President’s Report

Letter from the President:
Advancing Social Knowledge

Science and technology permeate almost every interaction in today’s society, from messaging a colleague to voting in an election. What is the proper role of the social scientist in a world where data so thoroughly mediates and shapes our lives? How can we ensure that the knowledge generated by social scientists best serves the common good? 

SSRC president Alondra Nelson in conversation with Albert O. Hirschman Prize laureate Sheila Jasanoff

The Social Science Research Council has been helping to address these and other pressing questions for nearly a century. Since its founding in 1923, the Council has supported scholars, shaped research agendas, and mobilized social knowledge for the benefit of the public at large. 

Today, the Council continues to build on this nearly 100-year tradition by pioneering new partnerships and modes of collaboration. Social scientists now operate in a dramatically different research ecosystem from the one that existed a half-century ago. For example, Amazon employs more economists than most universities, and algorithms have overhauled fields ranging from health sciences to textual analysis. In addition, institutions that once served as the stalwart supporters of the social sciences, such as the federal government and large philanthropies, have shifted funding priorities and adopted new models for underwriting research.

Our work at the Council involves looking broadly across this terrain to identify issues that need the sustained scholarly attention and opportunities to meet that need. The content of SSRC work covers a range of themes—from climate change to racial inequality—and our projects extend worldwide, from Brooklyn to Bamako. Recently, we’ve inaugurated a new structure that organizes our diverse projects into clusters such as Transnational Initiatives and Media, Technology, and Politics. This new structure enables our programs to have coherence around core issues while also granting them the flexibility to respond organically to new possibilities and demands.

2018 Albert O. Hirschman Prize lecture

This fall, the Council is launching a program that exemplifies our new mode of engagement: the Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is the fastest-warming ocean in the world, and the SSRC’s Transregional Collaboratory unites scholars across the region and the globe focusing on the implications of environmental issues such as saltwater intrusion, disruption of traditional trade patterns, and changing migration dynamics. While the Collaboratory focuses on a central location and theme, it disrupts traditional ways of understanding regional and environmental issues by bridging geographic, institutional, and academic boundaries. The program is purposefully designed to foster a new model of transnational research ethics that emphasizes South-South collaboration and supports institutions and researchers that have been overlooked by traditional models of research funding and collaboration.

SSRC Fellow Danielle Allen in conversation with legal scholar Jeremy Waldron

Another new project, the Council’s MediaWell platform, sets a new standard for mapping scholarship related to disinformation and politics. As social media has become vital to political discourse, scholars ranging from data scientists to historians have begun investigating false news and its implications for democracies. MediaWell maps emerging scholarship on the topic and seeks to foster scholarly discourse, public conversation, and informed policymaking related to disinformation. These initiatives build on the Council’s long tradition of both field building and agenda setting in the social sciences. Promoting research excellence for the generation to come will require constant recalibration and renewal. As we move into a new century of SSRC work, the Council remains committed to creating more-equitable research partnerships and better understandings of shared social challenges.

Alondra Nelson
President
Social Science Research Council


Who We Are

Advancing Knowledge

The Social Science Research Council is an international nonprofit organization committed to advancing knowledge and mobilizing it for the public good. Through our work, we convene scholars, focus research attention on social questions, and serve as a trusted bridge between academics, policymakers, NGOs, philanthropic institutions, and the private sector. Since our founding in 1923, we have operated independently of any university or political agenda, and our diverse projects challenge the boundaries that separate disciplines, institutions, and geographies.

Beyond Fellowships

The Council provides support for researchers around the world. Our fellowships offer one of the largest sources of graduate-student funding, as well as support for junior and senior scholars working with a wide range of topics and research methods. Council fellowship programs create cohorts, convening fellows in workshops that focus on cross-disciplinary dialogue, research design, and writing for multiple audiences.

SSRC Fellow Lorraine Daston speaks with graduate students

SSRC initiatives also support diverse outputs, including public forums, white papers, and websites. Our ability to serve as both a platform for launching research and a producer of knowledge makes the Council uniquely able to shape agendas for social science inquiry.

Thematic Breadth

From our headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, the Council engages with scholars, academic institutions, NGOs, philanthropies, and governmental bodies across the world on a wide range of issues. Last year alone, the Council helped generate cutting-edge work about gun violence in the United States, the role of social media in democracies around the world, and the relationship between climate change and social conflicts, among other topics. Throughout SSRC history, our collaborative approach has guided scholarly discourse and helped establish academic fields, from area studies in the 1950s to sexuality studies in the 1990s. Today, the Council continues to shape research agendas and catalyze knowledge creation to build a more just and democratic world.


How We Work

Marie Lynn Miranda, provost of Rice University, and Adam Gamoran, president of the William T. Grant Foundation at the To Secure Knowledge Task Force report launch

The Social Science Research Council is guided by the belief that justice, prosperity, and democracy require better understanding of complex social, cultural, economic, and political processes. SSRC projects span the globe and engage sectors ranging from academia to politics to technology. Our programs address a wide range of social challenges, from economic inequality to violent conflict, and our modes of engagement focus on several core activities:

  • Supporting scholars
  • Building research networks
  • Fostering innovation
  • Communicating knowledge

As a respected, nonpartisan, and cross-disciplinary organization, the Council is uniquely positioned to steward the production of social knowledge to improve public understanding and policymaking around social issues.

The SSRC is unique in that its mission
is to advance knowledge production—
independently and without a political
agenda. It exists as an advocate for
scholars and scholarship.

—Helen V. Milner, Executive Committee Chair, SSRC Board of Directors

Media, Technology, & Politics:
Understanding Democracy and Disruption

From smartphones to satellites, the digital revolution has changed traditional politics around the world. With the upcoming US elections in 2020 and the global popularity of technologies such as WhatsApp, societies are confronting new questions about whether our democratic institutions are equipped to handle today’s technological transformations. How can societies reclaim the democratic potential of communication technologies?

Scholars in a range of fields are attempting to address this question, but structural and institutional barriers have impeded public access to knowledge. Several SSRC initiatives are investigating how the digital revolution interacts with our systems of governance.

Media & Democracy roundtable with Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University; Paul Starr, Princeton University; and Jane Mayer, the New Yorker

Last year, the Council launched its pioneering Social Data Initiative to spur research on social media’s impact on society. A key component of this work, the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants Program, was established to allow researchers to access Facebook’s proprietary data for the first time ever, while ensuring that transparency and privacy safeguards are maintained. The Social Data Initiative also engages issues of privacy and ethics of social media research and hopes to catalyze a range of methodological approaches.

Another SSRC initiative, MediaWell: Live Research from the Digital Edges of Democracy, aggregates knowledge and research about disinformation and false news. Today, disinformation studies are proliferating in fields ranging from sociology to computer science, but no overarching network exists to connect scholars and gather recent findings. MediaWell links researchers and institutions, not only through an online platform but also in workshops and discussion forums. The project seeks to focus scholars’ attention on pressing political issues and create linkages that mobilize social knowledge for the benefit of scholars, policymakers, and the public at large.

While it is tempting to see challenges such as algorithmic propaganda and online echo chambers as unique to our digital era, the Council seeks to put today’s technological questions in a broader historical and social context. Novel communications technologies—from moveable type to televised presidential debates—have been upending political systems for centuries.

Projects such as MediaWell and the Social Data Initiative build on a longer history of SSRC research on Media & Democracy, as well as the Council’s decades of work in establishing new academic fields and approaches that open up space for scholarly innovation. From comparative politics in the 1950s to sociolinguistics in the 1970s to sexuality studies in the 1990s, the Council has encouraged and helped to establish research fields that were once imagined as risky or marginal. The Council’s current projects in Media, Technology, and Politics continue this tradition of shaping research agendas in the social sciences by creating new structures to link scholars and identify research priorities.

Graduate students and junior faculty from SSRC College and University Fund
for the Social Sciences member institutions participate in seminar with
SSRC Fellow Lorraine Daston

Through this agenda setting, the Council mobilizes knowledge about technology-related questions not only to understand today’s challenges but also to anticipate the ways in which digital media and communications will affect our future. Traditionally, social scientists have focused on analyzing existing datasets and recent historical trends. However, social transformations produced by the intersection of technology and policy could profoundly reshape the ways we live for generations to come. The Council seeks to encourage approaches to social research that are grounded in current data and theory, while also attuned to future possibilities and perils of social and technological change. An anticipatory approach to social research would move beyond market forecasting or risk analysis to consider broader transformations in culture, institutions, and markets, as well as demands on regulatory and governance structures.

Interdisciplinary studies emerged in many ways out of the work of the SSRC, and today the Council continues to raise the bar for social research.

—Mamadou Diouf, Chair, SSRC Board of Directors

Transnational Initiatives:
Locally Engaged, Globally Resonant

How can social scientists move beyond the traditional geographic boundaries that often confine research in disciplinary and national silos? The Council is helping to shape new research models and scholarly agendas that can understand social challenges around the world at local, regional, and global scales.

SSRC initiatives examine geopolitical issues ranging from violent conflict to capital flows, in ways that are both locally grounded and attuned to international power structures. For example, building on the success of our China-Africa Knowledge Project, the China-Africa Peace Fellowship supports Chinese scholars examining African peacebuilding efforts and China’s growing role in international peacekeeping. It also creates connections between Chinese and African scholars. A recent workshop featured scholars studying topics such as Chinese soft power in Tanzania and the impacts of Chinese multinational companies on Kenyan conflict dynamics.

Another trajectory of work involves bringing together nationally diverse scholars and experts to understand pressing issues. Our new Transregional Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean builds on a decade of SSRC work advancing international scholarship through the InterAsia initiative. The project is grounded in substantive questions about the impacts of climate change in the Indian Ocean, but it takes an expansive view of both themes and geographic boundaries. Questions include how US-China rivalries affect the region, as well as how the fastest-warming ocean in the world impacts adjacent communities.

A unique feature of the Collaboratory is its focus on equitable research collaborations and the ethics of transnational study. Traditionally, scholars based in more-privileged institutions—especially in Europe and the United States—have dictated the terms for conducting research in fragile or under-resourced contexts. The Collaboratory seeks to create new modes of engagement in which locally situated researchers coproduce knowledge alongside international peers.

The Council’s work also addresses structural challenges that can thwart international research. Many scholars today want to understand regions as emergent, rather than predetermined by political boundaries or topography. The Council’s initiatives provide space for new understandings of international challenges and create new knowledge networks and institutional connections. Our commitment to international collaboration is also evident through our partnerships with African universities to build research capacity; the Abe Fellowship, which connects American and Japanese scholars sharing common research interests; and our work with the United Nations to help create the first connections between Chinese peace and security scholars and UN staff focused on the same issues.

Creating opportunities for scholars to conduct international research is another core dimension of SSRC work. The International Dissertation Research Fellowship has received more than 20,000 applications and funded more than 1,400 projects around the world in its 22-year history. A significant trend over this period is the growing number of fellows doing cross-regional research. As a new century of SSRC work approaches, the Council looks forward to continuing such vital support for transnational and transregional research, as well as to launching path-breaking initiatives that shed new light on global challenges.


Appendix

Financials

Operating Revenue

Endowment Payout 923,722
Program Revenues 20,554,898
Other Income 260,778
Annual Fund & CUF 2,070,000
Total Revenues 23,809,398

Expenditures

Programs 17,969,869
Operations 5,839,529
Total Expenses 23,809,398

Board of Directors

danah boyd
Founder and President
Data & Society

Teresa P. R. Caldeira, Treasurer
Professor of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley

Isabelle de Lamberterie
Director of Research Emerita
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Vishakha N. Desai
President Emerita
Asia Society

Mamadou Diouf, Chair
Leitner Family Professor of African Studies
Columbia University

Michael Gellert
General Partner and Cofounder
Windcrest Partners

William H. Janeway, Secretary
Faculty of Economics
University of Cambridge
Warburg Pincus

Naomi R. Lamoreaux
Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History
Yale University

Sara Miller McCune
Founder and Executive Chairman
SAGE Publishing

Helen V. Milner, Executive Committee Chair
B. C. Forbes Professor of Politics and International Affairs
Princeton University

Peter Nager
Senior Managing Director
Egret Capital Partners

Alondra Nelson (Ex Officio)
President
Social Science Research Council

Melissa Nobles
Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Walter W. Powell
Professor of Education and Sociology, Organizational Behavior,
Management Science and Engineering, and Communication
Stanford University

Jennifer Richeson
Philip R. Allen Professor of Psychology
Yale University

José A. Scheinkman
Edwin W. Rickert Professor of Economics
Columbia University

Visiting Committee

This advisory group brings a wide range of knowledge and experience to critical questions of organizational and programmatic strategy.

Fay Lomax Cook
Professor of Human Development and Social Policy
Northwestern University

Jonathan Fanton
President Emeritus
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Jonathan Freedman
Partner
Sidley Austin LLP

Michael Gellert
General Partner and Cofounder
Windcrest Capital

Mark Kingdon
President
Kingdon Capital Management

Cheng Li
Director and Senior Fellow
Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center

Sara Miller McCune, Chair
Founder and Executive Chairman
SAGE Publishing

Peter Nager
Senior Managing Director
Egret Capital Partners

David K. Park
Dean of Strategic Initiatives, Arts & Sciences
Columbia University

Joseph Schull
Founder
Corten Capital

Marina v.N. Whitman
Vice President Emerita
General Motors Corporation

Harriet Zuckerman
Senior Vice President Emerita
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Staff

Executive Officers

Alondra Nelson
President

Ronald Kassimir
Vice President of Programs

Fredrik Palm
Vice President of Administration and Operations

Administrative Leadership

Dewey Blanton
Director of Strategic Communications

Brandi Lewis
Director of Human Resources

Lisa Yanoti
Director of Finance

Zachary Zinn
Director of Technology and Digital Operations

Program Directors

Tatiana Carayannis
Understanding Violent Conflict and Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum

Josh DeWind
Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship

Alexa Dietrich
Scholarly Borderlands, Religion and the Public Sphere, and Transregional
Collaboratory on the Indian Ocean

Alma Granado
Sloan Scholars Mentoring Network

Kristen Lewis
Measure of America

Cyril Obi
African Peacebuilding Network and Next Generation Social Sciences
in Africa

Jason Rhody
Digital Culture, Social Data Initiative, and Media & Democracy

Daniella Sarnoff
International Dissertation Research Fellowship

Seteney Shami
InterAsia

Leon Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security

Cally Waite
SSRC-Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives

College and University Fund for the Social Sciences

A consortium of higher education partners providing annual financial support to enhance the infrastructure of social science research, catalyze interdisciplinary and cross-institutional collaborations, and help launch the careers of junior scholars through fellowships, workshops, and mentorship.

Arizona State University
Boston College
Brown University
The Claremont Colleges
Columbia University
Cornell University
Duke University
Emory University
Georgetown University
Harvard University
Indiana University
Johns Hopkins University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michigan State University
The New School
New York University
Northwestern University
The Ohio State University
Princeton University
Rice University
Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey
Stanford University
Stony Brook University, The State University of New York
Swarthmore College
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of Chicago
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Southern California
Vanderbilt University
Yale University

Hirschman Prize Laureate

2018 Sheila Jasanoff Harvard University

SSRC Fellows

2017 Danielle Allen Harvard University
2019 Lorraine Daston Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

SSRC Guest Lecturers

Jack Snyder
Columbia University

Virginia Eubanks
University at Albany, SUNY

Henry Farrell
George Washington University

Marion Fourcade
University of California, Berkeley

William Hanks
University of California, Berkeley

Eric Klinenberg
New York University

James Shulman
American Council of Learned Societies

Beth Simmons
University of Pennsylvania

Robert Vitalis
University of Pennsylvania

Funding Partners and Donors

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
American Council of Learned Societies
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Annenberg Foundation
Arab Council for the Social Sciences
Atlantic Philanthropies
Benevity
Dewey Blanton
Bloomberg Philanthropies
John Seely Brown
Teresa Caldeira
Craig Calhoun
Ana Maria Candela
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Patrick and Julia Carter
Charles Koch Foundation
Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange
Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
Christopher Reynolds Foundation
Michael and Arleen Cohen
Donald Cohn
Dalton Conley
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Fay Lomax Cook
D. Ronald Daniel
Sandra Dawson
Isabelle de Lamberterie
Democracy Fund
Vishakha Desai
Mamadou Diouf
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Duke University
Facebook, Inc.
Ford Foundation
Jonathan Freedman
Michael Gellert
Edward M. Giles
Susan Gitelson
Edward M. Glaeser
Global Jewish Advocacy
Jacques Gordon
Nicole Gross-Camp
Hampton Roads Community Foundation
Henry Luce Foundation
David Holiday
Humana Foundation
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations
Institute of International Education
William and Weslie Janeway
Japan Foundation
Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership
Ira Katznelson
Mark Kingdon
Knight Foundation
Naomi Lamoreaux
Latino Community Foundation
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
Margaret Levi
Cheng Li
Roy Licklider
London School of Economics
MacArthur Foundation
Thomas K Mackenzie
Barbara Maltby
Reuben and Arlene Mark
Lisa Marshall
Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth
Mastercard Foundation
Sara Miller McCune
Carmelo Mesa Lago
Michigan State University
Helen Milner
Minister for Foreign Affairs and
Trade, Ireland
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
Jonathan Miran
John Mollenkopf
Peter Nager
Nashville Career Advancement Center
National University of Singapore
Alondra Nelson
New York Community Trust
Melissa Nobles
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
O’Reilly Media
Open Society Foundations
David K. Park
Philanthropy Southwest
Walter Powell
Devon Provan
Pyewacket Foundation
Reid Hoffman Fund
Jennifer Richeson
Rita Allen Foundation
Russell Sage Foundation
S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
SAGE Publishing
San Diego Workforce Partnership
Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital
Sasakawa Peace Foundation
José Scheinkman
Joseph Schull
Schultz Family Foundation
Seoul National University Asia Center
TY Shen
Kuiyi Shen
Rodney Smith
Barbara Stallings
Swiss Federal Department of
Foreign Affairs
David Szanton
The Academy of Korean Studies
The Rapides Foundation
Van C. Tran
Clifford Treese
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
United Way of Greater Los Angeles
United Way Worldwide
University of Gottingen
University of Hong Kong
Alejandro Velasco
Peeranut Visetsuth
Brian Wagner
Michael Watts
Sally West
Marina Whitman
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Richard Witten
Workforce Central
Yale University
Larry Yarak
Zach Zinn
Harriet Zuckerman

Please support the work of the Social Science Research Council. Contributions from partners like you allow us to support junior scholars, launch innovative research programs, strengthen networks across disciplines, and seek solutions to today’s most pressing questions.

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