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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded prestigious Advanced Grants to UvA professors Hal Caswell and Dennis Rodgers. The grants, totalling 1.2 million euros and 2.5 million euros respectively, are awarded on the basis of a researcher’s academic excellence and research proposal. Dynamism is a central theme in both projects. Caswell, a biologist and demographer, will investigate kin dynamics while Rodgers, a social anthropologist, will explore gang dynamics

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Prof Hall Caswell, professor Mathematical Demography and Ecology
Hal Caswell (credits: Jeroen Oerlemans)

Demography of kinship and family

Hal Caswell’s project is entitled ‘The Formal Demography of Kinship and Family’.

Every individual is connected to a network of kin — her/his family in the broad sense of that term — that develops and changes as the individual ages. Family networks affect demographic, economic, and health-related aspects of life and society. Despite their undeniable importance, remarkably little formal theory exists to show how kin dynamics are determined by mortality, fertility, and other variables.

As part of his project, Caswell, who is professor of Mathematical Demography and Ecology, will develop a new and comprehensive mathematical model for kinship that will be applicable to any kind of kin in any population. The model will yield new insights at the individual, cohort and population levels. The mathematical methods will be based on an innovative development of coupled systems of subsidised matrix population models and their stochastic counterparts, on variance partitioning within and between ages, and on stochastic models with rewards. Caswell’s matrix methods will for the first time provide results vastly exceeding any procedures now in use and will be readily implemented in matrix- oriented statistical software.

This is the second time Caswell has received an Advanced Grant. Five years ago, the ERC awarded him a grant for his project ‘Individual Stochasticity and Population Heterogeneity in Plant and Animal Demography’. This project was recently completed.

Prof Dennis Rodgers, Professor International Development
Dennis Rodgers (credits: Dirk Gillissen)

A global ethnography of gangs

Dennis Rodgers’ project is entitled ‘Gangs, Gangsters, and Ganglands: Towards a Global Comparative Ethnography’.

Gangs occupy a key position in the global imaginary of violence, widely perceived and represented as primary sources of brutality and insecurity. This can be related to the fact that they are one of a small number of truly global phenomena, found in almost every society across both time and space. At the same time, however, as almost 100 years of gang research have highlighted, the phenomenon can vary significantly in form, dynamics, and consequences. While there have been many insightful studies of gangs, the overwhelming majority have focused on a single group or location, and we still lack a proper sense of what kinds of gang dynamics might be general, and which ones are specific to particular times and places.

For his project, Rodgers, who is professor of International Development Studies, will carry out a systematic comparative investigation of global gang dynamics in order to better understand why gangs emerge, how they evolve over time, whether they are associated with particular urban configurations, how and why individuals join gangs, and what impact this has on their potential futures. The project will draw on original ethnographic research carried out in multiple locations, adopting an explicitly tripartite focus on ‘Gangs’, ‘Gangsters’, and ‘Ganglands’ so as to better explore the interplay between group, individual, and contextual factors. Rodgers’ research will combine innovative collaborative ethnography in Nicaragua, South Africa, and France, a ground-breaking comparison of 35 individual gang member life histories from across Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and unique joint ethnographic investigations into the political economy of three gang-affected cities in Nicaragua, France, and India.