Social Science – Medicine Science and Technology Studies
Video game and virtual world developers and creators take on a role similar to that of “the state” in relation to their players or subscribers. This project looks at how these developers take on their governing role specifically in relation to the creation of avatars. Avatars are the embodiment of the player within these virtual settings, and their form may evolve over time. This case study of avatar creation brings together analysis of ten virtual avatar creation offerings to describe how developers limit who players are allowed to be within their sphere of governance. I look specifically at the how the range of options, and even more specifically, how available base options for embodiment may in turn have ranges of secondary or tertiary appearance, ability, and even mannerism customization that can shape or determine the roles within a world a player is given permission to take on. Bringing into concert the work of preceding virtual ethnographers like Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce, I describe how the choices developers make as to what to allow players to be within their world can reflect or reproduce, or even enable resistance to physical world social or cultural norms and limitations.
Protests have rocked the San Francisco Bay Area since Fall 2013 over private buses that ferry tech workers from the city to job sites throughout the region. Activists blame these buses and the workers they carry for raising eviction rates and rent increases, squeezing out the poor and middle classes. Actual evidence of this is largely sparse or anecdotal, and an investigation into what role the buses are playing in gentrification can serve the public interest in two ways.
The first is a better understanding of exactly how the success of the tech industry impacts the local economic ecosystem it operates in. Few industries have reshaped society as much the tech industry, and that extends not just from how we catch a ride, but to the effect on the social fabric of its community. Further, the initiation of the private bus system is an ideal situation to study the causal role of transit in gentrification, a problem economists have been working on for decades. I plan to measure the effect the shuttle services have had on rent increases and socioeconomic shifts in San Francisco.
Secondly, the shuttle system sheds a new light on an old issue: rent control and affordable housing. San Francisco has one of the most restrictive rent and tenant control regimes in the country. Previous work on economics has shown that rent control creates more losers than winners in terms of access to affordable housing, but left unexplored is whether rent control is a good policy to prevent gentrification, i.e. if the policy goal is to preserve the “character” of a neighborhood. Rent control may slow the rate of socioeconomic change in a neighborhood, but it may also increase the incentive for landlords to replace their tenants with higher-paying ones by evicting the old, lower-paying ones. Assessing which effect is strongest will be a major contribution to our understanding of impact of rent control.
My work will contribute to the public’s understanding of gentrification and rent control and to the economics literature by studying rent control, evictions, and gentrification with a clearly identified source of variation. As cities all over the developed world grapple with the rise of wealthy, “creative class” workers who want to live in urban environments, San Francisco’s policy responses to balance the needs of new and old residents and industries will be highly relevant. residents will be much studied.
This research project examines the personal and cultural consequences of the Occupy Movement, particularly through its impact on individuals’ trajectories of subsequent movement participation and its influence on the broader social movement sector through movement spillover and diffusion. Scholarship on social movement outcomes often focuses on the political and policy implications of movements, but recent work has highlighted the importance of the personal and cultural consequences of social movements as well. My research contributes to this body on literature on social movement outcomes and explores the impact of the Occupy Movement on individual participants and social movement communities. Although the Occupy encampments were mostly ephemeral in nature, I hypothesize that the movement’s participatory democratic approach, confrontational tactics, and the high intensity of involvement that it compelled from participants may have led to more lasting effects and encouraged subsequent movement engagement. In addition, if Occupy activists diffused into other social movement organizations post-Occupy, this is likely to have resulted in movement spillover of personnel, ideas, and tactical and strategic repertoires. This is a qualitative research study based on data collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with individuals who participated in the Occupy Movement in Oakland, Berkeley, Portland, and Honolulu. Data collection for the study is ongoing, with 29 interviews conducted to date. My preliminary findings indicate that the Occupy Movement has achieved persistent impacts via its influence on personal trajectories of participation, interpersonal and SMO networks, and social discourse. It also produced a notable effect on social movement communities by sparking important strategic debates among activists on issues related to the most effective movement goals, tactics, and organizational structures. This case study of the Occupy Movement will expand our scholarly awareness of how social movements shape the lives of individuals and contribute to the vigor of a democratic civil society. This research will be beneficial to academic, activist, and political actors as it will help develop a richer understanding of the personal and cultural impacts of social movements, which are often difficult to measure and easy to overlook but play a pivotal role in social change. It will also be interesting to a wider audience, as it will answer the question of what happened after the widely publicized Occupy encampments ended and whether participants have continued involvement in other social change activities.
Hillary Clinton is arguably the most prominent female in American politics today. How has she succeeded in a man’s world? Does Ms. Clinton talk more “like a man” (linguistically-speaking) as her political ambitions have grown? This project uses Ms. Clinton’s speech over the course of her public career to discover (1) how her linguistic patterns vary according to her political role, (2) how her linguistic style compares to that of high-ranking male politicians, and (3) how her self-image and self-presentation has consciously positioned her for success. I analyze Ms. Clinton’s speech in more than 500 interviews and debates conducted between 1987-2013 and utilize a text analysis program, the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2007), to uncover the linguistic patterns of Clinton’s speech over time. Results indicate significant shifts in her use of pronouns, cognitive, social, and emotional words, as well as function words (including I-words, prepositions, articles, verbs, and auxiliary verbs) from early interviews to later ones. The direction of these shifts support the notion that Ms. Clinton?€?s language has become more masculine over time. Results also indicate strategic shifts in language during her successful Senate campaign in 2000, as well as her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. Clinton’s speech increasingly resembles that of male Presidential candidates evidenced in prior research. In a male-dominated political arena, it is possible that female politicians conform to male speech patterns to be seen by voters as competent and trustworthy.
Women continue to be disproportionately underrepresented in American politics, making up only 18.5% of Congress and 10% of state governors. Thus, the importance of this project–to reveal how a successful female politician compares and competes with her male counterparts as well as to uncover hidden biases in political life that may disadvantage women–cannot be underestimated. Clinton’s career illustrates the contortions women undergo to compete in a profession still dominated by men and by a male model. Such insight has significance not only for women and members of other marginalized groups in American politics, but also for any citizen interested in promoting a more representative democracy in an age of new media.
Traffic congestion is a large problem in the United States. Wasted time and fuel as well as increased pollution are all costs of congestion. Summing these costs, the Texas Transportation Institute found the annual cost of congestion to be $121 billion nationally (2010 Annual Urban Mobility Report).
Fundamentally, congestion occurs when freeway users are so numerous that drivers must slow down to travel safely. Economists have long advocated the use of Pigovian taxes to combat congestion. They argue that drivers impose a negative externality on other drivers by slowing them down. Therefore, the equilibrium number of freeway users will be larger than the socially optimal level because each driver considers only the private cost of travel — personal time and fuel costs. Drivers do not weigh the full social cost of freeway travel which includes the delays suffered by other drivers. A toll equal to the cost imposed by one driver on other drivers induces the efficient level of traffic because drivers then account for the entire social cost of travel (Brueckner 2011). Congestion tolls are beginning to gain public favor and have been employed internationally in London, Stockholm, Singapore and Milan and domestically in the form of High Occupancy Toll lanes.
This paper investigates the congestion externality imposed by vehicles of different types. In recent years, the U.S. vehicle fleet has undergone a shift away from cars and toward pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and vans. Together these vehicles are categorized as light-duty trucks. In 1994, light-duty trucks made up 28% of the vehicle fleet but by 2012 the proportion of light-duty trucks had increased to 49% (U.S. DOT). Because light-duty trucks are heavier and taller than cars they may require more freeway space and impose larger freeway capacity costs. As freeway capacity is exhausted, congestion develops. Therefore, vehicles which cause a larger reduction in available capacity impose larger congestion costs on other vehicles. Because vehicles of different types contribute differently to congestion costs, optimal congestion tolls will vary by vehicle type.
Using vehicle trajectory data from Interstate 80 in Emeryville, CA I find that on average, a light-duty truck uses 4% more freeway capacity than a car. The implications for congestion are explored. The results will help policymakers in setting optimal congestion tolls and in constructing alternative large vehicle policies.
Brueckner, Jan K. Lectures on Urban Economics. United States: MIT Press, 2011. Print.
This project investigates the factors that lead social movements to achieve successful policy outcomes, paying particular attention to strategies that disrupt the economy. We build upon existing literature to create an empirical model for assessing the effectiveness of social movement organizations. Using empirical evidence from past and current American social movements, we investigate and measure the effect that strategies of economic disruption have on causing successful policy outcomes. We argue that a social movement’s ability to achieve policy goals is greatly enhanced by its ability to disrupt the relevant economic institutions. By affecting the bottom line of an economic institution, a social movement organization can exert influence over economic elites, who can then influence the relevant policy decision-makers. The effect size of strategies of economic disruption has grown with the increasing amount of influence that money plays in the political system, and the increasing amount of influence economic elites have over policy decision-makers. The ultimate goal of this project is to gauge the potential for the Black Lives Matter movement to achieve its intended policy outcomes, and to prescribe actions that the BLM movement, and other current and future social movement organizations, can take to maximize policy concessions.
Urban and Regional Planning M.U.R.P.
In 1961, over 100 years after Frederick Law Olmsted drew up his plan for Central Park, housing activist Jane Jacobs wrote a scalding narrative of the planning profession. In it, she denounced the planning profession’s top-down approach of implementing plans based on theory rather than on actual knowledge of how cities function. She called out specific housing projects, such as Morningside Heights in New York City, as being centers for vice and degeneration despite valiant efforts of planners to enforce their theoretical concepts on the area. Although she spoke primarily about the process of urban renewal being undergone during her time – one that included the mass leveling of communities marked by planners as “slums” – her attacks also pointed to the history of the planning. Rewind to 1858 – the year Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux were chosen as the winners in a competition to design a central park for New York City. Olmsted had spent the first 30 years of his life bouncing between informal schools in the countryside and searching for a calling among clerking, shipping, scientific farming, and a form of cultural journalism. Due to sumac poisoning that left his eyes weak, he escaped the formal study that might have left him lumped together with the planners Jacobs would later denounce. Olmsted did not study cities through research behind closed doors. He learned about the way they work and about the lives of the people in them through his own experiences. As a result, he achieved a legacy of success and overwhelming popularity. He did not designate simple patches of grass as open space (as planners would later attempt to do in low-income housing projects), but he designed picturesque landscapes to heal the souls of all classes. He knew what people wanted because he worked with them and spoke to them. In this way, he was an early ethnographic researcher. And his legacy, coupled with Jane Jacob’s criticism a century after his first major work, serves as evidence that ethnographic research should be a requirement of all proposed city plans and all professional planning education programs. Olmsted’s work hints that if such a requirement were implemented, we might see much healthier and more vibrant communities and cities.