Research Projects

  • Tracing the evolution of distant othering and racism (in collaboration with Anderson and Chase-Dunn at IROWS)

This research project is informed by critical race theory which holds that racism, and by extension othering, is embedded within every aspect of American society. We agree with critical race theorists, but elaborate further, that othering in some form or another, has existed since the Stone Age, and evolves with the uneven expansion of social complexity and the emergence of hierarchies. Othering, has always been important for reproducing differences and inequalities within society. We intend to highlight the socially “distant other” to instruct the ways we discern modern racism, and how it has evolved from its past iterations. The argument we hope to convey is that at its core, distant othering involves the fear of a perceived threat to the existing social order and with the emergence of global capitalism, the racialized version of othering is violent, a violence that that becomes particularly intense when rates of profit collapses (i.e. economic crises) and/or when group-status is threatened.

Working papers

We are working towards a journal (working paper) and a book publication.

  • Southern California Community Initiatives for Improved Health (in collaboration with Ivey Lab at UCR’s College of Engineering, Center for Environmental Research and Technology)

This is a multi-UC campus, multidisciplinary research project on air pollution. The project involves measuring the source-specific PM2.5 and PM 10, in internal and external spaces via wearable sensors. As part of this project, we measure and try to understand disparities in exposure in the Inland Empire across varying socioeconomic backgrounds. We hope to create a technological intervention to help improve community quality of life. Dr. Grell-Brisk leads the socio-behavioral investigations and analyses of community responses to the proposed technological interventions.  

Refereed Journal Papers

1) Khanh Do, Haofei Yu, Jasmin Velasquez, Marilyn Grell-Brisk, Heather Smith, Cesunica Ivey. 2020. A data-driven approach for characterizing community scale air pollution exposure disparities in inland Southern California. (

  • Small Island Development and Climate Change

This research project interrogates how global climate change informs small island development strategies. The very problem of global climate change, which forces small islands to reconsider their “development strategies, is directly linked to the configuration of the world’s power structure, which benefits “advanced economies”, and whose very advancement was/is predicated on the exploitation of “peripheral” countries.

The current project’s subject island is Dominica, in the Caribbean. Given that agriculture and fishing sectors make up a significant portion of the Dominica’s balance of payments, Dr. Grell-Brisk has been conducting surveys in multiple fishing villages to determine if and how climate change (in the form of increasing intensity and number of tropical cyclones, changing patterns of ocean currents due to warming, the appearance of pelagic sargassum) have affected the fishing sector in Dominica.

The goal is to examine the current structure of the world-system, the impact of climate change on both the agriculture and fishing sector and link this with another one of my research projects – the commodification of citizenship.

Working papers/Presentations

1) American Sociological Association Annual Meeting Presentation: ASA presentation

2) Invited Talk at Pomona College: Pomona College’s Oldenborg Center

  • Commodified Citizenship

Commodified citizenship – pay x number of dollars and you can have all the rights of citizenship without any of the traditional duties and obligations – has been on the rise in developing countries since the early 1990s. Ostensibly established as a means to help countries in their efforts to diversify their economy, some countries have become fully dependent on the commodified citizenship programs, which have become its primary source of quick liquid revenue. Dr. Grell-Brisk collected administrative data on the commodified citizenship program in Dominica for the period 1990 to 2015. She has published a paper on this portion of the research project.

The Dominica case study affords us the opportunity to view and understand the details of citizenship by investment programs, observe how it emerged within the Dominica context, and understand the implications within the broader global political economy.   Dr. Grell-Brisk has analyzed the data through the transnational capitalist lens. The goal here is to collect data from the islands of St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Grenada for a comparative study.

There are three main areas of study vis-à-vis the commodified citizenship program. The first is with regards to small island development strategies as their vulnerabilities become more unmanageable; the second has to do with transnationalization and the role of commodified citizenship programs in deepening that process; and finally, there are serious questions pertaining to cross-border security that need to be explored. She is exploring funding opportunities for this research project.

Paper: Commodified Citizenship.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa in the World-System

As part of Dr. Grell-Brisk’s doctoral research, she studied Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) position in the global hierarchy of wealth during the period 1965 to 2015 in the context of the rise of China. She found that during the period studied, SSA as a region failed to advance in the world-economic hierarchy. However, individual countries with strong economic ties to China and high amounts of natural resources, made slow but steady progress toward and within the semiperipheral economic zone in the world system.

In extending this research, Dr. Grell-Brisk is examining the trade structure between Sub-Saharan Africa and China. Trade structure can provide substantial and meaningful information on the causes of, or influences on economic growth particularly in cases of natural resource abundance and export concentration. This research will speak to the question of resource curse but also the broader question of exploitative trade practices for which China has been accused in its relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Paper: In Contemporary African Studies