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2015 - 2016 dissertation fellows



gary cornwall, economicsG. Cornwall - 15/16 Taft Dissertation Fellow

Project Title: Estimating the distribution of income using a mixture of distributions with spatial dependence.

Estimating the size distribution of income is a robust research area that has rich history dating back to the late nineteenth century. The predominant focus of research in this area is fitting parametric distributions to income data. These distributions are then used to estimate policy impact, poverty, and income inequality. This work will focus on estimating the distribution of income within a Bayesian framework using a mixture of known distributions while simultaneously incorporating a spatial weight matrix to explain locational dependence in individual income distributions. The end result will be a decomposable income distribution that provides additional avenues to evaluate changes in policy, poverty, and inequality.



Catalin Dragancatalin dragan, mathematical sciences

Project Title: Sums of equivalent positive operators in von Neumann algebras

Operators are mathematical objects that are studied in Operator Algebras, an important branch of modern analysis. They are useful in representing various measurable quantities from quantum mechanics such as the energy, momentum or position of a system. Recent work by Kaftal, Ng, Zhang reveals that a positive operator A, a special class of operators, can be decomposed under certain hypotheses as a sum of rank one projections, a special class of positive operators. This has been generalized by Bourin and Lee by replacing projections with “copies” of an arbitrary positive operator B.

A von Neumann algebra, a special class of which are factors, is a collection of operators that have algebraic properties similar to the addition and multiplication of numbers. The main goal of my research is to find necessary and sufficient conditions for a positive operator A in a von Neumann algebra to be expressed as a sum of operators in the algebra equivalent to a given positive operator B. In answering a conjecture by Bourin and Lee who found a sufficient condition for type I factors, together with my advisor, I give a sufficient condition for type III factors and find a necessary and sufficient condition for type III factors. The main focus of this project is to further study when a positive operator can be decomposed as a sum of operators with prescribed properties.



alyssa mcclanahan, historyMcClanahan

Project Title: Women and Life on Earth: Peace, Ecology, and a Transnational Women’s Movement, 1975-1999

Women and Life on Earth conceives of and traces a powerful, transnational, diverse yet ultimately unsustainable women’s movement born in the late 1970s and early 1980s out of feminist, ecological, and disarmament concerns. Focused primarily on American and British women, my dissertation begins with an influential conference in March 1980 in Northampton, Massachusetts in which hundreds of women gathered to articulate and claim "that ecological right"--the idea to fashion a women's movement that "ecologically" connected all women and a repertoire of causes. Framed around chapters that each depict a specific women's organization or dramatic protest and pays particular attention to the transnational networks and projects that emerged among women, Women and Life on Earth tracks how this women's movement weathered the 1980s, and interrogates the states of feminism, environmentalism, protest strategy and politics in late-20th century America and Britain. It broadly argues that by appropriating ecology as a way to link a litany of oppressions, women began to consolidate a powerful movement that was uniquely for and by women. Yet, as genuinely inclusive and diverse as women crafted their philosophy to be, their ideas did not map evenly onto the political movement itself, and in many ways, their philosophy prescribed their own stymied future.



MANUEL R. MONTES manuel r. montes, romance languages & literatures

Project Title: Fiction Writing as an Aesthetic Identity Pursuit in the Spanish Language Novel

This doctoral research explores, questions and analyzes how the literary creative process became a canonical theme in the Spanish language novel tradition. It traces the origin, continuous presence, development, and current status of the figure of the writer as a main character who seeks their artistic identity through the intimate, subjective ordeals, and uncertainties of telling a story. Focusing primarily on the paradigmatic contributions of Juan Carlos Onetti’s La vida breve/The Brief Life (1950); Josefina Vicens’ El libro vacío/The Empty Book (1958); Roberto Bolaño’s Los detectives salvajes/The Savage Detectives (1998); and Enrique Vila–Matas’ Bartleby y compañía/Bartleby & Co. (2000), this dissertation unfolds the path that has been reshaping the concept of a fictional hero by increasingly addressing the failure of narrators who do not find themselves. Instead, they lose almost everything, except for an ephemeral yet enlightening experience of invention.

The principal inquiries attended are: How has the writer as a fictional character evolved to reach its contemporary preeminence in the Spanish language novel? How does writing fiction, closely exposed while occurring or about to occur, embody a fruitful disenchantment rooted in the inevitable loss of individuality and self–assurance? What are the repercussions of this increasing trend both in literary and academic criticisms, and also in the constant reformulation of the canon?

The detailed review of the writer’s figure as a main character begins with Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605) as the primary touchstone and starting point of the genre. This critical study then spans over some of the most transcendental works pertaining to the literary movements of the Picaresque era (XVI–XVII centuries), Neoclassicism (XVIII), Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism and Modernism (XIX–XX), aiming to highlight a wide bibliographical route that thematically precedes the arrival of Juan Carlos Onetti’s The Brief Life in 1950.

One of the initial drafts of this research, conceived entirely at The University of Cincinnati and entitled Aurea mediocritas, has received the prestigious National Prize of Literary Essay «Alfonso Reyes» 2014 and was published as a book in Mexico the same year.



eric rogers, philosophyDissertation Fellow Eric Rogers Headshot

Project Title: Building a Better Invasion Biology: A Normative Approach to the Problem of Terminological Disunity

One of invasion biology’s explicit aims is the prevention and mitigation of the many economic and environmental costs of invasive species. Unfortunately, this aim is impeded by wide-spread inconsistencies in the use of key terms and concepts, which I call “the problem of terminological disunity.” Terminological disunity impedes research integration and confuses communication between researchers and the stakeholders in interests threatened by these species. This dissertation attempts to resolve this problem by approaching terminological disunity from the perspective of invasion biology’s intrinsic ethical structure and arguing that terminological reconstruction can be aided by consideration of the social and ethical demands on research. I then offer a partial, reconstructed terminology sensitive to the concerns of working invasion biologists. This is viewed as part of the larger philosophical project of understanding and elucidating science as a socially-embedded, value-laden enterprise.


linwood rumney, english & comparative literature

rumney headshot

Project Title: Lord Rosse's Telescope

Taking Montaigne, the source of the title of the collection, as my point of departure, my poems explore various minor and mostly American historical figures and events. These events are drawn from an array of sources and time periods covering the last two centuries, from “The Great Moon Hoax” of the 1830s to Jared Loughner’s 2011 shooting-spree. Some of the poems address the absurd while others confront the tragic; most occupy a space in between. My aim is to write poems about and through subjects that don't easily accommodate available traditions (the comic, the elegiac, etc.). By doing so, I hope to revitalize stale poetry practices while investigating extremism and sensationalism.




john shahan, german studiesShahan in front of Oscar Robinson status on UC Uptwon campus

Project Title: Concepts of Justice in Spy and Detective Fiction viewed through a Kantian Lens

In my project I examine German detective fiction and spy fiction through a philosophical lens. I have two main sources in terms of the literary component of my dissertation. My detective novels are written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a Swiss author who wrote in German. His novels normally feature detectives who are flawed and obsessed with the abstract concept of justice. They are willing to destroy themselves or at least sacrifice themselves in order to see that their concept of justice is implemented. I view these novels through a Kantian lens to enhance the discussion of justice in these books. Immanuel Kant was very much concerned with justice and his view of justice was based on the capacity for human reason, which in turn enables human beings to form a collective, called the Kingdom of Ends, based on mutually acceptable moral imperatives. Overall, all of his moral arguments, especially those concerned with justice, are based in an understanding of duty. One must be a moral agent not for any benefit it brings, but for the sake of duty alone. I use this analysis to show how heroes and villains are different when Kantian morality is applied to their actions and to their stories.

Building on these discussions of justice, I examine Cold War spy fiction set in Germany, written by authors such as John Le Carré. I use neo-Kantian philosophers, like John Rawls, to continue the discussion of justice and bring it into contemporary times. Questions I wish to answer are based in the Kantian school of ethics. For example, does a Kantian hero differ from a conventional hero or even an anti-hero? Second, if we value Kant’s argument that human beings are ends in themselves and not a means to an end, how can we evaluate what happed during the Cold War in Germany as seen in spy fiction? Overall, the two genres of detective fiction and spy fiction from these two periods will help me to delve into a discussion of justice in general, and relate the literature to a broader picture as seen from both a philosophical and historical context.



megan underhill, sociologyMegan Underhill

Project Title: Learning about race in the home: The racial socialization practices of white parents

What, and how, do white parents teach their children about being white in America? Though whites are the majority racial group in the United States, very little is known about how they racially socialize their children. Most of the racial socialization literature has examined the socialization experiences of non-white parents. This gap in the literature is problematic because it legitimates the idea that only “only non-whites “have” race” (Burton et al., 2010: 453).

The few white racial socialization studies that do exist provide us with an incomplete understanding of the process by which white parents teach their children about race. Almost all of this research focuses on the explicit racial socialization efforts of middle class parents. These studies examine what middle class parents say to their children about race, but not what they do, perhaps unconsciously, to facilitate or hinder the development of a white racial identity. As Giddens (1993) reminds us, examining practice is as important as examining beliefs because it is through practice that individuals help to create and sustain social structures.

Within this small body of literature, social factors, such as an individual’s class status and the racial composition of the neighborhood of residence, have also been overlooked. Because prior research has focused exclusively on middle class parents, it is impossible to discern what role, if any, class status has on the racial socialization practices of white parents. Additionally, scholars have not sought to understand how growing up in a white-segregated vs. a multiracial neighborhood might affect the racial socialization efforts of white parents. Bonilla-Silva et al. (2006) argue that coming of age in a segregated-white neighborhood helps to produce a “white habitus” that conditions white racial tastes, beliefs, and behaviors; however, no empirical research exists that examines the influence of neighborhood racial composition on white parents’ racial socialization practices.

To fill these gaps in the literature, the proposed project will investigate the explicit and implicit racial socialization practices of middle and lower class whites who live in either a white-segregated or a multiracial neighborhood. The significance of this study is four-fold. First, by examining explicit and implicit forms of racial socialization, I will identify parental practices that appear non-racial, but may have racialized consequences for the racial identity development of white Americans. Second, by examining how middle and lower class white parents racially socialize their children, my findings will illuminate class-based variation. Third, study findings will provide scholars insight as to whether proximity to non-whites (i.e. racial contact) impacts the racial socialization practices of white parents. Finally, by understanding better how white racial identity is created in the home, my results may help scholars reimagine how racial inequality is reproduced in other institutional settings.



past dissertation fellows

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