When doing research Daniel T. Lichter, the new Robert S. Harrison Director of the Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS), follows where the data lead. But it’s the stories and drama behind the data that motivate him, especially on such topics as poverty and inequality, racial integration, teen childbearing and rural ghettoes.
For example, he’s “very much interested in the way we become integrated or fragmented as a society. Part of America’s dynamism is a function of racial diversity and new immigrants in American society that you do not see in other developed societies,” he said.
The Ferris Family Professor in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Policy Analysis and Management and professor of sociology, Lichter succeeds Kim Weeden, ISS director since 2013.
“Dan’s leadership experience as the director of the Cornell Population Center for many years and his wide-ranging interests and research activities have yielded him tremendous insight into several quite different social science units in three colleges at Cornell,” said Robert A. Buhrman, Cornell senior vice provost for research. “I am very grateful that Dan has agreed to commit his leadership talent to advance the mission of the Institute for the Social Sciences, to stimulate collaborations across the campus and to support current-edge research on leading-edge social science topics.”
Lichter plans to work with senior leadership at Cornell and build bridges across the university. He sees it as his role to identify resources available to Cornell’s social scientists and promote their work. He also wants to expand collaborative interdisciplinary efforts, linking Cornell’s social scientists with faculty members in the physical and biological sciences.
“Social scientists used to focus almost exclusively on surveys and ethnographies, but it’s a whole new world now,” he said. In his view, these are still important tools, but Lichter intends to create new synergies by melding social scientists with those working in big data and computation resources.
“Some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, food production and distribution, and public transportation, have large behavioral or social science components,” he said.
Lichter’s recent finding that racial and ethnic segregation is becoming more pronounced in many American cities was published in the August issue of American Sociological Review and was the subject of a July article in The Atlantic. He also has published widely on topics in population and public policy, including studies of poverty, inequality, intermarriage and immigrant incorporation. He is especially interested in America’s racial and ethnic transformation.
A member of the faculty since 2005, Lichter has directed the Cornell Population Center since 2011, and he served on the ISS’s Persistent Poverty and Upward Mobility team in 2008-11. He is a past president of the Population Association of America and the Rural Sociological Society.
The ISS, created by Cornell in 2004 to foster interdisciplinary research in the social sciences through theme projects, moved to the seventh floor of Rhodes Hall this summer.
Three ISS theme projects are underway. The Causes, Consequences and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States, led by Peter Enns, associate professor of government, and Assessing the Consequences of Temporary Deportation Relief, led by Shannon Gleeson, associate professor of labor relations, law and history, and Matthew Hall, assistant professor in policy analysis and management, are just getting off the ground and will run for two years. The third theme project, already in progress, Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is led by Diane Burton, associate professor of human resource studies.
Lori Sonken is the staff writer for the Institute for the Social Sciences.