I am on the Board of Directors for StoryCenter, the world-renowned nonprofit organization that uses innovative story development practices and participatory media methods to support people in sharing personal narratives rooted in their own life experiences. I was recently interviewed about my pathway to become a digital storyteller and digital storytelling advocate. Other board members will be interviewed later; this group include SJSU College of Social Sciences assistant professor Nikki Yeboah, one of the newest members!

In July 2017 I posted a note about the redesign of CityLab, one of my favorite websites about urban life. Their latest innovation is MapLab, a “biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces.” Check it out!

Is American conservatism inherently bigoted? Many conservatives would be enraged by the question. Many liberals suspect the answer is yes.” So begins a provocative article in the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Republican Is Not a Synonym for Racist.” The first paragraph continues: “these different reactions stem, in part, from different definitions of bigotry. Conservatives tend to define it in terms of intention: You’re guilty of bigotry if you’re trying to harm people because of their race, gender, or the like. Liberals are more likely to define it in terms of impact: You’re guilty if your actions disadvantage an already disadvantaged group, irrespective of your motives.” How do we get past that differential? “Conservatives must reckon with their policies’ discriminatory effects. That would be more likely if liberals stopped carelessly crying bigot.”

I recently discovered a blog sponsored by the Consortium of Social Science Associations. The Why Social Science blog seeks to “to share the benefits and contributions of federally-funded social and behavioral science research with the public and encourage its widespread use for tackling challenges of national importance.” The latest entry — “Because Social Science Helps Us Enhance Diversity in the Interest of Positive Societal Outcomes” — was penned by a graduate school classmate, Dr. Jean Shin!

“Who among us has not experienced the silent embarrassment of struggling to push open a door, only to realize it is clearly marked ‘Pull’? Or perhaps you’ve puzzled over an unfamiliar faucet, or been flummoxed by a light switch that defies logic.” So begins a Pacific Standard article about “Norman Doors,” beautifully designed but dysfunctional objects. See a bad door design video for additional information; the video references a 99% Invisible podcast about Norman Doors.

An advertisement for Dove body wash was recently deemed racially insensitive for its portrayal of a Black woman who removes her brown shirt to reveal a White woman wearing a tan shirt. There is a long history of advertisers being insensitive to African American consumers…when they paid attention to that segment of the market at all. The Pacific Standard article “A Brief History of Companies Courting African-American Dollars” provides an analysis.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted an interesting article, “Can Social Science Tell Us How Much Gerrymandering is Too Much?” The article examines how social science research might impact pending Supreme Court arguments in the case Gill v. Whitford [No. 16-1161], which could have major political implications. For the article the Chronicle interviewed Philip Rocco, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University. The author closes the interview with, “should we hold out hope that social science can really making a meaningful difference in some of these intractable problems we have in society?” Professor Rocco responds:

Social science begins with what people used to refer to as the social question. And especially in the early 20th century, there were a lot of examples where social scientists were working not to dictate the problems of society from on high, but working kind of in collaboration with people both in government and in social society, actors from philanthropies and labor-oriented interests, and large stakeholders, to solve social problems.

When social scientists extensively collaborate with others we can productively tackle contemporary social problems such as gerrymandering.

SJSU Political Science Professor Lawrence Quill has co-written a provocative essay about universal basic income with Hasmet Uluorta, an Assistant Professor of Political Studies and International Development Studies at Trent University. They discuss how technology might enable a system of universal basic income and transform the function of government. For example:

Turning welfare provision into an app that tracks and monitors behavior means you can do away with many of the bureaucratic elements of the state. Of course, this would mean giving technology companies access to the entire database of citizens within a given territory, along with other data such as immigration records. This would arguably swap one form of paternalism for another. But where some observers see Big Brother, the tech entrepreneurs who wish to alter the behavior of people for the common good see “captology” or “persuasive technologies,” and substitute “surveillance” for “using apps to change the behavior of people for the better.” Thanks to phones and other wearable technologies, such “intimate surveillance” is now so pervasive that this participatory panopticon is the norm for a generation who have grown up knowing only the reality of Internet life.

Quill and Uluorta conclude, “The idea that poverty, like other social and political problems, can be solved by turning to technology and reducing the power of the state is a potent one with deep philosophical roots. We should keep this fresh in our minds when debating policies that herald privately owned technologies as the solution to complex social problems.” Well said!

The National Parks Service has issued a report about the Reconstruction Era that followed the U.S. Civil War. According to a Pacific Standard article about the report, “a new initiative by the National Parks Service seeks to designate sites for their historic significance in the Reconstruction era. It’s a bold and vital move for an agency that has only recently begun to seriously address the racial complexities of the Civil War.” Indeed!

The Stanford University Tomorrow’s Professor e-newsletter recently examined the nature of the social sciences. In “What is Social Science?” Rom Harré — Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University — is interviewed by Nigel Warburton, co-author (with David Edmonds) of the book Big Ideas in Social Science. Harré and Warburton compare and contrast the social sciences with the physical sciences in a fascinating discussion.