New Research Institute Focuses on Supporting the Social Sciences

On October 13th, the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor announced the creation of the Institute for Social Sciences (ISS), led by director Joseph Dumit, professor of anthropology and science and technology studies at UC Davis. The new interdisciplinary research center will bring focus to the critical role of the social sciences in addressing the challenges of our rapidly changing society, according to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter.

The Institute for Social Sciences will serve as an incubator of new ideas, and support collaborative research projects that reach across culture, class, social norms, politics, mobility, economics, values, technology, language, communication and history.

In an interview with UC Davis News, director Joe Dumit explained that the institute will tackle, among other issues, the explosion of new data from sources as varied as Twitter and neuroscience imaging techniques.

“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.”

David Biale, director of the Davis Humanities Institute (DHI), welcomed the new institute and said he looks forward to future partnerships. The DHI and the ISS “have a common interest in promoting research by our faculty and graduate students as well as professionalization opportunities,” said Biale. The ISS and DHI plan to work together on projects that touch the overlapping interests of the humanities and social science, and the first concrete collaboration will be a dissertation workshop in April 2015.

The ISS will expand the Social Science Data Service, which acquires and curates data on society, and make available this resource to researchers across the campus. The Institute will offer a social science perspective on creatively analyzing data.

Dumit’s own research investigates how science and medicine change the lives of consumers, patients, doctors, and scientists as the nature of facts and evidence change. Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (2004) and Drugs for Live: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (2012) each challenge our understanding of the cultural ramifications of technology and of the very concepts used to define personhood or health.

The ISS will also be led by Assistant Director, Vicky Austin. Austin is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and for assisting the director in determining the strategic direction of the Institute.

The Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis is the largest division in the College of Letters and Sciences and is home to more than 200 faculty members who serve 6,600 undergraduate majors and 500 graduate students. ISS plans to provide research seed funding, support graduate students, offer seminars, host campus events, and continue the Sheffrin Lecture on Public Policy, which since 2010 has brought top scholars to campus to present work on major issues in society.

Learn more about the Institute for Social Sciences at

Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies