.’ Because I think that what is problematic about capitalist society in its current moment is not necessarily going to be solved by the market.”

Is there an opening here for solutions from social justice-minded students and bicycle advocates? Possibly, Stehlin says, but only if “we take seriously the kind of structural issues that we’re up against.”


Top photo credit: Unsplash, Creative Commons license 0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

Inserted Photo credit: “Scraper Bike Team,” George Kelly, Creative Commons license 2.0 via Flickr.


Network Survival Method

Dennis Feehan, Assistant Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Demography, explains a pioneering approach to predicting adult mortality.


The question of mortality may be as much about how we live as when we die. As the surgeon Atul Gawande writes in his book, Being Mortal, “how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.” In nations like the United States, where births and deaths are fastidiously recorded, data can give the public a good idea of approximately how much time that is. But in many parts of the developing world, millions of people live and die unseen by census-takers and other vital registration systems, a situation that some have termed a “scandal of invisibility”.

UC Berkeley demographer Dennis Feehan hopes to illuminate invisible populations through his work on mortality estimates. Using data from fieldwork in Rwanda, he recently co-authored a paper, “The Network Survival Method for Estimating Adult Mortality: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Rwanda,” that used the “network survival method”—a methodology based on interviewing individuals about their social networks—to better understand health outcomes and death rates. We interviewed Feehan to discuss his research. [This interview was edited for length and content.]

Matrix: How would you summarize the main takeaways of your paper on using the network survival method to estimate adult mortality?

Dennis Feehan: Historically, it’s been really difficult to try and estimate adult death rates in many developing countries. In the U.S., we’re used to hearing about adult deaths from the vital registration system; we have the infrastructure to get information that way. But in other places, it can be tricky; a lot of countries don’t have great mortality records. In those countries, we can conduct scientifically rigorous household surveys that can be used to estimate things like child welfare or economic success, but we can’t use those approaches very easily to study deaths. There’s a simple reason for that: you can’t interview people who have died.

Consequently, demographers have historically used an approach called the “sibling survival method” to investigate mortality. This approach involves surveying respondents about their siblings. That’s a good idea, but it turns out that for most conventionally-sized surveys, that doesn’t produce quite enough information to precisely estimate death rates by age and sex. It also turns out that just understanding the overall death rate without knowing the age and sex patterns isn’t that helpful for most purposes.

The idea behind my paper was to try and combine the sibling method with other social network methods that have been used in anthropology and sociology, and mash them up to create a different approach that allows us to promote bigger networks than just the sibling network. The result is that it can produce more precise estimates of death rates.

Matrix: Why did you and your co-authors pick Rwanda?

Feehan: One reason is that this problem of trying to estimate death rates is particularly salient in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are other parts of the world where it’s also a challenge, but many countries in Africa have trouble getting national-level adult death rate estimates. Rwanda was already conducting a study that was interested in analyzing with social network methods. The way the survey was being run was very similar to the Demographic Health Survey (a gold standard of health information in the developing world). Because we were using a new method, it was important to us to use an approach that we thought of as realistic and similar to the kind of survey data we wanted to collect. So when the opportunity arose to partner with that study to ask our questions, we did.

Matrix: How receptive were survey respondents, and were they able to provide the requisite estimates the surveys asked for easily?

Feehan: It varies. I’ve conducted surveys like this in several different places now. Generally speaking, one has to think about it a little bit before one answers these questions. For the purposes of the method, the precise answer to each question doesn’t have to be exactly right; instead, it’s more like the average answer across respondents has to be right.

The idea is that it’s hard to answer these questions, and it might be easier to answer questions like this with some networks instead of other networks. It might be easier to report about who you shared a meal with rather than about people you just know somehow. Something I’d like to explore in the future is whether there are even more close or strong types of relationships that one could ask questions about.

The idea in the Quantity vs. Quality paper [which Feehan co-authored and published in 2015] is that there might be a trade-off between quantity and quality. Take the context of mortality: I could ask you to talk about your siblings, whom you presumably know a lot about, meaning that you can provide accurate information. However, you probably don’t have that many siblings. Certainly the average Rwandan doesn’t.

On the other hand, if I ask you about how many people you shared a meal with in the last year, that’s almost certainly a much bigger number of people—whom you also probably don’t know as much information about, meaning your reports won’t be quite as accurate. There’s maybe a trade-off in between those two extremes where we can find a network that we can accurately report about, that produces information about a decent number of people but where the information is high quality. We looked at two different networks in that study, and ideally I’d like to research more of them. That’s something that remains to be done.

Matrix: How did you get the idea for using the “meal network”?

Feehan: That was pretty hard to come up with. We talked with a lot of people in Rwanda about it. When we were planning the study, we had a big workshop in Kigali where we talked to a lot of Rwandans and asked questions about who people interacted with. We wanted to find something that we thought respondents would be able to report accurately about, but that would also provide information about a reasonable number of people from each interview.

What we found in “Quantity Versus Quality” was that, at least from these internal consistency checks, it seems to be the case that the meal network results are more accurate (even though the meal network is smaller), compared to the acquaintance network. If we conducted a study where we tried a wider range of types of network, we might be able to narrow down more precisely whether there is a definition that makes this optimal trade off between quality and quantity.

Matrix: Is the network that works best culturally bound? Is it possible that a different kind of network might work better somewhere else?

Feehan: It is culturally bound. An advantage of the approach that we developed in the mortality paper is that it can be customized to different settings. So if you wanted to try to measure adult mortality in a different country, you could go there and talk to people and try to understand what their networks are like and how they interact with each other, and it might be that the meal definition doesn’t make the most sense in that setting, and it would be some other method that would make the most sense. The way we think about it, it’s possible to customize the way you gather data to the setting when you’re conducting the survey. I’d say that’s an advantage of our approach. It does mean that you have to try to understand the social networks of wherever you’re going to study, but that’s something you should always do anyway.

It’s important to try and estimate adult death rates, both instrumentally—because they’re important input to policy and to try to understand scientific questions—but also as a matter of human rights.

Matrix: Were there any differences in the challenges you noticed in the field in Brazil versus Rwanda?

Feehan: The sample in Rwanda is nationally representative, and that’s no joke. What that means is that you start with the census, and you sample these village-sized areas of the country, and then you send teams to the villages that you sample, and they have to map every building in the village, and then they go around and figure out how many people live in each house, and then you draw a sample of people in the houses. There’s a lot of work that goes into that.

The study in Brazil wasn’t nationally representative. Instead, it was a sample from 27 different cities in Brazil. It was a different sampling process. We started with the census in Brazil and sampled census blocks. The geographic scale wasn’t quite as big. On the other hand, these 27 cities are very different from each other. By and large, Brazil is a middle-income country with a tremendous amount of inequality, and Rwanda is more of a developing country. It’s a very different country from Brazil.

The studies were different, but they both involved household surveys. They were in-person interviews, so there’s this notion that you have to go find households and interview people there; most interviews in the U.S. these days are done over the telephone or online, which is obviously cheaper…but there are trade-offs.

Matrix: What are the new directions your research will be going in?

Feehan: I would love to take the network survival method to new countries; I’m actively pursuing doing that. In the short term, I have all these data that we collected in Brazil—that was a pretty big study, so for the next year I’m going to be focusing on that. But I think that there’s a lot of ways that the network survival method, which is about death, could also be adapted to understand migration better, or adapted to an online setting, so I’m excited about working in those areas too.

Matrix: The average American may not think a whole lot about the importance of accurately estimating mortality rate. How do you explain that this matters?

Feehan: Before I went to graduate school, I was a research assistant. I was stunned when I learned that we really can’t directly measure life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s a lot of good work that tries to estimate it, but it just seemed like a really really important thing that we should be able to measure, think about, and discuss when we try to understand if we’re doing well and what we can improve on.

The paper mostly talked about death rates, which is a little bit of inside baseball because that’s something we think about a lot as demographers and social scientists. I imagine that most people in the world don’t really know what a death rate is, which is reasonable. So one connection that I’d draw is this: you need these death rates to be able to calculate life expectancy. It’s really critical that we understand what life expectancy is and how it’s changing, how it’s increasing or decreasing, because it tells us quite literally how much life we have. It’s probably the single most important indicator of population health and arguably the most important indicator of well-being, and there’s a case to be made that it’s more important than GDP or labor productivity or all kinds of statistics that we tend to report about every day in the newspaper.

It’s important to try and estimate adult death rates, both instrumentally—because they’re important input to policy and to try to understand scientific questions—but also as a matter of human rights. Life expectancy is something we owe it to ourselves to measure around the world.

Top Image credit: Martin Grandjean, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License via Wikimedia Commons.


Racism and Heart Health

UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Jordan B. Leitner investigates the connections between health disparities and levels of racial bias within communities.


According to 2014 data from the Department of Health and Human Services, circulatory diseases kill black Americans at a higher rate than their white counterparts. In a recent paper, “Blacks’ Death Rate Due to Circulatory Diseases Is Positively Related to Whites’ Explicit Racial Bias: A Nationwide Investigation Using Project Implicit,” UC Berkeley Psychology postdoctoral researcher Jordan B. Leitner—together with co-authors Eric Hehman, Ozlem Ayduk, and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton—established that these health disparities are positively related to the levels of racial bias within communities. We interviewed Leitner to discuss his research. [This interview was edited for length and content.]

Matrix: How would you summarize the main takeaways of your article?

Jordan B. Leitner: A main takeaway is that living in a racially hostile community is related to increased rates of death from cardiovascular diseases. This relationship between racial hostility and death rate is more pronounced for blacks than whites.

Matrix: How do you define a “racially hostile community”?

Leitner: We compiled data on racial attitudes from over one million respondents taken from a publicly available data set over the course of 11 years. What was really interesting was that these responses were geotagged, so we compiled the responses based on their geographical locations and aggregated them. For every county across the United States, we took the average of all the responses within those counties, which allowed us to generate one value for how racially hostile or egalitarian that particular county was. And in most counties there was a large number of responses over these 11 years.

Matrix: What motivated you and your coauthors to investigate this subject?

Leitner: A couple factors. One is that [the link between] racial disparity and cardiovascular health has been really pronounced and pervasive for many years, in that blacks tend to show poorer cardiovascular health compared to whites. So we wanted to understand whether one contributing factor to that disparity might be racial hostility from whites. It’s stressful to engage in interpersonal interactions with people who are biased against your group, and that stress over time has negative effects on cardiovascular health.

Additionally, it could be structural factors: if you live in a community where majority group members (in this case, whites) are hostile toward your group, you may expect that there may be structural inequalities that put your group at a disadvantage. So we thought that racial hostility might be one contributing factor to these disparities that we saw between blacks and whites in health outcomes.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, so we thought that this was an important question to ask. Also, few studies have examined this question in this way; most previous research has asked this question (or attempted to answer this question) by asking black folks the degree to which they perceive being a target of discrimination, and then linking those perceptions to health outcomes. In this research, we didn’t rely on people’s perceptions of discrimination; instead, we tapped into what was going on in the minds of white people in these communities and linked that to the health of whites and blacks in those same communities.

Matrix: In your research, you made use of data from Project Implicit. One notable moment from the election was when Hillary Clinton referenced implicit bias in one of the debates, and this was the first time that some Americans had really heard of implicit bias on a national stage. What do you think is the level of public understanding of implicit bias?

Leitner: Based on the data that we have, implicit bias is quite pervasive. Over the past 11 years, racial bias at an implicit level has remained really stable. There was a paper published in 2010 showing that implicit bias barely changed after Obama got elected. I think some folks who criticized Hillary Clinton [after her implicit bias comment] alluded to this idea of “well, if we elected a black president, then clearly there can’t be implicit bias in our society anymore.” And the data shows that is not the case.

Despite the important advances that black people have had, there is still really strong implicit bias on a national scale. Advances in equal rights and reductions in really blatant discrimination don’t mean that implicit bias doesn’t exist. What we know is that implicit bias manifests in really subtle ways, and I think that’s what Hillary Clinton was alluding to—that we may not even realize that we have implicit bias. That’s one of the things that makes implicit bias so interesting and so difficult to study: often people don’t realize that they harbor these biases. They desire to be really egalitarian and it’s important to them to have egalitarian values, but still, at an automatic level, they seem to show some of these preferences toward some groups over other groups.

So I think that the public would benefit in understanding how difficult it is to detect all the biases that we have and to control them. It’s important to acknowledge that this is a challenge that most people in society face. My view is that if we acknowledge it and we have conversation about it, then we’re in a better position to do something about it.

Matrix: Let’s say you’re just an average person trying to reduce their implicit bias. Are there any steps you can take?

Leitner: There’s some research showing that there are ways to move around these biases. If, for example, you think about individual members of other groups as opposed to thinking about the group as a whole—particularly if you focus on positive examples of people that you like within that group—then that can help with some of these implicit biases. Having positive contact with people from other groups (if you make friends with people from different racial groups, for example) means you’re more likely to see less implicit bias. But I think we still have a lot to understand about how these biases develop and the best way to create a bias-free society.

The research that my colleagues and I have generated speaks to how important it is to continue to understand the role of racial hostility in public health.

Matrix: Do you think that your findings on racial bias and disparities in health outcomes would be cross-applicable to other minority groups?

Leitner: I do think that these findings would generalize to other groups; I don’t think that it’s specific to black/white relations. I have not done any other work with other groups, mostly because of the limitations of the data. For example, Project Implicit doesn’t have a measure toward Hispanics. The CDC does have data on Hispanic populations, but we don’t have good bias data on that.  I have bias data on attitudes toward Muslims, but it’s tough to get health data that compares Muslims to non-Muslims, so it’s tricky. We can only answer certain questions, and those questions are shaped by the data available. But as we move forward, more and more data will become available. In particular, governmental health organizations are doing a good job of organizing the data that they have, so researchers like myself are going to be able to answer really interesting questions as more data become available.

Matrix: What’s next for your research?

Leitner: Right now I’m doing a few projects that try to understand the pathways through which bias might predict negative health outcomes. One potential pathway has to do with structural factors: perhaps in racist communities, blacks have less support from governmental healthcare programs, for example. I’m looking at whether a community’s level of racial bias predicts their support for Medicaid, because Medicaid is a program that disproportionately benefits black populations. We’re asking if states are less likely to expand Medicaid programs when the people in those states have more negative attitudes toward blacks. So that’s some work at the structural level.

I’m also doing some work more at the individual level, trying to understand the specific health processes that explain this link between racial hostility and death rates. One project is looking at whether black people show more unhealthy sleep patterns in communities that are more racist. And that would be theoretically plausible given that dealing with racial hostility is stressful, stress degrades sleep, and over time sleep has all kinds of negative health consequences. I’m currently working with folks at National Institutes of Health to compile some sleep data from across the country.

Matrix: Much of your work revolves around healthcare and uses data from public health organizations. Do you think that we need to see racism as a public health issue?

Leitner: Absolutely. I think some people have been pushing for that for some time. We’ve known about these racial health disparities for many years and it’s intuitive that racial hostility could be a potential contributor to these racial health disparities, but I think the research that my colleagues and I have generated speaks to how important it is to continue to understand the role of racial hostility in public health—and not just racial hostility, but social attitudes more broadly. It’s important to understand how attitudes toward all kinds of groups, from different religious groups, disabled or obese individuals, gender attitudes, all these different kinds of social attitudes, can play a role in the kind of healthcare that people receive and how their health evolves over time. I think that the broader issue is really understanding how our psychology and physical health are related to one another, across time and across geographical regions.

Top Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Image in Public Domain.





Envisioning Inclusive Geography

Promoting spaces for diverse scholarship in the geography discipline is vital, say UC Berkeley Geography PhD candidates Camilla Hawthorne and Brittany Meché.


Camilla Hawthorne and Brittany Meché know firsthand what it means to be outsiders.

As black female scholars, they frequently stand out in the spaces where they work, whether on their research fieldwork sites (in Italy and the African Sahel, respectively) or in their academic home in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

In a recent publication in Society & Space, “Making Room for Black Feminist Praxis in Geography,” the two PhD candidates explore how their gender and race has left them excluded from their own field.

“Geography, much like its cousin anthropology, was born from European colonial expansion…and was fundamental to the articulation of Enlightenment scientific racisms,” they write. “Today, through Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, modern-day ‘expeditions’…, and data-driven policing collaborations, geography is still directly implicated in processes of militarization and violence. The institutional legacies of geography further manifest themselves in the underrepresentation of black graduate and undergraduate students and faculty, the failure of geography to take seriously questions of race and racism…, the invisibilization of black geographies, and the Eurocentric canon we are taught.”

Through their essay, written largely in a dialogue format, the two scholars lay out their vision for a “Black Feminist Praxis” within the field of geography—feminist practice that does not see race as falling outside the domain of feminism, but rather as integral. They describe being inspired by “the work of groundbreaking black feminist geographers” who worked to “hold our discipline accountable to a diversity of intellectual traditions.”

In an interview, Hawthorne explains that she was inspired to write the article with Meché while preparing for her qualifying exams, as she felt a “disconnect between the ongoing Black Lives Matter mobilizations and the very white, abstract, universal theory that I found myself learning.” She was motivated by the “everyday experiences of being a black geographer in a predominantly white field, being a black academic working in Italy, and all these spaces where I felt like the research I was doing didn’t quite fit anywhere.”

For many students from underrepresented backgrounds, this experience sounds all too familiar. The sense of disconnect can come from not being able to see themselves—whether among their peers, in their canon, or on their faculty. As Hawthorne and Meché describe in their essay, African-American students are significantly underrepresented in elite universities. Hawthorne points to an article noting there were just 46 total black geographers working as full-time higher education faculty in the U.S. in 2003. The situation has not improved since then, as more recent data—published in The Atlantic and based on scoring by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research—found that “roughly 100-odd “very high research activity” institutions saw their percentage of black undergraduates shrink between 1994 and 2013….”

Exclusion isn’t just a numbers game. It’s also visible in what students read—or don’t read. Hawthorne and Meché are critical of what they argue is a Eurocentric canon that excludes too many people of color. “Students of color respond incredibly well to seeing people who look like them do extraordinary things,” Meché says. “It would mean a lot for all sorts of students to relate to the people they’re reading and the people who are teaching their classes.”

Now represents an ideal time to chart a new course for geography, the two scholars argue, as the current climate of budget cuts in higher education has prompted many in the field to ask, “‘What is geography, moving forward?’” In this uncertainty, she adds, lies “a real opportunity for students of color, for women students, to push and say ‘we have a vision of what geography can be.'”

Counter-canons and self-organization by traditionally underrepresented groups show promise as changes to make the discipline more inclusive. Hawthorne cites the example of a group of black students who self-organized to create the first “Black Geography” specialty group within the American Association of Geographers. The researchers also point to the importance of interdisciplinarity in moving the field forward: Meché (who sponsored a 2015 Social Science Matrix research team) describes how she has benefitted from reaching outside of her discipline, including connecting with students and faculty from Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender, as well as departments like Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and African American Studies. “At times I have felt a certain twinge of guilt about ‘stepping out on’ or betraying geography,” she writes. “But, perhaps I am a better geographer as a result of my infidelities.”

Still, the representation of black scholars in geography is not the only problem; how geography addresses race is also a matter of concern, Hawthorne and Meché argue. In the essay, Hawthorne contrasts how black people are often cast not as “sophisticated geographical thinkers engaged in creative processes of world-making” but as “mere victims of geography.”

For example, Hawthorne says, the media’s representation of black people in Italy focuses entirely on the plight of refugees. “The only story you hear [about black people in Italy] is of black people dying in the Mediterranean,” she says. Her own research, by contrast, focuses on the political mobilization of young African-Italian adults, which combats “the logic that there are no blacks in Europe, that Europe precludes blackness.”

Meanwhile, Meché describes how her gender has affected her experience conducting fieldwork in Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara. Her research—focused on peacekeeping, disaster response, and military technologies—requires traversing the heavily male-dominated spaces of security studies and counterterrorism.

“One thing that always tends to happen when I do interviews with people is that they quiz me,” she says. “They give a couple of tester questions to see, ‘Is this person actually smart, does she know what she’s talking about?’ And once I jump over the hurdle, that’s when people start to engage with me as an actual scholar who has actual questions that will be worth their while to answer.”

Meché explains that part of the challenge of such scholarship is that the researcher is often expected to leave her own experiences out of the presentation of findings. “Sexual harassment happens in the field, but it doesn’t go into the project,” she says. “You’re looking for a clean picture of what security strategy looks like, a clean project that talks about criminality and security, not the lived encounters that happen when you’re attempting to do this work.”

Through their essay, Meché and Hawthorne hope to give minority students a voice and help more students discover an affinity for geography. “I believe,” Hawthorne writes, “that the work coming out of geography will only improve and be relevant to the challenges of our contemporary world if the discipline (and individual geography departments) makes a concerted effort to attract diverse students and faculty and foster spaces of solidarity and support for those geographers who, through both their research and lived experiences, are already radically transforming the discipline from the margins.”

“The survival and continued relevance of the field,” Meché adds, “will hinge on its ability to embrace and encourage alternate scholarly visions. In this way, making room for black feminist praxis is about making a geography suited to the insurrectionary hopes of the 21st century; or—to borrow a phrase first offered by Aimé Césaire (2001) and taken up by Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick (2015) and Paul Gilroy (2014)—fostering a geography ‘made to the measure of the world.'”


Top Image Credit: Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons 2.0 License via Flickr.

Inserted Image Credit: Ammar Hassan, Creative Commons 2.0 License via Flickr.


Lawrence Rosenthal: State of the Right

On November 29th, Social Science Matrix will host a panel discussion entitled “Reflections on the 2016 Election and the Republican Party Under President Trump”. We spoke with one of the panelists—Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, Founding Director, Chair, and Lead Researcher of the Center for Right Wing Studies—to hear his thoughts on the election.

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On November 29th, Social Science Matrix will host a panel sponsored by the Center for Right Wing Studies entitled, “Reflections on the 2016 Election and the Republican Party Under President Trump.” Participants include Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, Founding Director, Chair, and Lead Researcher of the Center for Right Wing Studies; Professor Carole Joffe from UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health; and Professor Paul Pierson, from UC Berkeley’s Department of Political Science. The Center for Right Wing Studies supports research that examines the diversity of right-wing movements and brings together scholars and students to discuss right-wing ideology and politics. Below is an interview with Dr. Rosenthal. [This interview has been edited for content.]

Matrix: What are your initial takeaways from the election?

Lawrence Rosenthal: Donald Trump succeeded in galvanizing the populist Right, which in large measure had been part of the Tea Party, where there was existing resentment for the Republican establishment. That resentment had coalesced around the issue of immigration, and what Trump did by coming out so heavily and so outrageously on the question of immigration—both Mexican and anti-Muslim immigration—is galvanize that support in a way that had never been seen before. As his message spread, he brought in new groups beyond the existing populist right—members of the white working class, particularly men; people who made the transit from voting Democrat to voting Republican; and people who had stopped voting. He mobilized voters who had been indifferent and who hadn’t participated. And finally, he mobilized the American fringe. He mobilized the white nationalist/militia right, who could not believe that the kinds of things they had been thinking about for years and could not get beyond the fringes of American politics were suddenly viable at the level of presidential politics. So in a funny way, what Trump did was take the existing Republican populism and expand it with these other categories, but what he also did successfully was make Hillary Clinton toxic. The push that allowed him to go over the top was bringing on in August a new campaign management from the alt right—in particular, people who had specialized in, how do we say, conspiracy theories on Hillary Clinton for many years.

Matrix: What does Trump’s win say about the state of the American Right?

Rosenthal: It’s totally transformed. Trump split the Republican Party down the middle between traditional conservatives and populists, and there are many variations in both of those categories, but he split them down the middle and found that traditional conservatives—meaning, post-Ronald Reagan-era conservatives—rejected Trump because he did not stand for the ideological fundamentals the Republican Party had stood for for many years. And he also split the Tea Party along the same lines. The Tea Party finally had a terrific debate within it about Trump vs. Cruz, and when Trump essentially clinched the nomination, the heart went out of the Tea Party, and it’s no longer anything like it has been for the past eight years. It is an entirely restructured Republican Party under the leadership of Donald Trump, and what it most resembles right now is not about free trade or free market, but the kind of anti-immigrant, extreme right parties that have been around the fringes of European democracies for many years, parties like the National Front in France and others of that nature. He’s transformed the party and leaped over the successes of these parties in Europe to win the national election, which none of these parties has ever done.

Matrix: Now that he’s won, what will the next four years look like in this country?

Rosenthal: That’s a question of such magnitude that no one knows where to begin. In my view, a lot of focus is going to be on how the Trump government deals with protests. I think there will be a lot to pay attention to, like immigration policy, taxation policy, voting rights policy, the Supreme Court, and so forth. But what people aren’t yet talking about—and which I think will become fundamental in whatever the dramas of the next four years are—will focus on how they deal with protests, and what kinds of opposition they tolerate and how they deal with opposition they don’t tolerate.

Matrix: What are the implications for the Democrats?

Rosenthal: Can the Democrats put themselves together a coherent party? Can they find a way to integrate the movements from the left, the left-wing populism, to oppose Donald Trump’s right-wing populism? Is there some way of integrating that energy into the party? At the same time, the party faces great problems in terms of what’s going to happen by way of voter rights, with the Republican Party being in charge of all branches of government. The restrictions we’ve seen on initiatives to suppress the vote through voting rights laws—the capacity to oppose those efforts—is going to be diminished. And so the Democrats not only have the problem of putting together a coherent party and taking note of the energy on its left, but it also has the problem of its constituency being marginalized in terms of voting power.

Matrix: What would you say were the most important factors that led to the major Republican surge across the country?

Rosenthal: There’s the long term and the short term.  The long term is about the immiseration of the American middle class. Up until this election—for example, in the 2012 election, Barack Obama turned his message into a campaign to try to make life better for the American middle class. One of the changes from this election is that the class rhetoric has turned toward the working class. But if you’re talking about working class or middle class, there has been a slow deterioration in the life chances of the middle class and the working class since, I would say, 1973. So it was like a slow-moving wave, and that wave to some extent broke during the financial crisis of 2008, which created the Tea Party. Throughout the Obama years, the people who believed that Tea Party activism was going to fix this became increasingly disenchanted with the Republican Party. And as I mentioned, the disenchantment fused around one issue, immigration. And once Donald trump electrified the anti-immigration vote, he managed to bring a momentum. It’s sort of like reaping a whirlwind that had been building since the ‘70s, became extreme with the financial crisis, and then, during the Obama years, managed to turn people on the right against the Republican Party. Trump managed to grasp that whirlwind.

Matrix: What do you hope comes out of the panel discussion at Matrix?

Rosenthal: I hope that serious academic and scholarly analysis will be brought to bear what happened and what’s likely to happen. And to some extent, I hope it will air whether the changes to come are just cause for fear.