Social Scientists on the Obama Era
On the occasion of the inauguration of America’s first African American president, leading social scientists reflect on the challenges President Obama faces, and on what their disciplines, and social science knowledge, can offer.
Perspectives of Regional Scholars
- “Obama's Africa Policy: Strengths and Uncertainties,” by Ray Copson, in SSRC's African Arguments blog (posted 20 Jan 09)
- The author of a book on Bush's Africa policy looks forward to an administration run by a man of African and American ancestry while also acknowledging the enormous challenges Obama would face in pursuing a more positive engagement with African nations.
- “A Lesson in Great Expectations,” by Tatiana Carayannis, in SSRC's African Arguments blog (posted 21 Jan 09)
- The associate director of SSRC's Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum unearths the document that became the blueprint for JFK's Africa policy, which raised great expectations that Kennedy ultimately proved unable to fulfill. She wonders if Obama can do any better.
- “What Barack Obama Means to Young Africans,” by Abdul Mohammed, in SSRC's African Arguments blog (posted 21 Jan 09)
- The acting head of Political Affairs for UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-UN operation in Darfur, says that the election of a man of African descent to the most powerful position in the world is "immeasurably symbolic" for Africa and has already been inspiring young people in Darfur.
- QUESTIONS FOR YU ZHOU: “China in Waiting,” an SSRC.org exclusive (posted 21 Jan 09)
- The Chinese geographer addresses Obama's appeal from a Chinese perspective, ways for the new president to engage China, and potential areas of future collaboration between the two big powers.
- QUESTIONS FOR ERIC HERSHBERG: “Mr. Obama, Welcome to the Neighborhood,” an SSRC.org exclusive (posted 21 Jan 09)
- The former SSRC program director and prominent Latin Americanist talks about the neglect of Latin America in U.S. policy, normalizing relations with Cuba, and where Obama ought to turn for advice on the region.
- "Obama reaches out," by John Esposito, in SSRC's The Immanent Frame blog (posted 30 Jan 09)
- This prominent Islamic studies scholar approves Obama's swift action in appointing George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East, and in giving his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, a major Arab satellite network.
- "What Obama should offer North Korea," by Leon V. Sigal, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Web edition (posted 28 Jan 09)
- The SSRC program director and expert on Northeast Asia security offers a series of quid pro quos that he believes will inspire a more productive give-and-take with North Korea, easing its isolation and insecurity. First on the list is sending a high-level emissary to Pyongyang.
- “Could Obama Use Some Scholarly Advice on One of His Advisors?,” an SSRC.org exclusive (posted Dec 08)
- Arjun Appadurai, Amrita Basu, David Ludden, and Kamala Visweswaran explain why they signed a letter protesting Obama's appointment of Sonal Shah to his 15-member transition team. Moving forward, they hope the Obama team can develop a nuanced understanding of South Asia and its complicated politics.
- “Expert Knowledge and the Obama Transition,” by Craig Calhoun (posted 22 Dec 08)
- For the SSRC's President, it is of paramount importance for the new administration to look to "researchers, and people with good research-based educations, not only to people with family or business connections" in crafting policy for South Asia and other parts of the world.
Perspectives of Policy Scholars
- Remaking America: Public Institutions and the Public Good," by Craig Calhoun, under "Essays and Statements" in ssrc.org/calhoun
- The SSRC president explains the long tradition behind the concept of the "public good" and why it is so important to revive it now, as part of President Obama's fiscal stimulus initiative.
- "Of course it's not just a stimulus," by Craig Calhoun, under "Essays and Statements" in ssrc.org/calhoun
- In the view of the SSRC president, President Obama should take advantage of the opportunity the economic crisis provides to make the case on behalf of good government and public service.
- “Six Steps Towards a Stronger, More Transparent, More Accountable FCC in the Obama Era,” in the SSRC's Media Research Hub (posted December 08)
- The SSRC's media reform program draws on SSRC Data Consortium work over the last three years to come up with a punch list for ensuring that policy makers have access to robust data.
Perspectives of Religion Scholars
- "Waking up to still being a faith-based nation," by Winifred Fallers Sullivan, in SSRC's The Immanent Frame blog (posted 22 Jan 09)
- This scholar of religion and law notes that while President Obama takes care to show respect for people who are not religious, "all the evidence suggests that we are still a faith-based nation."
- "Telling the American Story," by John Schmalzbauer, in SSRC's The Immanent Frame blog (posted 21 Jan 09)
- This Protestant studies scholar says that while the inauguration did not begin to capture the nation's religious diversity, it did expand the scope of American civil religion.
- “The Oprahfication of Obama,” by Kathryn Lofton, in SSRC's The Immanent Frame blog (posted 19 Jan 09)
- This religious studies scholar worries about Obama's “missionary zeal to convert everyone, unrelentingly, to change.”
- “This is our moment, this is our time,” by Robert Bellah, in SSRC's The Immanent Frame blog (posted 12 Jan 09)
- The leading American sociologist derives hope from Obama's concern for the “common good”—a theme reiterated in the inaugural address.
Compiled and edited by Mary-Lea Cox.