A new Institute for Social Sciences at UC Davis will promote interdisciplinary research in the social sciences to address challenges within a rapidly changing society.
UC Davis announced creation of the institute today and the appointment of Joe Dumit, a professor of anthropology and science and technology studies at UC Davis, as director.
"Providing support for new collaborations will help social scientists address emerging problems that don't have ready approaches," Dumit said. "The range of challenges facing our society has never been greater, and the institute will help UC Davis bring together its resources to solve these problems."
As an incubator of new ideas, the institute will support work that reaches across culture, class, social norms, politics, mobility, economics, values, technology, language, communication and history, according to Dumit. In its first year, it will provide research seed funding, graduate seminars and student programs.
"The Institute for Social Sciences truly epitomizes the collaborative and solution-focused character of UC Davis," said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter. "The challenges of the 21st century require approaches that reach broadly across fields of thought and study, and this new institute will play an integral role in making those crucial research synergies a reality."
The institute will enhance all aspects of the UC Davis academic mission, said George R. Mangun, dean of the Division of Social Sciences. "It will support the campus as it delivers innovative solutions to pressing problems, be it how poverty affects child development or how to prevent bullying in schools, to questions about the economics of natural resources and how to help policymakers improve decision-making."
Making the most of data
The institute will tackle, among other issues, the explosion of new data from sources as varied as Twitter and neuroscience imaging techniques, Dumit said.
"Social scientists use data to learn empirically about the forces shaping our practices, our interactions, our knowledge and our decisions," said Dumit. "We need new, interdisciplinary approaches to make the most of these types of data, since today's concrete problems don't respect disciplinary lines."
The institute also will expand the Social Science Data Service, which acquires and curates data on society, to offer a wider variety of databases and help researchers access and more creatively analyze data.
Dumit's research examines how science and medicine change the lives of consumers, patients, doctors and scientists as the nature of facts and evidence also changes. He was the founding director of the university's Science and Technology Studies Program and co-founded the university's Humanities Innovation Lab.
One of the institute's feature events will be the Sheffrin Lecture on Public Policy, which since 2010 has brought top scholars to campus to present work on major issues in society.
"As a longtime supporter of the social sciences at UC Davis, I am excited to see such an innovative institute take root on campus," said Renee Child, a UC Davis alumna in psychology and German, who has been active as a member of the College of Letters and Science Deans' Advisory Council. Among their many gifts to UC Davis, she and her husband, Mike Child, founded the Child Family Fund, which provides seed funding for new research at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain. "I have seen the impact seed funding can have on innovative new approaches to research."