Past Research Projects

Arts, Culture, and Quality of Life in Global Cities

Urban spaces have become a crucible for the transformations of the global era. The Committee on Global Thought’s research on cities focused on identifying these new formations, describing their impact on the global and local scale, and developing innovative strategies for improving urban life.

On Oct. 12, 2015, the Committee on Global Thought and Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul convened the fourth in a series of roundtable discussions supported by the Ford Foundation to reflect on the contribution of arts and culture to individual and community life in global cities. Led by Vishakha N. Desai, the project centered on measuring and augmenting the impact of arts, culture and quality of urban life. A growing consensus among civic leaders suggests that the presence of cultural institutions and networks is vital to the health of any global city, old or new. It is less apparent how to build and sustain robust cultural infrastructure. Istanbul offered another important vantage point, after workshops in New York, Rio, and New Delhi, to assess key issues affecting the ways in which the arts relate to the vitality of cities.

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From Local to Scale: Analytical and practical challenges of scalability

Can local solutions be scaled up to the national, regional or even global level? How do firms manage the transition from small enterprise to large, publicly traded corporations? How is the process of globalization affecting the scale and scope of the nation state?

Wind farm with shadowLed by former CGT member Katharina Pistor, this research project addressed the need for understanding complex processes of social change, which conventional social sciences are ill equipped to conceptualize. The methodology that today defines these disciplines assumes, mostly without problematizing it, that social phenomena can be adequately captured by simple relations between independent and dependent variables provided we can identify the right control variables. It is often conceded that causal inferences are difficult, but this proves the point: The whole exercise is about identifying causal relations and statistical tools have grown ever more sophisticated in accomplishing this task. And once a causal relation and the relevant mechanisms have been identified, scalability is assumed, not explained.

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Global Science

Led by Deborah Coen, Global Science takes a critical and analytical perspective on these claims, situating them in relation to the history of scientific internationalism that stretches back to the confident universalism of the eighteenth-century philosophes. In the years surrounding the First and Second World Wars, numerous projects were launched to foster scientific collaboration across national borders. Each had its own ethical justifications, its own visions of world order, its own conceptions of the epistemic basis of universal knowledge, and its own blind spots when it came to the practical and ideological obstacles to collaboration. Global Science asks, how is the scientific internationalism of today related to the various universalist ideologies of the past? Are we really living in a new era of global science? If so, what exactly is new? How did we get to this point and where do we go from here?

Organizing Science for Humanity workshop

 The project began by investigating the phenomenon of “science diplomacy,” a keyword under the Obama administration. The Center for Science Diplomacy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was founded in 2008 with the mission of “using science to  build bridges between countries and to promote scientific cooperation as an essential element of foreign policy.” In this way, scientists are designated as supra-political actors who stand above the interests of their home nations. Yet “science diplomacy” is nothing new, as was made clear at our initial CGT workshop in Feb. 2016, “Organizing Science for Humanity, from the World Brain to the World Bank.”

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Sustainable Investment: Sovereign wealth funds and long-term investment

Fostering a sustainable capitalism through the creation of investment strategies and institutions that promote financial stability, environmental sustainability, and equitable development in partnership with long-term investors and sovereign wealth funds.

Stock market with shadowThis signature research project, led by Patrick Bolton, Jan Svejnar, and CGT Member Joseph E. Stiglitz aimed to bridge information gaps between academic research and sovereign wealth fund managers about long-term investing in short-term oriented markets. Its objective was to foster sustainable capitalism through the creation of investment strategies and institutions that promote financial stability, environmental sustainability, and equitable development in partnership with long-term investors and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).

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Urbanizing Technology: The Mobility Complex

Led by Professor Saskia Sassen, this signature research project explored the challenges of urbanizing technology and the implications of technological obsolescence for “intelligent cities.” It envisioned a trans-disciplinary urbanism that can advance the making of cities by discovering new urban capabilities, and more fully understanding the construction of presence and publicness.

Since 2009, several annual conferences held under the auspices of the project have interrogated contemporary urbanism from not just multiple, but also multidimensional perspectives. Co-organized by the Committee on Global Thought and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, these conferences and workshops brought together sociologists, theorists, historians, urbanists, visual artists, choreographers, architects, activists, environmentalists, public health experts, journalists and others. Past events have focused on presence and absence in urban spaces, super-cities and Chinese urbanism, ecological crises, and new forms of war.

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