Fellows Enrich Life at the Wilson Center

Jun 11, 2003

They come from around the world. They represent a variety of disciplines, topics, and viewpoints. They include professors, ambassadors, and journalists. They are the Woodrow Wilson Center's fellows and their work is vital to the Center's mission.

These talented men and women spend an academic year in residence at the Center, researching, writing, attending and speaking at seminars, all the while interacting with each other, Center staff, and the Washington policy community. The Center provides the opportunity for fellows to carry out independent research in a nonpartisan environment.

Each year, the fellows, who can be academics or practitioners from government or the private sector, are chosen through an annual international competition. Applicants from around the world submit detailed project proposals, which go through a multi-stage peer review process. The Fellowships Committee of the Center's Board of Trustees then makes the final selection in the spring and a new class of fellows arrives in the fall. The selection process is competitive, for only about 20 are selected from hundreds of applicants.

The fellows can engage in projects on a broad range of topics from the social sciences and humanities on a host of national or international issues, but the Center requires that their research have policy relevance. Generally, fellows' research falls under one of the Wilson Center's broad themes: governance; the U.S. role in the world; future domestic and international challenges; and, the historical context of public policy issues.

The 2002-2003 Fellowship Class, who have just completed their academic-year residency, consisted of 22 fellows— 13 men and 9 women—who were scholars and practitioners from Argentina, Canada, China, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Peru, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States.

Topics pursued by this class of fellows included: party politics in Russia; legal reform in Russian enterprises; youth education in war-torn Israel; mediation in Yugoslavia's ethnic conflicts; international human rights; democratic prospects in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia; the costs of corruption in Peru; women's reproductive rights in U.S. prisons; the challenges of the Communist Party in China today, and others.

Race, Gender, Identity
Fellow Peniel Joseph's forthcoming book, Waiting Till the Midnight Hour: The Black Power Movement, 1955-1975," is a narrative history of the Black Power Movement. Joseph, an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island, wants to portray the story behind why so much unrest existed in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s and delve into the connection among civil rights, Black Power, and social, political, and cultural transformations. The book will examine the contradictions, implications, and successes of the movement.

"I want people to realize that the movement was not just violence," said Joseph. "It is a hopeful history. [African Americans] presented the nation with the theoretical and political tools to try to transform American democracy."

Fellow Mary Osirim spent the year writing about the lives of enterprising women in Africa. Over the past decade, Osirim had conducted a series of interviews with women in Zimbabwe who work in the micro-enterprise sector-as seamstresses and crocheters, hairdressers, and market traders. Osirim, along with research assistants from Bryn Mawr College-where she teaches sociology-and the University of Zimbabwe, interviewed 157 women in this sector.

"Many social scientists thought that, as a nation develops, the informal sector would contract," said Osirim. "But, in Zimbabwe, as well as in many other nations of the global south, the contrary is happening." Women comprise 65 percent of the micro-enterprise sector in Zimbabwe, which Osirim defines as having a maximum of five employees per business.

Particularly impressive, she explained, is the level of innovation among these women who have had to diversify their products to help cope with the bleak economy. "This is quite significant given the difficult conditions under which they perform their duties," she said.

Following the economic crisis at the end of 1990, these women have had to discover new ways to attract customers and increase sales. Crocheters have sought appeal among tourists, fostering substantial cross-border trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa for their handmade goods. Some women are making and selling art such as Shona carvings-traditionally made by men-and batiks, tie-dyed fabrics often containing Zimbabwean symbols.

"These women are committed to long-term growth, beyond just survival," Osirim said. "But, mostly, they are committed to advancing the lives of their children. In this book, I hope to give voice to the experiences of marginalized women."

Fellow Julia Szalai came to the Center from Hungary to work on a comparative, interdisciplinary study on race discrimination. Her project compares the race struggles of Central Europe's Gypsies with the Black civil rights movement in America. She said that, in America, the Black movement in the 1960s shaped the welfare reforms of the 1970s and 1980s, leading her to conclude that conflicts of race are ingrained in societal structure, and not simply solved by local-level educational and employment interventions. Rather, the struggle for equality impacted the nature of social welfare reform.

Szalai said, "It is not simply a problem of discrimination or of social inequality, but a deep structural problem that cannot be solved just by welfare." The solution, she said, lies in addressing the structure of race relations.

In Hungary, she said, the Gypsy population remains in a lengthy battle for recognition, amidst severe poverty and societal rejection on ethnic grounds. To address their needs and re-establish social cohesion, Szalai advocates an "identity-sensitive" welfare policy that includes engaging the Gypsies in the policymaking debate and decision-making process. Such a policy would include well-defined social rights, including universal welfare and other protections.

A Conducive Environment
Ariel Armony came to the Wilson Center to work on his proposed project on the link between civil society and democracy in Germany, the United States, and Argentina. But Armony, an assistant professor of government at Colby College, found more than he ever expected.

"The Wilson Center offers the possibility to engage in a daily exchange of ideas with people who are working in other disciplines and on other regions-anthropologists, regional specialists, historians," said Armony. "They've helped shape my ideas and research."

Armony said he immediately found common ground with scholars in other disciplines, many of whom also were working on problems of democracy. He and his newfound colleagues soon formed a working group on democracy at the Center to discuss and circulate their research. Armony said he finished his book and, after collaborating and debating with others at the Center, already has ideas for the next one.

"You gain a lot by interacting with others here," he said. "I found myself in debates at conferences, in an office, even in the hallway." In addition, Armony had the opportunity to be interviewed by the Center's dialogue program on both radio and television. He also discovered a wealth of knowledge by interacting with the Center's Latin American Program.

Each fellow at the Center is affiliated with one of the Center's regional or topic-based programs and projects. In addition, fellows are encouraged to participate in a Work-in-Progress session-an informal, in-house presentation based on their research-in addition to other public presentations of their work.

Connecting History and Policy
Fellow Carolyn Boyd, a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, came to the Center to explore the role of memory politics in shaping national identity. Her project, on the politics of commemoration in Spain between 1820 and 1930, examines the efforts of competing groups to create a collective "national" memory in a badly divided society. Boyd contends that understanding the cultural politics of nationalism in this turbulent period of Spanish history will provide insight into the nationalist conflicts that today are destabilizing Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

Boyd also is studying memory politics during Spain's transition to democracy after the death of General Franco in 1975. The Spanish case provides one possible model for other societies now trying to come to terms with a difficult past.

"Spain was among the first countries to undergo the transition to democracy in the late 20th century, and achieved it without much upheaval," said Boyd. "Agreeing to forget the violent past was an essential part of its success. For Spaniards, setting the past aside to look toward the future reassured them that their national identity is compatible with modern, liberal democracy-with Europe." The task now is to recover a usable past-one supportive of the new democratic and pluralistic Spain.

Boyd added, about her time at the Wilson Center, "For someone who teaches, the opportunity to only think about your research for nine months is an incredible luxury."

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