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Inaugural Pembroke seed grants fund collaborative research

Professors collaborate on interdisciplinary research in diverse topics

Research on cousin marriage, non-governmental organizations, indigenous performance and the relationship between feminism and technology will receive the first round of new interdisciplinary seed grants funded by the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, the Center announced earlier this month.

The seed grant program — established last October — awards teams of researchers up to $10,000 and aims to encourage interdisciplinary faculty research, according to the center’s website. The grants require applicants to have at least one collaborator from another academic field.

The center has a history of supporting interdisciplinary research around questions of gender and difference, said Deborah Weinstein ’93, assistant director of the Pembroke Center. The types of projects funded by these grants “don’t fit neatly into disciplinary boxes,” she said. “The rigor of a discipline can be very important, but there are moments when (interdisciplinary work) can be even more productive.”

An interdisciplinary faculty selection committee intended to provide a range of expertise in evaluating applications chose the inaugural award recipients, Weinstein said. The depth of the application pool and the applicants’ clear visions impressed the committee, she added. The applicants asked “engaging questions that would push scholars to think in new ways,” Weinstein said.


Healthy conversations 

One of the grants was awarded to a team of researchers who will investigate the role of non-governmental organizations that address health inequalities. Ann Dill, associate professor of sociology, will lead the project along with Linda Cook, professor of political science. They knew of each other’s research before the grants were announced and decided to use the opportunity to collaborate, Dill said.

Dill and Cook plan to use their funding to hold eight seminars throughout the year, some of which will be modeled after the Janus Forum, Cook said. Most of the seminars will be open to the community and will feature various speakers from both within and outside of the University, from fields ranging from medicine to Slavic languages, Cook said. The speakers will represent different professions, and each will offer a unique perspective on NGOs, Dill said. The goal is to have conversations that incorporate viewpoints from different fields, she added.

While research on NGOs comes from a variety of fields, research within a specific field does not always take into account perspectives from other fields, Dill said. “The literature doesn’t cross-fertilize,” she said.

In addition to the seminars, Dill and Cook plan to start a website to post their findings and collaborate on scholarly papers, Dill said.

The opportunity to collaborate with people outside of her department was a welcome one, Dill said. “One of the hardest things to do is to connect with people outside your own department and outside your own specific focus, but whose work is very complementary to yours,” she said.


Girl tech

Another seed grant will fund a component of a larger international project — an online course entitled “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology” — which will also be taught in person at select universities, said Alexandra Juhasz, professor of media studies at Pitzer College and a co-leader of the project. Professor of Modern Culture and Media Wendy Hui Kyong Chun will be leading the portion of the project that will take place at Brown.

The goal of the online course is to “connect feminists who are working on or with technology across disciplines,” Juhasz said. The Pembroke grant will fund the creation of three recordings of on-campus dialogues concerning feminism and technology, Juhasz said. These dialogues will be featured within the online course, which will be taught in classrooms around the world, Juhasz said.

Juhasz is currently teaching a beta version of the course at Pitzer in which her students communicate through videos with students at Bowling Green State University who are also taking a version of the course. Brown will offer a similar course next fall, she said.

Though the course will be distributed online, in-person conversations are valuable to the project, Juhasz said. “We don’t want to lose the power of individual places or the way that communities speak to each other.”


Kissing cousins

The genetic risks and social stigma of cousin marriage in the Middle East will be the central focus of a seed grant project led by Sherine Hamdy, professor of social science and assistant professor of anthropology. Hamdy will focus on Egypt, where cousin marriages are neither wholly normalized nor completely stigmatized and make up about a quarter of marriages, she said.

The research will include interviews with patients at a genetics clinic in Cairo conducted by geneticists at Egypt’s National Research Center. Brown professors studying genetics or Middle Eastern culture will also contribute expertise, Hamdy said. Hamdy’s ultimate goal is to collaborate on journal articles or a book with the researchers here and in Egypt to “integrate genetics and anthropological perspectives,” she said. Hamdy said she hopes to discover why cousin marriage carries more social stigma in some groups than others despite only slightly increasing the risk of genetic disorders in the next generation.


Reforming performing 

Grant funding will also go toward a project that aims to examine issues having to do with indigenous performance in the Americas, said Paja Faudree, assistant professor of anthropology, who will lead the project with Joshua Tucker, assistant professor of music.

The project will bring together academics, activists and performers from North America and Latin America to conduct a symposium on campus, Faudree said. The conversations at the symposium will explore the expressive culture of indigenous performance as well as its effects within indigenous societies, like how performance is used for political ends, she said. Performance “has been a part of the new alliances that have formed across indigenous groups,” Faudree said.

One problem with indigenous studies lies in the divide between geographic regions, Faudree said. North American scholars, performers and activists are not well integrated with conversations happening among their Latin American counterparts, she said. The symposium will address this divide by bringing together people from across the Western hemisphere.

The project will explore “what it means to be indigenous,” as the recording and distribution of indigenous music has globalized such cultures, Tucker said. But performance will not be confined to music — it will be examined in the broadest sense, Tucker said.

In addition to hosting the symposium, the researchers hope to compile a collection of essays from project contributors, Faudree said.

The Pembroke Center will continue to issue seed grants and fund interdisciplinary research in the coming years, Weinstein said. Applications for the next round of seed grants are due April 1.


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