Produced by the University of California, Berkeley's Social Science Matrix, the Matrix Podcast features interviews with scholars from across the UC Berkeley campus. The Matrix Podcast is hosted by Professor Michael Watts, Emeritus "Class of 1963" Professor of Geography and Development Studies at UC Berkeley.

Dacher Keltner

In this episode, Michael Watts talks with Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, Director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, and Faculty Director of the Greater Good Science Center.

Dacher’s research focuses the biological and evolutionary origins of emotion, in particular prosocial states such as compassion, awe, love, and beauty, and power, social class, and inequality. He is the co-author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness, and The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence. Dacher has published over 200 scientific articles, written for many media outlets, and consulted for the Center for Constitutional Rights (to help end solitary confinement), Google, Facebook, the Sierra Club, and for Pixar’s Inside Out.

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Desiree Fields

In this episode, Michael Watts talks with Desiree Fields, Assistant Professor of Geography and Global Metropolitan Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fields' research explores the financial technologies, market devices, and historical and geographic contingencies that make it possible to treat housing as a financial asset, and how this process is contested at the urban scale. At the heart of her work is an interest in how economic and transformations unevenly restructure urban space and social relations, with a particular concern for how urban struggles for justice coalesce around these changes. Within this broadly defined area, she examines two transformations as they relate to housing, a crucial vector of urban inequality and terrain of grassroots political contestation. First, the shift to a finance-oriented political economy; second, the growing global reach and power of digital platforms.

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Mariane Ferme

In this episode, Michael Watts talks with Mariane C. Ferme, Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley and the author of Out of War: Violence, Trauma, and the Political Imagination in Sierra Leone and The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone.

Ferme is a sociocultural anthropologist whose current research focuses on the political imagination, violence and conflict, and access to justice in West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone. Her research encompasses gendered approaches to everyday practices and materiality in agrarian West African societies, and work on the political imagination in times of violence, particularly in relation to the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. Her most recent fieldwork in Sierra Leone—carried out in 2015-16—was an interdisciplinary research project on changing agrarian institutions and access to land in the country. Ferme's latest book, Out of War: Violence, Trauma, and the Political Imagination in Sierra Leone, draws on her three decades of ethnographic engagements to examine the physical and psychological aftereffects of the harms of Sierra Leone's civil war.

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Brittany Birberick

In this episode, Professor Michael Watts interviews Brittany Birberick, an anthropology PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley — and a former Matrix Dissertation Fellow. Birberick's dissertation project focuses on urban transformation in Johannesburg, South Africa. More broadly, she writes and thinks about economies, migration, temporality, and aesthetics within an urban context. Her dissertation, “Paved with Gold: Urban Transformation in Johannesburg,” situates the city of Johannesburg historically, considering the extractive economy of gold that initiated its development to understand the city’s contemporary tensions: a dilapidated post-apartheid city aiming to be a world-class global city. Her research takes place in Jeppestown, a neighborhood in Johannesburg, and focuses on the inhabitants and built environment of a single street. Today, Jeppestown is portrayed as either on its way to becoming a site of redevelopment by the Johannesburg Development Agency, artists, and private developers, or, if left unattended, a crime ridden area and hotbed of xenophobic violence. The dissertation posits that rather than transformation and development projects leading to an inherently new city or inherently new object, Jeppestown, like many urban areas around the world, is caught in a back and forth between being a successful or failed urban space—a “good” or “bad” city.

Birberick received the Association for Africanist Anthropology's 2019 Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Essay Award for her essay, “Dreaming Numbers," which is an analysis of fafi, a street-based lottery game played by residents in Jeppestown. The piece investigates the ways in which dreams, gambling, and interpreting patterns become meaningful strategies for choosing the next winning number and reducing uncertainty in the city.

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