Birkelund Funds provide seed funding for innovative research projects and support student engagement

This year six Watson research proposals were awarded a total of $121,486 in Birkelund Funds. The funds are used to support faculty research — especially in the early stages — and to encourage student engagement in research.

The Birkelund Fund for Watson Institute Faculty Research on Development, Governance and Security contributes to the Watson Institute's objective of supporting faculty research, especially innovative, early-stage research. This year the Birkelund Fund awarded grants to six research proposals. These seed fund grants are awarded to research proposals in their early stages that can eventually be eligible for external funding.

Faculty seeking a Birkelund Fund grant are invited to include collaborators from across Brown or beyond, provided at least one principal investigator is a Watson faculty member. 

The following are the six research proposals awarded funding this cycle:

Developing international research collaborations on governance and the environment

Nitsan Chorev, Patrick Heller, J. Timmons Roberts

The grant will seed a multi-partner effort to develop new knowledge and research on governance and the environment. As a first step in this process, investigators propose to hold a one-week workshop on "Governance and the Environment" at the Núcleo Altos Estudos Amazônicos (NAEA) at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) in Belem, Brazil, in 2024. The workshop has three goals. The first is to provide an opportunity for faculty and graduate students to share relevant research. The second is to discuss and elaborate research collaborations between NAEA and Brown faculty and graduate students. The third is to discuss NAEA's participation in developing and searching for funding opportunities for the Joint Program in Development and Sustainability (JPDS).  

The prison bust? Responsible prison closures & harm reduction in rural communities 

John Eason

The grant will seed funds to broadly examine the causes and consequences of prison closures across the political economy of U.S. Census places, counties and states to offer much-needed policy solutions to curb demand for prisons in rural communities. This project builds on and extends the Watson Institute's core research areas of development and governance through a collaborative effort with a local city administration and community. Researchers will create policies and build linkages with the state of California to spur local development in a rural community that is suffering historical underdevelopment. 

Black geographies/public policies: Thinking with Quilombola communities

Geri Augusto, Wellington Castellucci Jr. 

The researchers will explore different intellectual resources and references, interrogate received ideas about development, and increase awareness of the challenges faced by marginalized and exploited communities and groups in the Global South, from their own points of view, or as Afro-Brazilian feminists say, their "lugar de fala" (the place from which they speak). It will contribute towards making development studies a more truly globalized field, by critically interrogating and giving more inclusive meaning to key concepts for future course development such as global citizenship and security. 

The form in which the project's study and dialogue will unfold will demonstrate a different model for more equitable research and community engagement involving undergraduates. The project will also yield ideas for the creation of new course materials, doing so with respect not just to development studies but also to human rights, climate change, territorial governance, inclusion, food security, and racial and gender equality. 

The role of civilian-military coordination during national responses to pandemics

Dr. Adam C. Levine, David Polatty, Jonathan Collins, Alexandria Nylen

This research effort will deepen and expand the understanding of the role civilian-military coordination plays during national responses to pandemics. It will aid in the development of evidence-based research to address key capacity gaps in the public health and education sectors during large-scale pandemic responses. 

This study will yield at least one academic manuscript, and the research will be presented at a symposium attached to the Civilian-Military Humanitarian Coordination Workshop held annually at Brown's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Explaining and preventing violence against environmental activists in the Amazon 

Robert Blair, Mariana Carvalho

Violence against land and environmental activists has increased dramatically in recent years, with countries in Latin America registering by far the highest number of deaths. According to a recent report by Global Witness, at least 1,247 land and environmental defenders have been killed in the region since 2012. 

This project will allow the researchers to generate a deeper understanding of environmental conflict by mapping violent events related to climate and natural resources in the Amazon. Researchers will build and analyze a quantitative dataset of killings of environmental activists (including, e.g., indigenous leaders and community representatives involved in environmental protection initiatives) in the Amazon over the past twenty years. Additionally, the researchers will partner with local NGOs to conduct a survey of communities exposed to violence to capture threats, intimidation, and other forms of coercion against environmental defenders that are difficult to detect through existing media and NGO-based data sources.  

For Love or Money? Dating Income Among Undergraduates 

Bryce Millett Steinberg

Monetary transfers between intimate partners have been documented across the developing world. In many settings, these transfers represent a large source of income for women. Among undergraduates at the University of Zambia, the setting for this study, nearly  80% of the women who'd had sex in the previous two weeks had received cash or in-kind gifts from their partners and 37% had received large cash transfers (more than $50). Social scientists do not seem to agree on the nature of the transfers; are they labor income, or a step in relationship building (tokens of affection or resource sharing)?  

The goal of this research is to directly measure whether cash grants can crowd out income from sexual partners, and whether this results in a reduction in risky sex. If sexual activity and transfers from partners are significantly reduced, then dating income should potentially be thought of as a form of labor income, and alternative means of getting money for educational expenses or other necessities may help not only to increase financial security for students but also to curb unwanted pregnancies and STIs.