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Summer Institutes Help Build and Push Fields

For nearly a half-century, CASBS summer institutes have advanced knowledge and help propel disciplines and fields forward. Here's an overview.

The Center is widely known as a convergence point, at its best when it advances understandings and new ways of thinking as well as contributes to field building. It does this by facilitating cross disciplinary interactions and collaborations among scholars and researchers working under its umbrella.

The principal pillar that serves as a vehicle for these efforts is widely known. This is, of course, the Center’s residential fellowship program, now in its 70th year. It’s the renowned cornerstone of the CASBS enterprise.

In recent years, CASBS friends and followers also have read a lot about the Center’s own multi-year research programs, to the point that they, too, have been referred to and considered by many as an emergent pillar of strength. Such programs have been embedded in the CASBS landscape since 2013 starting with the incubation of what became known as the Mindset Scholars Network. Each project enjoys a three-to-five-year lifespan at the Center, then sunsets or spins off to a new intellectual home. The idea is that contemporary challenges increasingly require diverse perspectives and tools; the Center assembles cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral teams – drawing from its fellowship alumni and well beyond – to pursue solutions and produce collective knowledge that no one could produce independently.

But perhaps more known in parts of the broader scholarly community, yet underreported by the Center itself, is a third leg of the stool supporting the Center’s aims: its summer institutes. And not just the two institutes in operation today. CASBS has hosted summer institutes that synthesize and advance knowledge as well as help propel disciplines and fields forward for nearly a half-century. Review a birds-eye snapshot of all institutes below.

Though we present the institutes as occurring during two periods over time, there is an enduring continuity across them and their indispensability to the CASBS experience, according to Woody Powell, who has co-directed CASBS summer institutes in both periods (first in 2006 and again since 2016, twice been a CASBS fellow, recently served as CASBS interim director, and currently serves as a CASBS faculty fellow. “The CASBS summer institutes are vital in many respects, perhaps most notably because they have been critical to the building or revitalization of numerous lines of research in the social sciences and the nurturing and development of junior faculty, many of whom have gone on to become leading scholars at the forefront of their respective fields, said Powell.”


After several years without hosting a summer institute, the Center revived the tradition in 2016 with “Organizations and Their Effectiveness,” still going strong today. It is now joined by a second summer institute on diversity. Both are two-week institutes each summer.

2016- Organizations and Their Effectiveness
Directors and affiliations: Robert Gibbons, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Woody Powell, Stanford University

Organizations are all around us: not just firms, plants, and work groups, but also hospitals, schools, and governments. Furthermore, by construing an “organization” as something that can be first organized and then managed, one can also include certain contractual relationships —not only between firms (such as some hand-in-glove supply relationships, joint ventures, and alliances) but also between a government and a firm (such as some regulatory relationships and public-private partnerships). Indeed, noting that the examples above are all opportunities to collaborate, one can move beyond formal organization charts and formal contracts to include communities, networks, and other informal institutions as organizations. 

Thus far, this two-week institute convened at CASBS in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2023, and online during the pandemic, including several in-person and online ‘convocations’ aimed at stimulating cross-cohort interaction and formation of an enduring network. More than 75 junior faculty have participated thus far; eight of them later have become CASBS fellows. The institute has enjoyed support from MIT, the University of Cambridge, the Vice Provost and Dean of Research at Stanford University, the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, the Hoover Institution, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and two members of the CASBS board of directors, John Seely Brown and Paul Ricci. Read an article on how this institute builds on a storied legacy. Go to the institute’s web page

Bonus: Listen to a recent podcast episode featuring Gibbons and Powell in conversation about the institute and how it builds true cross-disciplinary spaces and dialogues. In the process of describing the institute in the episode, Bob and Woody go a long way toward describing the secret sauce of CASBS in general.

2023- Diversity: Why and How Difference Makes a Difference
2024 Directors and affiliations: Mary Murphy, Indiana University; Sylvia Perry, Northwestern University
2023 Directors and affiliations: Mary Murphy, Indiana University; Sylvia Perry, Northwestern University; Jennifer Richeson, Yale University

With support from the Ford, MacArthur, and Spencer Foundations, the institute engages in field building around social scientific investigation of why, how and when difference makes a difference. In doing so, the institute develops an ongoing collaboration and support network of emerging scholars from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education. Read a 2021 article announcing the launch of the institute. Go to the institute’s web page, which includes a call for applications to participate in the 2024 summer institute.


Starting in 1977 with principal support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Center sponsored a series of summer institutes. Most of them convened for a six-week period of intensive study; beginning in 2007 the institutes typically convened for two weeks. During the 1977-2006 period in particular, the institutes provided an opportunity for young scholars, many of them from colleges and universities with lower national or international visibility, to gain exposure to a major international research institution and to benefit from the enduring professional contacts and intensive intellectual feedback the Center made possible. The institutes advanced the scholarly research and careers of participants as well as expanded and diversified the pool of scholars, some of whom returned in future years as CASBS fellows. 

CASBS hosted more than 20 institutes involving some 400 early-career (i.e., six years or fewer since completion of the doctoral degree) scholars. Participants were drawn from at least 16 distinct disciplines and more than 170 institutions of higher learning.

1977 Freedom and Causality 
Directors and affiliations that year: Keith Lehrer, philosophy, University of Arizona; Sydney Shoemaker, philosophy, Cornell University

The first summer institute examined the concepts of freedom and causality in detail and explored the general implications of our conception of nature as a network of causal motives. Sustained attention was given to examining whether explanations of human actions in terms of motives, beliefs, and intentions are causal explanations and to the view that mental states are defined by their causal roles in the production of behavior and other mental states.

1978 Biological Differences and Social Equality 
Directors and affiliations that year: Kurt Schlesinger, psychology, University of Colorado; Robert Simon, philosophy, Hamilton College

The institute examined the extent to which human inequality is a function of biological rather than environmental factors, and how social justice can be provided if biological factors promote significant differences in talent or aptitude among individuals. The institute investigated the relative malleability of biological and environmental determinants of inequality and the degree to which biological-genetic and environmental influences are separable. It went on to explore the policy implications of various theories of the determinants of inequality and to consider whether biological accounts of the origins of inequality cast doubt on principles of individual merit and personal achievement.

1979 The Nature of Morality and Moral Development 
Directors and affiliations that year: Dennis Krebs, psychology, Simon Fraser University; Robert Simon, philosophy, Hamilton College

The institute explored the nature of morality and moral development from the perspectives of various behavioral science disciplines. Special emphasis was given to the place of ethical theory in philosophy and to theories of moral development in psychology, including the relative influence of reward and punishment, modeling and social learning, and cognitive-structural development. Implications of these findings and theories for fields such as education, law, economics, and political science were examined.

1980 Life-Span Human Development 
Directors and affiliations that year: Paul Baltes, psychology, Pennsylvania State University; David Featherman, sociology, University of Wisconsin

The institute explored both continuities and changes in behavior from conception to death in order to broaden scientific perspectives on human development. The principal organizing idea of the institute was that human development continues over the full course of life; is molded by biological, psychological, sociocultural, demographic, and historical influences; and is an individual-level attribute that conditions social organization.

1982 Stigma and Interpersonal Relations 
Directors and affiliations that year: Dale Miller, psychology, Simon Fraser University; Robert Scott, sociology, Princeton University

The 1982 institute sought to broaden the scientific perspective on deviance through examination of interpersonal relations involving stigmatized and non-stigmatized persons. Particular attention was given to the socialization experiences of the stigmatized, and to the interpersonal strategies they commonly employ in brief and in long-term relationships. Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of the stigmatizing process were examined through study of research in laboratories and natural settings. Attention was also given to developing a conceptual framework for analyzing the common and unique properties of forms of physical and social deviance.

1984 Individual Development and Social Change 
Directors and affiliations that year: Richard Lerner, psychology, Pennsylvania State University;  John Meyer, sociology, Stanford University

The institute gave special attention to the historical changes that alter the structure in which individual development takes place and the impact of individual and cohort development on social change. Participants emphasized theoretical issues that have emerged as a consequence of interest in the individual development–social change relation and the methodological problems raised by these theoretical issues and the options available to solve them.

1986 The History of Social–Scientific Inquiry 
Directors and affiliations that year: David Leary, psychology, University of New Hampshire; George Stocking Jr., anthropology, University of Chicago

The institute’s purpose was to examine outstanding examples of recent histories of social science disciplines, to consider more interpretive approaches to the history of the social sciences, and to examine the relationship of the history of the social sciences to social scientific inquiry.

1988 Behavior Change In Mental Health, Behavioral Medicine, and Education 
Directors and affiliations that year: Stewart Agras, psychiatry, Stanford University; Terence Wilson, psychology, Rutgers University

The institute focused on the principles, procedures, and evaluations of behavioral change in three domains: psychological/psychiatric disorders, health and prevention of disease, and education.

1990 Human Development and Psychopathology 
Directors and affiliations that year: P. Herbert Leiderman, psychiatry, Stanford University; Arnold Sameroff, psychology, Brown University

The aim of the institute was to broaden scientific understanding of psychopathology through examining principles of development that explain normal and abnormal behavior from infancy through adolescence. It identified determinants of continuity and discontinuity in behavioral and social development and examined the significance of early caregiver-child interactions for later peer, family, school, and community relationships.

1992 Negotiation and Dispute Resolution 
Directors and affiliations that year: Max Bazerman, management, Northwestern University; Henry Farber, economics, Princeton University; Robert Gibbons, economics, Cornell University; Keith Murnighan, psychology, University of Illinois

The 1992 institute focused on models of negotiation and dispute resolution drawn from economics, psychology and other disciplines. Cognitive and economic models of behavior complement each other in understanding how humans negotiate and resolve disputes, and the institute examined the underlying principles of both types of models in working toward a synthesis.

1994 International Economy and National Politics 
Directors and affiliations that year: Peter Lange, political science, Duke University; Douglas McAdam, sociology, University of Arizona

The participants studied how recent global trends–economic, political, and cultural–affected the structures and processes of political life in the advanced industrial democracies. At the international level, the institute dealt with such issues as European integration, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and increased goods and monetary flows in the international political economy. On the domestic level, it examined and anticipated changes in three realms: industrial relations and national economies; political parties, unions, and other established forms of citizen participation; and emerging social movements.

1995 Linking Research to Educational Policy and Practice 
Directors and affiliations that year: Martin Rein, urban studies and planning, MIT; Carol Weiss, education, Harvard University

The institute drew on experience in the United States and other countries and examined conditions that affect the ways in which social science research has influenced educational policy and practice. Particular attention was given to analyzing constraints on the use of research to effect change within education and to identifying characteristics that encourage and support research contributions to policy.

1996 Research In Urban Education 
Directors and affiliations that year: Frank Furstenberg, sociology, University of Pennsylvania; Herbert Ginsburg, psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University

The primary goal was to help promising young social scientists formulate research projects to discover why too many urban children are not succeeding at school and to find ways to improve their education. The institute focused on studies of critical aspects of school transition, including the links among educational institutions, families, and communities; the relations among curriculum, the psychology and culture of the student, and the world of work; teachers’ understanding and treatment of disadvantaged minorities; and students’ motivation, academic knowledge, and learning potential.

1998 Violence and the Life Course 
Directors and affiliations that year: Kenneth Dodge, psychology, Vanderbilt University; Robert Sampson, sociology, University of Chicago

The participants investigated factors that may influence violence, such as historical and demographic trends; cultural, economic, community, family, peer, and biological factors; law and juvenile justice; life course and developmental approaches; intervention and prevention attempts; policy implications; and methodological advances in the study of violent behavior.

2000 Contentious Politics 
Directors and affiliations that year: Douglas McAdam, sociology, Stanford University; Charles Tilly, social science, Columbia University

A principal aim was to broaden participants’ awareness of the various scholarly literatures relevant to the study of contentious politics from the fields of social movements, revolution, ethnic conflict, nationalism, and democratization, and to compare related topics.

Bonus: Listen to renowned political scientist and two-time CASBS fellow Sid Tarrow talk about the contentious politics research program and his involvement with it in a 2022 episode of the CASBS podcast.

2004 Emotion and Decision 
Directors and affiliations that year: Roy F. Baumeister, psychology, Florida State University; George Loewenstein, economics, Carnegie Mellon University

The most recent summer institute brought together scholars from multiple fields of study to integrate research on the interplay between emotion and decision processes and to examine the effects of emotion on individual and collective life.

2006 Economy and Society: Trajectories of Capitalism 
Directors and affiliations that year: Neil Fligstein, sociology, University of California, Berkeley; Walter W. Powell, education, sociology, organizational behavior, and communications, Stanford University

The British political historian and social critic Eric Hobsbawm wryly commented that capitalism is a moving target. The quest for profit and novelty at the core of the capitalist engine fuels both dynamism and restlessness, but the institutional underpinnings — political, social, and cultural — of the economy generate variety and shape direction. Consequently, we observe considerable diversity in the organization of contemporary economies and polities. The purpose of this workshop was to explore the connections between economy and society, and analyze the myriad ways in which national social, political, and educational institutions contribute to producing distinctive trajectories of capitalist development.

2007 The Vision Thing (part I): Studying Divine Intervention 
Directors and affiliations that year: Gábor Klaniczay, medieval studies, Central European University and Eötvös Loránd University;  William A. Christian, Jr., religion, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and CASBS

Whether we know it or not, our lives are affected by “visions.” Most of the major religions have been founded through them, wars and revolutions have been fought because of them, and visual images, auditory messages, or the sense of invisible presence enriches (and often confuses) the lives of a surprisingly large number of ordinary people. This institute sought to better understand visions, their nature, and their impact on our history.

2009 Race and Inequality in Education: Reframing a Research and Policy Agenda for the 21st Century
Directors and affiliations that year: Prudence Carter, Stanford University; Sean Reardon, Stanford University; Amy Stuart Wells, Teachers College, Columbia University

This one-week institute reconsidered the relationship between high-quality social science research and public debates regarding social policies designed to address ongoing racial inequality in U.S. public schools and society. It posed a central question: “Given the existing disconnect between solid empirical evidence and public discourse on race – esp. the colorblind and post-racial arguments – how might researchers reframe their work and the ‘stories’ they tell to influence a broader, societal understanding of social problems?”

2009 Researching the Built Environment: Spatial Models and Public Practices
Directors and affiliations that year: Delores Hayden, Yale University; Setha Low, CUNY

A second one-week institute in 2009 examined the state of research on the built environment across the humanities and the social sciences. It asked whether we can define this field of research more accurately and fully by linking perspectives across disciplines. It explored a shared vocabulary, shared research methods, and shared audiences, both academic and public. It also discussed how work on the built environment is customarily presented and published in different fields.

2009 Computational Journalism
Directors and affiliations that year: James T. Hamilton, Duke University; Fred Turner, Stanford University

Developing the field of computational journalism involves research questions that span disciplines, including defining the media’s watchdog function by examining the classes of problems covered in watchdog reporting and determining the indicators of violations/problems that trigger scrutiny by reporters. This third one-week institute assessed problems with the types of data available on government operation focused attention on data volume, heterogeneity, quality, and provenance. Creating the technologies and algorithms to “report” on local communities entailed confronting many questions: What types of programs can be utilized to recognize social problems (e.g., crime clusters), show the effort devoted by social actors (e.g., patrols by police, crime stories written/not written by local media), describe effects of events (e.g., impact of crime on public health, neighborhood development), visualize trends across time and space (e.g., place crime in context, point to possible cause and effect), and automate reporting (e.g., for area around a given address, automate assessment and develop a narrative about crime and context)?

2010 Tracking, Transcribing, and Tagging Government: Building Digital Records for Computational Social Science
Directors and affiliations that year: James T. Hamilton, Duke University; Frank Baumgartner, University of North Carolina

This one-week institute distinguished itself in three ways. First, it focused research attention on data describing government activity (at all levels – global, federal, state, local) in all parts of the policymaking process (e.g., decision making and implementation by all branches of government, input from citizens, coverage by media). Second, the research presented addressed the challenges of turning unstructured data in multiple formats into large structured data sets suitable for analysis such as text mining and network analysis. Third, the workshop brought together researchers from both computer science and the social sciences to talk about the creation of digital records for computational social science.

2010 The Vision Thing (part II): An Argument for the Importance of Studying Visions and Dreams
Directors and affiliations that year: Gábor Klaniczay, medieval studies, Central European University and Eötvös Loránd University; William A. Christian, Jr., religion, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

The life of almost everyone has been affected by visions. Religions have been founded on them. Wars and revolutions have been fought because of them. And individuals interpret them in countless ways. An interdisciplinary team of international scholars and scientists converged at the Center for one week with a shared value for the insights that result from a comprehensive and interdisciplinary look at scholarship regarding a phenomenon that affects so many people throughout the world, across so many cultures, and across time.

2011 Cognitive Science/Neuroscience and the Humanities
Directors and affiliations that year: Stephen Kosslyn, CASBS, Stanford University; Ann Harrington, Harvard University; John Onians, University of East Anglia

This two-week institute identified eight main areas within cognitive science and neuroscience as foci for eight distinct kinds of cross-disciplinary exploration and debate: Motivation (where we will concentrate on the potential of the science for conceiving new kinds of history-writing); memory (and how the science relates, or fails to relate, to the interdisciplinary humanistic field

called memory studies); mental imagery (and what the science can offer the study of visual culture, with a special emphasis on science studies); concepts (and the relevance of the science to new directions in embodied philosophy); perception (and how the science has helped to create new hybrid fields such as neuro-art history and neuro-aesthetics); narrative (and the potential of the science to inspire new directions in literary studies); morality (and the relationship of the science to ethics, including so-called neuro-ethics); and emotion (and the potential of the science to forge new directions in religious studies).