Research Projects

Marilyn Grell-Brisk holds a PhD. in sociology from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pomona College and an Assistant Research Scientist at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) in the Air Quality Measuring and Exposure Lab. Previously at UC Riverside, Grell-Brisk was a research associate at the Institute of Research on World-Systems.

She is trained in macro-comparative quantitative research methods and utilizes case studies and other qualitative research tools to draw out the complex connections that exist within the modern capitalist interstate system. In general, Grell-Brisk is interested in structural inequality broadly, focusing on development, climate change, air pollution exposure disparities, as well as how the exploitative economic systems informs racism and othering.

  • The Evolution of Distant Othering and Racism (in collaboration with Anderson and Chase-Dunn at IROWS)

Critical race theory hold one tenet to be true: that racism, and by extension othering, is embedded within American society. We agree, but elaborate further, that othering in some form or another, has existed since the Stone Age. Othering is based on the socially constructed boundaries between the individual self and others as well as between groups – “us” and “them” or in-groups and out-groups. We argue that all human societies have organized identities around othering which includes different forms of stereotyping. And othering, has always been important for reproducing differences and inequalities within society. Still, “the other” evolves along, with the uneven expansion of social complexity and the emergence of hierarchies. In this project, we examine the social evolution of the self, the other, and the forms taken in distinguishing between in-groups and out-groups with a focus on how racism, as a form of othering, has changed over the course of human sociocultural evolution from Stone Age nomadic foraging groups, to the contemporary global system.  We highlight the socially “distant other” to instruct the ways we discern modern racism, (particularly American racist ideology and its violent forms) and how it has evolved from its past iterations.

  • Southern California Community Initiatives for Improved Health (in collaboration with Ivey Lab at UCR’s CE-CERT)

This is a multi-UC campus, multidisciplinary research project on air pollution. The project involves measuring the source-specific PM2.5 in internal and external spaces via wearable sensors. The eventual goal is to create some form of technological intervention in collaboration with the community, to help improve quality of life. Dr. Grell-Brisk leads the socio-behavioral investigations and analyses of community responses to the proposed technological interventions.  

  • 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.

Dr. Grell-Brisk has presented on this topic at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting on this topic. (pdf of ASA presentation and pdf of similar invited talk at 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. Part of this project has been published.

  • 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. Part of this project has been published in Contemporary African Studies in 2019.

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.