How are climate change and genetically modified crops affecting farmers in India? What is the relationship between slavery and incarceration in the United States? How has the trauma of apartheid been passed through generations in South Africa?
These are among the questions that will be explored by four UC Berkeley professors who have been selected to be Matrix Faculty Fellows for the 2023-2024 academic year. The scholars are Rebecca Herman, Assistant Professor in the Department of History; Andrew Wooyoung Kim, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology; Christopher Muller, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology; and Aarti Sethi, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology.
Launched in 2022, the Matrix Faculty Fellows Program supports assistant- and associate-level faculty members at UC Berkeley for work on research that has a significant impact in multiple disciplines in the social sciences. Fellows are chosen for the impact of their work in their home discipline, as well as the project’s potential impact and interest to scholars in other fields, aligning with the mission of Social Science Matrix to support cross-disciplinary research.
Matrix Faculty Fellows receive a course release (i.e., a reduced teaching obligation) to allow them to pursue work on publications and/or a book manuscript. The professors will also participate in Matrix programs, for example by contributing a website feature, participating in a panel discussion, or holding a workshop on a topic related to their research.
“This group of Matrix Faculty Fellows are pursuing research that spans disciplines while addressing incredibly important and topical issues,” says Marion Fourcade. “We look forward to their contributions to our intellectual life.”
Below are brief profiles of this year’s Matrix Faculty Fellows, adapted from their proposals.
Rebecca Herman, Assistant Professor, Department of History
Professor Rebecca Herman will use her Matrix Faculty Fellowship to work on “The Global Wilderness: Antarctica in a World After Empire,” an in-progress book focused on the struggle over the future of Antarctica in the second half of the 20th century, when countries began to negotiate ground rules for the exploitation of Antarctica’s mineral resources — and competing visions for Antarctica arose in opposition.
“Leaders of the Third World insisted that Antarctica belonged to the ‘global commons,’ akin to the deep seas and outer space,” Herman explains, “while a rising global environmental movement fought to declare Antarctica a protected ‘World Park,’ off limits to commercial exploitation entirely. Against this backdrop, Argentina and Chile set about strengthening their national claims with performative acts of sovereignty. In the end, environmental protection won the day, and Antarctica became the most protected place on earth, even as it remains among the most vulnerable.”
“By bringing together the high politics of conflicts over Antarctic governance with the intimate stories of the people who executed it, this book aims to render complicated matters of environmental governance and global inequality intelligible and compelling to a broad readership,” Herman wote.
In addition to writing her book, Herman plans to convene a Matrix on Point discussion focused on “Environmental Justice & Environmental Governance: Past, Present, and Future,” which will bring together faculty working on issues related to climate equity, environmental justice, and environmental politics. “The discussion would invite participants to reflect on how their disciplinary and geographic perspectives (as well as generational, if so inclined) informs their view of inequality in international environmental politics, providing illustrative examples from their research.”
Andrew Wooyoung Kim, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, UC Berkeley
Integrating epidemiological, biological, and anthropological theories and methods, Professor Andrew Wooyoung Kim’s research examines the intergenerational effects of maternal exposure to trauma from South Africa’s apartheid on the mental health and physiology of adult children, while also exploring the reversibility of such effects through interventions like social support.
Kim’s project, “Breaking cycles, healing minds: Exploring the ameliorative psychobiological effects of social support to address intergenerational trauma from South African apartheid,” is based on analysis of data from a 30-year, multigenerational birth cohort based in Soweto, South Africa. He studies the biosocial mechanisms that underlie the intergenerational transmission of trauma through the alteration of stress biology.
His work also aims to inform the development of interventions aimed at preventing and treating stress-related diseases. He will publish his findings, draft grant applications, and host public discussions on healing from intergenerational trauma.
As part of his Matrix Fellowship, he will also organize a mini-conference titled “Historical Trauma and Healing Justice: Research, Practice, and Policy for the Future”, which aims to highlight both recent and exemplary initiatives for overcoming historical trauma across multiple contexts — and offer practical skills for positive mental health.
“Ultimately, I hope these findings will advance public health interventions for historically oppressed communities and help societies overcome the lasting consequences of intergenerational trauma,” he wrote in his proposal.
Christopher Muller, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Professor Christopher Muller will use his time as a Matrix Faculty Fellow working on his book, “Between Slavery and Incarceration,” which combines narrative history and empirical social science to shed light on long-run patterns in the Black incarceration rate, from slavery to the present.
“I propose to write a book showing how the Black incarceration rate has been affected by the dynamics of exclusion and exploitation over time and across space,” Muller wrote in his proposal. “The book’s argument will be based on a theoretical analysis of how incarceration is related to both racial domination and class relations and an empirical analysis of patterns in the Black and white incarceration rates over the past 150 years.”
Muller sketched the broad contours of his argument in a recent article in Science. “The book will argue that integrating the study of racial inequality with the study of political economy can help to explain otherwise puzzling facts, like why the Black incarceration rate was lower in the South than in the North for much of the twentieth century, why it was lowest in the South’s cotton belt, and why it began to tick upward when it did,” Muller explained.
In addition to writing his book, he plans to organize a panel discussion on the relationship between slavery and incarceration in the United States, bringing together scholars who specialize in slavery, incarceration, or both. Among the questions to be considered, according to Muller: What was slavery in the United States? How was it related to the institutions of racial domination and economic exploitation that followed it? And, can we conceive of the relationship between slavery and incarceration in causal rather than functional terms?
Aarti Sethi, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
As a Matrix Faculty Felllow, Professor Aarti Sethi will complete the writing of her manuscript, “Hotspot: Suicide, Climate and Debt in Central India,” which explores the transformation of agriculture underway in contemporary rural India.
Since 1997, over 250,000 farmers have taken their own lives across India, the vast majority concentrated in the central Indian cotton-belt, a region known as Vidarbha, where farmers face crushing debt due to climate change and the use of genetically modified crops.
The phenomenon of farmers’ suicides is not restricted to India, Sethi notes, as suicides have been reported in nations such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and Sri Lanka. “While my own work is focused in central India, these are questions that resonate in farming communities around the world, particularly in the Global South,” Sethi wrote in her proposal. “Farming debt and climate change drive distress migration, land dispossession, and social alienation.”
In addition to writing her book, Sethi plans to organize a one day mini-conference at Matrix addressing the conjunctions of agriculture, debt, and climate change. “This conference would examine the social and material entanglements through which debt relations produce new subjectivities, social forms, and struggles for justice in the shadow of late-capitalist transformations of the agrarian landscape,” she explained.