The Watson Institute’s BIARI Tackles Global Issues Head On

May 26, 2016

This June, the Watson Institute will be buzzing “with people speaking English in 150 different accents from around the world, arriving from anywhere; they may be jetlagged, but they will be incredibly excited to be here and ‘raring to go,’” said Matthew Gutmann, faculty fellow, Watson Institute; director, Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI); and professor of anthropology.

Accepting 150 young scholars from some 60 countries – chosen from more than 1,000 applicants representing nearly 100 countries – BIARI 2016 will host four institutes: Humanitarian Response and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Increasing Effectiveness and Accountability in the Age of Complex Emergencies; Ethnic Conflict and Inequality in Global Perspective; Governance and Development in the Age of Globalization; and, new this year, Climate Change and Its Impacts: 2016.

During this “intensive two-week period of debating, discussing, lecturing, reading, and presenting” issues of concern, participants build collaborations and connections with one another and with BIARI faculty, says Patrick Heller, director of the Graduate Program in Development, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Science, and professor of sociology and international and public affairs.

According to Gutmann, “People don’t come to be talked at,” but rather to actively contribute to BIARI discussions and debates; later, BIARI encourages alumni to collaborate on comparative research initiatives, conferences, and publications.

Who’s chosen for this unique opportunity? The ideal candidate, Gutmann says, is someone who earned a doctorate within the past five to seven years, and is established as a rising star in his or her field of research. “The idea is to get emerging leaders from every possible country together so that they can begin to develop networks to address problems that must be solved globally. You can’t solve climate change country by country.”  

“There’s nothing more tangible than new research,” says Heller, who relished getting a “crash course” from some of the world’s best young researchers studying development and governance in Mexico City, Lima, and Bogota. During an April 25 workshop in Mexico City, Mexico, those young Latin American scholars, BIARI graduates all, presented their original research. Held at Mexico’s leading social science university, El Colegio de México, the workshop was a “taking stock” exercise; Heller anticipates they will publish a scholarly article and, perhaps, a book about their research. Through BIARI, these scholars met one another and Heller, learned about their colleagues’ work, and received grant funding to conduct their field study. In addition to reviewing their reports, offering feedback on their findings, and learning about their future research goals – in a full day of work on April 24 – Heller commented publicly on their workshop presentation and spoke about his own research, which compares governance issues for mega-cities in India, Brazil, and South Africa. “This is unique,” says Heller. “I can read their work, but it’s very different to actually spend time with them, engage with them, discuss their research, and learn from them.”

“The idea is to get emerging leaders from every possible country together so that they can begin to develop networks to address problems that must be solved globally. You can’t solve climate change country by country.”  

By coming together, exchanging their views, and doing field research together in each of the three field sites, these young scholars symbolize Watson’s competitive advantage. The comparative study of governance and development at different levels – global, national and local – is what scholars at Watson do exceptionally well, says Heller. “We want these young scholars to take advantage of this unique set of scholars and research that we have to offer [and] … to play a role in supporting and connecting global scholarship.” BIARI distinguishes itself from many schools of thought on social science research by emphasizing the value of thinking through empirical phenomenon from a comparative perspective.

Now in its eighth year, the program established and met three new goals for 2016: taking BIARI off campus; increasing the number of applications from Brazil, China, and Mexico, countries especially significant to the program; and raising BIARI’s public profile. In January 2016, Madrid was the site of a one-week BIARI program on “Global Health Politics;” plans are under way for an “International Migration” program in Mexico City in January 2017, which will be conducted in only Spanish and Portuguese. From 2015 to 2016, applications increased from 14 to 74 from Brazil, 26 to 55 from Mexico, and 35 to 44 from China. Although an enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendation is the most common method by which scholars discover BIARI, the program also produced a new video, and is revamping its website and engaging other communication tools, according to Gutmann. Brown University and Santander Universities fund the entire program, including participants’ expenses and research grants.

In the meantime, BIARI continues to meet its longstanding goals and objectives, as Heller describes them: advancing scholarship and research, developing international connections, and serving as a meaningful platform for young scholars to study and debate the latest research and methods in the social sciences, especially in the four substantive areas where the Watson Institute offers institutes. “For any research institution like Watson… new research is the ultimate goal… [I]f we motivate new research, we’re doing what we set out to do.”

BIARI 2016 will be held June 4 – 18. For more information, contact or visit

--Nancy Kirsch