Matrix News

Matrix Announces 2021-2022 Research Teams

UC Berkeley Campanile

How are digital technologies re-shaping property and development? How are unionized employees in the energy sector experiencing climate change? What are the impacts of Chinese surveillance systems deployed across the Global South? How can museums support Indigenous-led environmental activism?

These are among the diverse questions that will be addressed by the eight Matrix Research Teams to be funded by Social Science Matrix during the 2021-2022 academic year. Matrix Research Teams are groups of scholars who gather regularly to explore or develop a novel question or emerging field in the social sciences. These teams convene participants from multiple disciplines, and focus on research questions with real-world significance. This year’s teams were chosen following review by a cross-disciplinary panel of faculty members.

“Matrix is delighted to announce the Research Team awardees for the 2021-2022 academic year,” says Marion Fourcade, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Director of Social Science Matrix. “We received a range of innovative, high-quality applications and subjected them to a rigorous evaluation process. The funded Matrix Research Teams reflect the very best of UC Berkeley’s cross-disciplinary and critical social science, speaking to our most pressing intellectual, theoretical, and social challenges. Social Science Matrix looks forward to working with all of these groups over the course of the next 12 months.”

This year’s funded teams include three faculty-led teams and five student-led teams. Faculty-led teams receive $5000 in funding and hold regular meetings focused on a defined research problem, with a goal to apply for one or more grants for continued research. The student-led teams will receive up to $1500 to explore a new area or question of inquiry, in part to assess whether it has potential for further investigation. Funding for these teams is intended to further collaboration among graduate students, provide professional development, and create opportunities for faculty engagement and mentorship.

In addition to funding, all Matrix Research Teams receive administrative support in coordinating, scheduling, and (after campus reopens) reserving space in our offices on the top floor of the Social Sciences Building (formerly Barrows Hall). Matrix provides communications support to help publicize each group’s work, and Research Teams receive assistance with administering funding, as well as identifying and applying for further funding.

Below are abstracts describing the 2021-2022 Matrix Research Teams, as written by the teams’ organizers in their proposals.

Faculty-Led Teams

Digital Transformations in Property and Development

Team Leads: Desiree Fields, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, UC Berkeley; Hilary Faxon, Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley

Advances in digital technology and platform business models are dramatically reshaping how real estate is planned and developed by public agencies and builders, bought and sold by homeowners and investors, operated by landlords, and inhabited by all of us. In turn, we are witnessing transformations in property and development across cities and hinterlands, from advanced economies with mature formal real estate markets to emerging economies where formal property titles are a recent phenomenon. This Matrix Research Team will draw on ongoing research into case studies from a range of global contexts to investigate a central question: how do digital technologies shape property and development, and with what effects? We pay particular attention to questions of accumulation, inequality, and politics, framing our individual projects and overarching inquiry within an urgent interdisciplinary conversation about tech and social justice. By exploring technology’s impacts on rural and urban development, geopolitics, racial equity, and land commodification in diverse contexts, we seek to understand both the problems and the potential for equitable digital futures. Our research team brings together early-career and established scholars from geography, critical information studies, and political ecology to investigate the shifting relationships between technology, development, and property, aiming to foster a vibrant community of practice in which more senior researchers actively mentor graduate students both at and beyond Berkeley.

Indigenous People, Environmental Sustainability, and Museums

Team Lead: Lauren Kroiz, Associate Professor, History of Art Department, and Faculty Director, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, UC Berkeley

Under the direction of Dr. Lauren Kroiz, graduate student researcher Pilar Jefferson (Ethnic Studies), and Katie Fleming, Gallery Manager & Education Coordinator at the Hearst Museum, will conduct research across the disciplines of Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, and Museum Studies. Their project aims to broaden the reach of new initiatives at the Hearst Museum linking natural resource protection with contemporary Indigenous art and culture. The project will start in the summer of 2021 and continue through the 2021-2022 academic year. It will have three interconnected phases (a digital timeline, an interview series, and educational resources for undergraduate courses and K-12 students) related to the Hearst Museum exhibition, “The Sea Tore in Two Ways.” The timeline phase of the project will aid the researchers in looking back at the museum’s history to understand its changing relationships with Indigenous communities. In the interview phase the researchers will interview local Indigenous community members and campus faculty and staff, working with them to gather data on what environmental protection challenges Indigenous people are facing and how museums can help them achieve their goals. Finally, the educational resources will take their information from data collected in the first two initiatives to show how museums can be sites to support Indigenous-led environmental activism now and in the future.

Labor and Sustainable Energy: Organizational Bottlenecks and Bottom-Up Dynamics

Team Leads: Cihan Tugal, Professor, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; Eylem Taylan, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; Thomas Gepts, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley

As ecological disasters intensify, community struggles follow suit. Absent from much of this conflict is organized labor. Many unions take the side of companies accused of ecological damage. Simultaneously, emergent policy frameworks grant labor an increasing role in the transition to sustainable energy. We ask: How do energy employees experience this social, political, and ecological scene? Our theoretical framework approaches energy-sector employees not only as “workers,” but as whole human beings with multiple identities (parents, citizens, neighbors, etc.) and conflicting stakes in the transition to a green future. How does this complexity influence their relationships with their unions and companies? PG&E provides an ideal case to explore these questions. The company has contributed to many calamities throughout the years, but its largest union has sided with PG&E in resisting the restructuring of the company. How do rank and file workers react to debates about PG&E’s future? Have they taken actions on these issues? Are there movement, racial, gender, or community dynamics that might allow them to pull the union in an alternative direction? Our research team will conduct 60 one-on-one and 7-8 focus group interviews to answer these questions. We will situate our analysis of these interviews within a study of the structural history of PG&E and its unions. By attending to the views of energy sector workers, we will contribute to existing political and scholarly debates by better evaluating the challenges and prospects of an ecologically and socially just transition to renewable energy.

Student-Led Teams

Approaches to Operationalizing Equity in Net Zero Emissions Targets

Team Leads: Kate Altemus Cullen, PhD Student, Energy & Resources Group, UC Berkeley; Calder Tsuyuki- Tomlinson, Research Officer, Global Economic Governance Programme, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; Kaya Axelsson, Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, Oxford Net Zero Programme, University of Oxford

Net zero’ commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions now cover 56 percent of the global population, spanning a wide range of actors, including national and regional governments, cities, businesses, and investors (Black et al., 2021). In recognition of the impacts that arise from a global transition to net zero carbon emissions, there are growing calls for these actors to include equity principles in their commitments. However, due to the nascency of net zero as the organizing principle for global decarbonization in addition to the absence of overarching equity mechanisms, there is little consensus on the conceptual formulation and application of equity in net zero commitments. Our research question is therefore: How can equity be meaningfully, precisely, and thoroughly operationalised as part of net zero policymaking? In answering this question, we aim to provide clarity for actors committing to net zero targets on how best to consider equity for a diverse range of stakeholders. We perform a review of the existing literature on the variegated conceptions of climate equity and related terms. The resulting typology is then applied to a dataset of equity commitments found within a stocktake of net zero commitments previously collected by research group members, to build theory on potential drivers of equity processes in net zero policymaking. This theory is used to identify and interrogate exemplary cases through qualitative interview data, which is then utilized to develop an overarching framework on the incorporation of equity in net zero policymaking.


Designing Mechanisms for Fairness and Transparency in Mediated Markets

Team Lead: Andrew Chong, Graduate Student, School of Information, UC Berkeley

Economic interaction increasingly occurs in marketplaces where platform firms exercise autocratic and unilateral control. These centralized markets, fully observable to the firm and governed with explicit algorithms, are deeply at odds with the model of the “invisible hand” in classical political economy, where markets are seen as arising naturalistically and enabling the maximal welfare of society through the decentralized and largely unobservable interactions of economic actors. By contrast, mediated markets are constructed and managed with code, with a single firm often possessing asymmetric visibility and control over market transactions. Such markets require explicit design choices by the firm, who actively manage market outcomes to serve private interests.

Participants in mediated markets hence rely on platform firms to represent market processes and communicate market information. Scholars have argued that such representations can be manipulative. Hwang and Elish, for example, describe Uber’s representation of predicted demand to its drivers as a “mirage of a marketplace” and a form of behavioral control. Such techniques are only one example of a wide panoply of methods firms are undertaking, where marketplace policies are engineered to leverage or evade participant norms, a phenomenon we describe as “norms engineering.”

Economic sociologists and historians have stressed examining the materiality and politics inherent in market institutions and how they shape market outcomes. This research team brings together interdisciplinary perspectives and expertise across human-computer interaction, economic sociology, law, and critical traditions to consider and develop socio-technical mechanisms for fairness and transparency in mediated markets, to better incorporate the values of stakeholders.

Domestic Politics, Foreign Surveillance: Chinese Dataveillance in the Global South

Team Lead: Seyi Olojo, PhD student, School of Information, UC Berkeley

China’s surveillance technology market has found a lucrative foothold in the Global South, competing with the United States for contracts and economic influence. As these international business relationships multiply, so do their effects on domestic socio-political processes. In 2020, Uganda spent $126 million dollars on CCTV surveillance systems developed by Chinese software companies. With China’s investment in the Global South, what price will Uganda pay for Chinese facial recognition technology? With the recent re-election of long-term incumbent President, Yoweri Museveni, much is at stake for Uganda’s surveillance state. Our project aims to understand how China is developing relationships in the Global South to solidify their position and interests in places like Africa or Latin America. We investigate this through a series of questions: how does the introduction of surveillance technologies affect the socio-political climate of Uganda? What are the distinct effects of technology contracts with China on domestic political processes? What do these contracts signify for the future of development in the Global South? Lastly, what are the potential implications of Chinese ownership of data retrieved from the Global South? We use Uganda’s tenuous political climate as the center of our analysis to explore this history of Chinese technology exports in the Global South, tracing the politics of use as predictive analytic for understanding the future of governance in Uganda. This study explores how hegemonic politics further establishes a surveillance state in Uganda and contributes to dataveillance practices in the Global South.

Racial Capitalism

Team Leads: Christian Hosam, PhD Student, Department of Political Science, UC Berkeley; Clara Pérez Medina, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley

Racial capitalism, a burgeoning interdisciplinary field of study, is critical to understanding contemporary instances of climate emergency, neoliberal capital accumulation, the erosion of aordable housing, and a host of other issues core to the status of marginalized communities, within and beyond the United States. Excitingly, the field itself is still in formation. This working group proposes to bring together a number of faculty and graduate students together to think critically about the historical development of the field of inquiry, specific sites of its manifestation, and ways that communities here and abroad can use the insights of the racial capitalism literature in their mobilizations. 

Situating Camps and Confinement Sites beyond Humanitarianism, Periodization, and Area Studies Discourses

Team Leads: Laura Belik, Graduate Student, Architecture, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley; Heba Najada, Graduate Student, Global Metropolitan Studies, UC Berkeley

As places of exception and mass incarceration, the camp constitutes a space set apart outside the boundaries of legal and civil rights. Camps are intimately related to the era of colonization and its attendant processes of invasion, occupation, disruption, and relocation. They are nodes of state power and spatial manifestation of a society that periodically splinters into distinct categories based on belonging or non-belonging. This working group centers its focus on the space of the camp, in an interdisciplinary context, to explore how its “architectures” — the camps themselves, their spatial layout, infrastructure systems and camp-thinking — have operated to shape, detain and enable particular forms of movement. The goal of this project is to forge space for research and debate the different models of encampments and how they shift between various nation-states and periods of time. By tracing and better understanding the multiple histories and iterations of “camps,” we pay attention to the complex mobilities involved in the carceral experience, we broach dichotomies of permanence and temporality, material and immaterial and mobility and stasis. Collectively, we aim to challenge dominant narratives of ‘crisis,’ ‘victims’ and ‘bare life’ by exploring the ways in which camps are transformed, materially and immaterially, through various forms of agency — dissent, resistance, transgression, activism, or submission and dependence — by the bodies that inhabit them.


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