Research Opportunities

Gov 92r, Spring 2023

Gov 92r allows you to conduct research in the Government department for academic credit. It is graded SAT/UNSAT. If you are interested in any of these projects, please contact the supervisors directly. You will need to submit the Gov 92r form (available here) to Karen Kaletka before you can register for the course on my.harvard.

Dr. Jenn Halen 
Data Federalism: How Government Data Collection, Storage, And Usage Produce Hidden Differential Outcomes For Individuals Throughout The US 

This project will examine the ways in which local and state-based data can create or reproduce inequalities between individuals or demographic groups in a way that is obscured within technical and algorithmic systems. There will be an emphasis on data produced and utilized within the legal system. For example, many jurisdictions utilize pretrial risk assessment algorithms or scoring systems to inform pretrial release decisions. Legally, most jurisdictions base release primarily on the assumed or predicted likelihood of two factors: flight risk (i.e., the likelihood of failing to appear in court) and the risk the defendant poses to individuals or the community. Various pretrial risk assessments are more likely to label an individual as “high risk” if they have been accused or convicted of a “violent crime;” however, the definition of a “violent crime” varies considerably between jurisdictions, so much so that some jurisdictions include property damage.  
Proponents of integrating algorithms into public or state decision making often cite the standardization and reproducibility of such tools and their output metrics. Utilizing criminal risk assessment algorithms as one such example, this project seeks to demonstrate how under-studied design choices in the development, implementation, and utilization of such algorithmic tools can lead to drastically different outcomes for the individuals they are used on. People with the same underlying histories can potentially observe drastically different outcomes in different localities. Implications of data storage practices will also be studied with a particular focus on if and how data is truly eliminated during processes like criminal record expungement. Students on this project can expect to engage in the full breadth of the research process: from design to publication and will be able to focus on areas ranging from engagement with relevant literature to data preparation and analysis. 
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills):  Previous or concurrent enrollment in Gov 94HJ (“Technically Justice?”), Gov 94JH (“Cyber Politics”), and/or Gov 94BF (“#AbolishPolice”) is preferred but not required.  
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. Jenn Halen,  

Dr. Jenn Halen 
Solidarity and Silos: Comparing Prison Abolition Movements and Strategies in a Global Context
This project will examine local movements in opposition to the police and/or prison system. We will utilize local media, social media posts, and interviews with local organizers to understand the real-world consequences of the ways anti-carceral movements are framed both by domestic and international media. For instance, framing the police as agents of the current regime (as is often the narrative around Middle Eastern security forces) versus police as autonomous agents (ex. the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad or “SARS”) or semi-autonomous agents or organizations (ex. US police). In particular, this project seeks to examine the following questions: can all of these disparate movements be associated with carceral abolition? When and how are these movements informed by one another? Do conceptual linkages about security/police with a specific regime/government hinder solidarity with other movements?  
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills):  Preferred: previous or concurrent enrollment in Gov 94HJ: #Abolish Police: The Politics of Safety in the Age of Social Media Preferred: Fluency in languages other than English  
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. Jenn Halen,  

Prof. Jennifer Hochschild 
Varieties of Intersectionality: Race, Class, American Cities, and Public Policies 

Why do some policies target narrowly-defined groups (along lines of race, class, gender, and neighborhood) while others affect many sorts of groups, or no groups at all? Why do activist organizations mobilize around some policies in a broad, cohesive way, while mobilization around other policies is fragmented and localized? The project explores how a policy’s structure and history shape which groups are affected, how mobilization occurs, and how electoral incentives promote some policies over others. I focus on four policies, each in a different city: “stop and frisk” policing in New York City, urban development in Atlanta, charter schools in Los Angeles, and pension payments in Chicago. The RA will gather information about activist organizations, political maneuvering and elections, legislative and legal developments, etc. That involves examining local newspapers, transcripts of local meetings, perhaps laws and legal actions, and public opinion surveys. Also, doing literature reviews of scholarly articles. Professor Hochschild will meet with the RA each week to check in and discuss results, and will be available via email. 
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills):  No specific requirements, beyond an interest in the material. Knowledge about how to search for websites, and/or use databases (e.g. Lexis Uni, JSTOR, iPoll…) would be useful but not essential. Ability to use spreadsheets would also be useful. Ability to analyze survey data with R would be exceptional.  
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Prof. Jennifer Hochschild  

Prof. Joshua Kertzer 
Group Decision-Making in the National Security Council 

How do decision-makers make decisions on national security policy? This project seeks to answer this question through a newly collected set of meeting records and briefing materials produced by the US National Security Council during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. 
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): An interest in international relations, and attention to detail - we'll teach you the skills! 
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: 

Prof. Thomas F. Remington 
Wealth Concentration in China in Comparative Perspective 

The annual Hurun lists of the wealthiest individuals in China [] are a widely-used source of data about the dynamics of wealth accumulation in China. Together with other, similar compilations (such as those published by Forbes Magazine, ManagerMagazin in Germany, and Wprost in Poland), they offer a window on the forces contributing to the concentration of top-end wealth, including the effects of macro-economic shocks, political and market factors, globalization and technology. On the basis of analysis of the rich lists, my research addresses the question of the degree to which market forces as opposed to institutional dynamics account for wealth formation at the top. This research is part of an ongoing international collaborative project examining wealth distribution in the United States, Russia, China and other high-inequality countries. The research assistant will compile a dataset of the wealthiest Chinese from the Hurun lists since 2000.  
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills):  The research assistant does not need to know Chinese but does need to able to use Excel and have good basic research skills.  
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Prof. Thomas F. Remington (