Over the last several decades the gap between rich and poor Americans has widened considerably, exposing related issues of racial justice and social mobility. Rapidly changing demographics and widening political divisions necessitate new thinking, teaching, and research on systems of government and how they serve society. UC Berkeley researchers in the social sciences and public policy are at the forefront of revealing root causes and identifying paths toward a brighter future for all.
“They do better in school, they’re more likely to graduate high school, more likely to attend college, less likely to be recipients of public assistance,” says Hilary Hoynes, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and faculty director of the Berkeley Opportunity Lab, reflecting on the data that prove that programs that provide nutritional and educational resources for low-income children make a critical difference for our whole society.
Social sciences faculty such as Hoynes are working across disciplines to identify the weaknesses in the social safety net and chart a course toward lasting change. Faculty and leadership in social sciences have identified three major issue areas — inequality, inclusion, and information — that provide a useful framework when considering Berkeley’s capacity to transform our society.
Inequality: The work of Berkeley economics professors Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, who directs Berkeley’s Center for Equitable Growth is changing the way we think about taxes. In evaluating the impact of tax structures on the lives of working people in their research and writing, they identify a plan to build trust in government by closing the loopholes that serve only the wealthiest Americans.
Inclusion: Nikki Jones’s areas of expertise include urban ethnography, race and ethnic relations and criminology and criminal justice. The H. Michael and Jeanne Williams Professor and Chair of African American Studies, she is the author of the books Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner City Violence and The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption. Through her work, Jones shares insights gleaned through a distinctly Black feminist lens — an approach that is based on honoring lived experience, cultivating dialogue, and perpetuating an ethic of caring as a means to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive society.
Information: Celeste Kidd, an assistant professor of psychology, works to reveal the ways that human beings make choices that reflect and reinforce their existing beliefs. At a time when online platforms amplify and enflame opinions by recycling and reposting content, Kidd’s research highlights the profound role that media and online platforms play in knowledge acquisition and belief formation. In 2017, Time magazine named Kidd one of their people of the year for her role as a silence breaker in igniting the #MeToo movement.
Fostering dialogue across differences
Berkeley serves as a nexus of initiatives and institutes that connect the dots between political institutions and the people they serve. For example, Eric Schickler, past chair of the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science and co-director of the Institute for Governmental Studies, explores the way that ordinary voters impact shifts in government policy. His work has shown that rather than being the result of the efforts of the political elite, important advances in American democracy have arisen over time from the work of grass-roots activists and members of congress engaging directly with their constituents.
Advancing research that identifies and transcends the greatest challenges of our time, Berkeley social scientists play critical roles in removing impediments to developing a nation that truly offers equal opportunities for all.