Current Research Projects

Marilyn Grell-Brisk is a recent Ph.D. graduate in sociology from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. She is 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. Her doctoral project focused on global economic stratification as it relates to the rise of China and its impact on various regions in the global South. 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 the transformation and development of middle-to-low income countries in the world-economy as well as the implications of global climate change and pollution in urban cities. She is involved in four major research projects:

  1. Southern California Community Initiatives for Improved Health

This is a multi-UC campus, multidisciplinary research project on air pollution. We investigate source-specific contributions to atmospheric particulate matter that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), and the implications, including potential interventions, for communities in the Inland Empire. There are several important elements to this project, which build upon each other. 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 to help improve community quality of life; therefore, we solicit contributions directly from members of the community via survey.

The survey responses will help to inform the design strategy and guide additional research for an NSF Smart and Connected Communities grant proposal for which we plan to apply (due September 2019). It will also help us “synergistically integrate intelligent technologies with the natural and built environments, including infrastructure, to improve the social, economic, and environmental well-being of those who live, work, or travel within it.”  We have already designed the survey to solicit input from the residents of San Bernardino, Rialto, and Fontana. Currently, we are awaiting IRB approval for the survey.

Dr. Grell-Brisk has assisted in the survey design with UCR’s Center for Healthy Communities. She will also lead the socio-behavioral investigations and analyses of community responses to the proposed technological interventions.  The social science dimensions of the project include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) innovations in community behavioral or social change experiments facilitated by intelligent technologies; (2) studies of learning or collaboration processes within and across communities; (3) data describing long-term responses of communities to disasters or other existing or predicted adversities; (4) improved empirical methods for measuring and predicting community challenges and opportunities; (5) innovations in the evaluation of community interventions; and (6) evidence of institutional and social responses to technological change within communities.

  1. Small Island Development and Climate Change

This research project interrogates how global climate change informs small island development strategies. It focuses on Small Island Developing States’ (SIDS) vulnerability to global climate change, from both a developmental and ecological perspective. The Commonwealth of Dominica, a former British colony, is a SID in the Caribbean region, and an upper middle-income country according to the World Bank. Its island status makes it vulnerable to the effects of global climate change – rising sea levels, changing sea currents as a result of increased warming of the oceans, increasing intensity of storms, increasing/decreasing rainfall etc. – and an excellent case study.

Questions at the center of the project include: what types of development strategies are currently available to a SIDS like Dominica in today’s global economy? How does global climate change affect and influence these strategies and the overall political economy of the country? What is the role of global governance with regards to the impact of climate change on SIDS like Dominica? 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 also look at the agriculture sector and to tie both the impacts on the fishing sector and agricultural sector with another one of my research projects – the commodification of citizenship. An associated paper on this project was presented in a regular session at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting August 2019.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.