Matrix News

Fall 2015 Matrix Seminars Underway

Covering topics ranging from climate change and race relations to polarization in Europe and the study of metaphor, a new series of interdisciplinary seminars are underway at Social Science Matrix.


How can economists better understand climate change? How is the notion of race changing in the era of big data? What are the causes and consequences of polarization in Europe? What are the implications of algorithms and robotics on the global labor market?

These are just a few of the important questions that are being explored in a new wave of seminars sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix in Fall 2015. Matrix seminars are designed to bring together students and faculty members from across rank and discipline to tackle pressing challenges facing social scientists—and the world at large.

“We are thrilled to be sponsoring such a fantastic group of seminars,” says Mia Bruch, Associate Director of Social Science Matrix. “With outstanding leadership from all levels of the academic ladder and participation from departments across the division, this semester’s seminars focus on everything from climate change economics to race and social science. We’re looking forward to being part of their innovative and cross-disciplinary work.”

Following is an overview of the current crop of seminars, with links to more detailed descriptions.

A Polarizing Europe: A Cross-Disciplinary Investigation into Post-Cold War Extremism: From the rise of extremist terrorists to democratic shifts toward far-left and far-right governments, Europe has seen a startling rise in polarization in recent years. Organized as part of a new Designated Emphasis major in European Studies, this Matrix seminar will consider how extremism has been manifest in Europe since the end of the Cold War, and how this trend has paralleled efforts to unify nations through the European Union.

Climate Change Economics Roundtable: The field of economics has potential to play a central role in the debate about climate change, and UC Berkeley is home to leading experts—including Professor David Anthoff, from the Energy and Resources Group, Professor Maximilian Auffhammer, from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and International Area Studies, and Professor Solomon Hsiang, from the Goldman School of Public Policy—who are already working on diverse dimensions of the economics of climate change. This seminar will serve as a meeting ground for these and other researchers from across the UC Berkeley campus to gather and share research findings and ideas.

Developing Tools and Collaborations in Prosopographical and Historical Social Network Research Environments: Prosopography entails researching relationships recorded in historical documentation and using data to identify social networks and relationships. This year-long seminar is devoted to helping Berkeley Prosopography Services (BPS) advance a customizable toolkit that will help researchers from Near Eastern Studies and other fields to gain a greater understanding into the relationships among people and populations from the past.

Global Studies: A New Interdisciplinary Major at UC Berkeley: Organized by Nathan Sayre, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography, this  seminar brings together faculty and graduate students to consider the intellectual and pedagogical challenges and opportunities related to a new interdisciplinary major in Global Studies. The seminar will consider questions such as: how should the Global Studies major understand the classification of nations into regions? What unique strengths can UC Berkeley bring to a Global Studies major? And how should themes such as migration, environment, political economy, health, conflict, and poverty be conceptualized in relation to UC Berkeley’s diverse intellectual landscape and resources?

Health and Governance Collaborative: This seminar will convene researchers from the UC Berkeley and the UCSF School of Medicine, including experts in public health, biostatistics, epidemiology, health policy and management, clinical medicine, economics, political science, business, and other domains, and to consider new ways to merge the biomedical and social sciences to advance delivery of global health care. The seminar will examine how social-science methodologies can be applied to better understand the behavior of governments, organizations, health workers, communities, and individual patients.

Human Rights and the University: Organized by the Human Rights Program (HRP), this seminar will build upon UC Berkeley’s legacy of leadership in human rights research and practice, and convene a diverse group of faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students, along with community practitioners from local human rights organizations and agencies, to gather and share ideas. The seminar will focus on two primary questions: what is the current human rights landscape at Berkeley, and how can the UC Berkeley Human Rights Program best contribute to understanding about human rights, on campus and beyond?

Metaphor, Across Data Sets and Methodologies: This new seminar will explore how the field of “metaphor studies,” spawned by UC Berkeley scholars George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their 1980 work Metaphors We Live By, has spread across disciplines, from linguistics and lab psychology to political science and natural language processing. The goal is to convene researchers from domains that have adopted the study of metaphor and bring these strands of research together.

Public Service Delivery Initiative: Carried out in partnership between the UC Berkeley Center for Political Economy, the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), and the Center on the Politics of Development, this one-year seminar will promote an interdisciplinary approach to issues surrounding the delivery of public services in developing nations. The seminar will focus on improving the “quality of bureaucracy”—in part by examining the chains of relationships between politicians, bureaucrats, and citizens at different levels of governing hierarchies—and on designing interventions with those complex networks of governance in mind.

Work and Politics in the Digital Era: What does it mean for our economy and society that workplaces are increasingly becoming “virtual”? What are the implications of a labor market in which computer-driven algorithms are in charge of hiring decisions, or where service employees are at risk of losing their jobs if their customer rating falls too low? This seminar is creating a bridge for UC Berkeley faculty—and professionals from across the Bay Area—to explore broadly how digital technologies are transforming modern work and politics.

Superintelligence and the Social Sciences: What happens when artificial intelligence surpasses of even the smartest human beings? Bringing together experts from economics, political science, and sociology, this seminar will consider the ways in which superintelligence (or even merely advanced artificial intelligence) could revolutionize the social, political, economic, and biological structures of the 21st century.

Social Death: Race, Risk and Representation: First coined in 1985 by sociologist Orlando Patterson in his text Slavery and Social Death, the term “social death” refers to the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. As described in the organizers’ successful seminar proposal, this new Matrix seminar will bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to “track the different iterations of social death, both as an academic theory and as a material practice, observable in the everyday violences of contemporary societies.”

Re-representing the Earth Through Landscape, Infrastructure, and Data: How does technology demand a quantitatively driven representation of the earth? How has the increased capacity for technology to store and process data transformed the earth and our ideas about it? What destiny does so-called “big data” hold for the myriad crises of the earth? Focusing on large-scale infrastructure like the California water management system, this new seminar will consider the relationship between the earth and technology, and critically examine the production of the earth through the relations between landscape, infrastructure, and data.

Deploying Interdisciplinary Data Science to Understand the Global Impact of Climate Change: Quantifying the social and economic impacts of climate change can be challenging and technical, but measuring these effects is critical to designing global and national climate policies. Over summer 2015, researchers and students from diverse disciplines met to determine how modern data science techniques can be applied to quantify the effects of climate change on various dimensions of modern society, from global agricultural productivity to the prevalence of vector-borne diseases and violent conflicts in low-income countries.

Race, Data, and Inequality: Convening social scientists, philosophers, and law scholars to explore the state of race and the social sciences in the digital age, this year-long research seminar seeks to move from historical analysis toward “a set of solutions” that will help scholars ensure that their analysis of social data sets does not lead toward a path of racial bias. “We believe that social scientists spend too little time considering the assumptions they are making with their work,” the organizers write. “By pushing them to do so, our seminar’s efforts will ideally move data-driven social science towards a more transparent, and potentially transformative, future.”

You May Like


Published September 22, 2015

Robin T. Lakoff: “What’s Up With Upspeak?”

The linguistic phenomenon known as “upspeak” has long been linked to a broader pattern of gender relations, thanks to the work of UC Berkeley’s Robin T. Lakoff, Professor Emerita in the Department of Linguistics.

Learn More >



Published August 15, 2015

Manisha Anantharaman: “It’s Not Easy Being Green”

For India’s growing middle class, recycling is as much about creating identity as being environmentally conscientious.

Learn More >


Published July 7, 2015

Taming Animal Spirits

A pair of researchers from UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy organized a Matrix seminar to explore what neuroscience can tell us about asset price bubbles and other irrational economic behavior.

Learn More >