Immigration Both Political and Academic

As a broad section of our world is experiencing economic and political upheaval, its peoples are migrating in search of security, stability and a shot at the good life. At the University of Kentucky, scholars are studying this massive immigration and its effects on various countries and cultures, and in the process have become part of an interdisciplinary migration of their own. The effects of this dual political and academic migration will be highlighted at the March 10-11 conference “Immigration Policy in an Anti-Immigrant Era” organized by the UK Quantitative Initiative for Policy and Social Research (QIPSR).

QIPSR is based in the College of Arts and Sciences, but was launched this year to benefit quantitative social scientists across UK by bringing world class scholars to campus, organizing workshops on grant writing and statistical methods, and creating opportunities for research collaboration outside departmental boundaries.

>>Visit the QIPSR Blog

“It provides an infrastructure for quantitative social scientists with a broad policy focus,” said political science professor and QIPSR director Mark Peffley. Social scientists are addressing real world problems that cut across disciplinary boundaries, such as poverty, disease, illiteracy, discrimination, violence, mental illness, crime, and international conflicts.  And quantitative social scientists are awash in data in the digital age, and need to constantly update their statistical skills to be able to understand and provide solutions to problems in the world and the Commonwealth.

The topic for the March conference grew out of the interest of QIPSR participants who study a range of problems related to immigration—education, poverty, prejudice, and public policy.

“By definition, the problems associated with immigration are interdisciplinary,” said political science assistant professor and QIPSR participant Sophia Wallace. “The question was to identify some topic that may be of broad appeal and interest, and that was relatively salient as well.”

In the last decade alone, immigration in the U.S. has sparked massive public protests, a cluster of federal and state legislation and is one of the rallying cries of many members of the Tea Party movement.

“Immigration has been on the front burner of the national agenda for a long time,” said Peffley. “It’s polarizing, and the Congress can’t see its way to work out a solution to the immigration problem in the United States. These are problems that are also faced throughout Europe.”

“And this is all leading to a very intense atmosphere that is building with political parties and interest groups,” continued Wallace. “And what you’re getting is a real increase in public concern about the issue and a lot more explosive nature of the debates surrounding it. That debate is raging from border security to cultural assimilation to access to education and welfare to labor issues.”

The conference boasts four imminent scholars who offer unique approaches to the complex issue of immigration. Princeton sociology professor Douglas Massey is a central figure in the study of immigration both domestically and internationally. Stanford political scientist professor Paul Sniderman is well known for his studies of public attitudes toward immigrants in several Western European countries that have experienced an influx of guest laborers. Cornell political science professor Michael Jones Correa is one of the more prominent Latino political scientists in America and helped developed a massive 2006 survey of Latino political and social attitudes. Finally, Georgetown University assistant professor Daniel Hopkins is a young methodologically sophisticated scholar who studies how national politics politicizes where and when immigrants provoke local opposition.  Hopkins will also be giving a workshop on automated content analysis of digital text.

“The conference is a wonderful way to get exposed to some very interesting ideas, unique methods, really interesting ways to tackle research questions and just think outside the box,” said Wallace. “Our invited scholars are known as being very innovative scholars doing exciting work, and it really pushes you to think critically about your own work.”

The conference is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost, the UK Center for Poverty Research, and the UK Departments of Political ScienceSociology and Geography and will, said Peffley, “… put the spotlight on UK as an institution that brings in world class scholars to work with its own high caliber social scientists to address one of the most important issues of our time.” 

More broadly, the conference symbolizes a movement of scholars within the University towards more fluid disciplinary structures and the very future of academe.

“It means bringing scholars together who are in different disciplines who often don’t get a chance to look outside their silos at people doing similar work in different disciplines,” said Peffley of the significance of the conference and QIPSR. “This is where social science is headed. The disciplinary bounds in some areas are crumbling and people are discovering new ways of looking at things, new ways of discovering things and it’s really exciting. There is some first class work being done here at UK that is pushing the boundaries. To be able to create that here and showcase what we do so well is just a great opportunity.”

By Rebekah Tilley

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