PRISM Research Grant Sample Projects

Read below for abstracts of the research of past PRISM students!

Alaina Bompiedi (AB ’15, Philosophy)

“Transforming Desire: What Addiction Can Teach Us About Changing Our Behaviors and Becoming Better Persons”


Recently, philosophers have occupied themselves with attempting to give a philosophical description of what addiction is and how it works. The majority of these theories focus on describing addiction in terms of the will, arguing that the defining feature of addiction is that the addicted will is handicapped and yet still somewhat functional. This paper looks at addiction not as an illness of the will, but an illness of desire, a view that will be argued for by investigating the methods of addiction recovery and situating those methods in the philosophies of Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch. Its first aim is to investigate the transformation that happens when individuals participate in addiction recovery programs, such as AA. Its second aim is to expand this desire-centered view of addiction to infer new things about the relationship between desire and the will. We will find that addiction recovery methods provide a useful case study for philosophers to learn more about what it means to transform one’s desires and become a better person.

Laresa Dern (AB ’15, Anthropology)

“Writing the Narratives of the Dead: An Analysis of Contemporary Mortuary Expression in Vitor, Peru”


For most people, cemeteries are understood as a place where the deceased find their final resting place. While the dead are the reason for the formation of the cemetery, the living community constructs and maintains the cemetery making the space more reflective of their values than those of the dead. According to Aubrey Cannon (Cannon: 2002), through the analysis of the mortuary expression, spatially and historically, an anthropologist can find a historical narrative of individual choices reflective of the values and social structures of a community over time. Through the analysis of the style, location, orientation, and maintenance of graves and grave markers, I applied this concept to the contemporary cemeteries in Vitor, Peru to create a narrative that examines the stratification of prominent Vitoreño families as well as the demarcation of childhood versus adulthood. Additionally, a general narrative on burial trends for the valley is detailed. While not a complete picture of the community, the narrative will supplement the greater understanding of the valley, from first occupation through modern day.  

Joshua Harris (AB ’16, English Language and Literature)

“Pound of Flesh”: Non-Narrative Elements in Shakespeare’s Plays and Directorial Cutting Practices in Devising Performance Texts”


A director who stages Shakespeare commits to a bond. He must take out a “pound of flesh”—in edits of action and text—but keep the play alive.

My BA thesis has two interconnected but distinct foci. The first part evaluates non-narrative elements in Shakespeare’s plays, including song, jest, soliloquy, and prologue. The second part analyzes cutting practices employed by directors, in adapting the source texts for the stage and screen. The two parts converge at this point: I hypothesize that the non-narrative elements of Shakespeare’s plays account for most of the frequently excised material in performance texts.

In order to quantify this hypothesis, I have examined “cutting practices” over the course of Shakespeare’s long performance history. Over this past summer and into this year, I have catalogued ten major productions of Macbeth and Twelfth Night that attempt to provide a representative sample of variant ways these two plays have been staged over time. My project includes productions that span the gamut from the 1670s Smock Alley productions in Dublin, to iconic midcentury productions by Orson Welles and Trevor Nunn, to modern stagings from the last ten years at the Public in New York and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Each of these diverse entry points sheds a different light on what Shakespeare interpreters have deemed “expendable” for performance at different moments in time.

What interests me most about this project is the series of greater questions that arise from these decisions, in large part questions about the complicated nature of “adaptation”. Why make these specific cuts, what are the consequences, and—most intriguing to me—how might a director re-infuse a production with the qualities of the lost material?

How does one stage or film the spirit of the text that is no longer there?


Edwin Jiang (AB ’16, Philosophy)

“Preserving Actualism through 2D Semantics”


There are two commonly held metaphysical positions. First is the actualist metaphysical position that there are no things that do not exist in the actual world. Second is the shared intuition there could have been things that do not actually exist. These two intuitions, at least superficially, conflict with each other. Consider the example of a ghost. There are no such things as ghosts in the actual world and thus ghosts do not exist. Furthermore, everything in the actual world is so fundamentally distinct from a ghost, that nothing in this world has the capacity to be a ghost; however, surely, had the world developed differently ghosts could have, in some sense, existed. A serious actualist position should contain the explanatory power to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting intuitions. One position that attempts to do so is trace actualism, as popularized by Linsky and Zalta. Trace actualism is a non-essentialist position that explains away the aforementioned problem through the suggestion that there exist contingently non-concrete objects. Roughly speaking, the trace actualist posits that there exist non-concrete objects in the actual world that could have turned out otherwise – that could have turned out, for instance, to be a concrete ghost. My project will demonstrate that we ought not to be satisfied with trace actualism as an answer as it does not truly attribute the modal property of being ‘possibly a ghost’ to an actually existent non-concrete object. Pushing back against trace actualism, I show that through an analysis in two-dimensional semantics, trace actualism is merely the result of an error in judgment when characterizing the meaning of a sentence two dimensionally over a world of utterance and another counterfactual world of evaluation. By showing that trace actualism is unsatisfactory I open the door to further investigation regarding this metaphysical problem.

Jamison Pfeifer (AB ’16, Sociology and English Language and Literature)

“Political Murals in Belfast: A Socio-Cultural Account”


Though the history and tradition of mural-making in Belfast dates back to the early-twentieth century, it was only when the Troubles began in the late 1960s that mural-making really became a symbolic battleground within divided Northern Ireland. Even since the Troubles ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, political murals and street art continue to assert a material and symbolic force in Belfast. Through the generosity of the PRISM Research Grant, I traveled to Belfast to study firsthand the state of mural-making in Belfast as it exists today by interviewing artists, community workers, and those involved with the struggle over Belfast’s public art. Today, the tradition of mural-making is at a crossroads between the city’s divided past and the attempt to breach the still-divided communities that comprise the lower-income neighborhoods of Belfast. Drawing on sociological theories of collective memory, my research suggests that murals continue to hold a symbolic weight within Belfast, albeit far differently than they did twenty and thirty years ago. Murals continue to situate local communities in relation to social and cultural ideals according to their content and spatial value, yet their status as symbols has shifted towards being genres of collective memory within Belfast’s historical landscape.

Alexandra Perez-Garcia (AB ’16, Psychology and Public Policy)

“The Effect of Rule-Breaking Behavior on Children’s Generosity”


There are external social factors that influence our acts of fairness and generosity. Previous research shows that children aged six to eight have already developed a concern towards appearing fair to others and tend to behave fairly when the experimenter is aware of their decisions. These findings present an interesting intersection for understanding our decisions when faced with resource inequality; namely, that there are situations where it is more important to appear fair than necessarily be fair. This conclusion suggests that children actively moderate their public image in regards to fairness; however, the current body of research has yet to explore what will happen when that image is shattered and children commit a bad act. This study seeks to investigate the influence rule-breaking behavior has on children’s future acts of generosity by manipulating whether or not children are caught in the act of doing something bad. The preliminary results of this study suggest that the act of losing face in front of an experimenter can influence children’s future good actions and cause them to allocate resources more generously to a fictional participant.

Patrick Reilly (AB ’17, History)

“The Other Space Race: Labor vs. Astronomy in Pinochet’s Chile”


In the late 1960s, research agencies from the United States and Europe built the Cerro Tololo and La Silla astronomical observatories in the pristine observing conditions of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Since their founding, both observatories have depended on unionized workforces of several dozen Chilean employees. These two unions followed two very different trajectories. Cerro Tololo has always enjoyed smooth labor relations, a trait that many longtime employees attribute to the observatory’s use of Chilean labor law. By contrast, La Silla endured several strikes and generally hostile labor relations from the early 1970s through the 1990s. Its workers faulted La Silla’s parent organization, the European Southern Observatory, for enjoying sovereign status within Chile and applying International Labor Organization codes rather than Chilean law.

It thus appears that Chile’s labor laws benefitted observatory workers. However, the larger context of the country’s labor policies raises questions about why this was the case. Beginning in 1973, Chile’s military government suppressed unions as part of its larger agenda of neoliberal economic reforms. Unions in several major industries experienced considerable hardship during this period.

This BA will draw primarily on interviews with observatory workers and union documents collected in Chile this past summer. It aims to test the hypotheses that the unique traits of observatory work led these workers to prefer Chilean labor law, and that La Silla’s sovereign status emboldened its workers to confront their employers. It does so with the larger goal of determining how an international organization’s immunities can impact their local employees and host countries.

Nia Sotto (AB ’14, Comparative Human Development)

“Indulgence and Restraint: An Online Ethnography of Pro-Anorexia and Dieting Communities”


Calorie restriction is often a necessary means to achieving the ideal feminine body, yet the prescription of restrictive eating is dependent on the practices’ categorization as “healthy” or “disordered”. I used online dieting and pro-anorexia communities as two lenses through which to analyze the interplay between the range of restrictive eating discourses, physical and economic consumption, and gendered body ideals. Based on online forum data collected from two such communities, my findings indicate that these groups’ discourses overlap in several important ways. From both groups arise modes of physical consumption infused with the language of morality, where food is ranked according to nutritious and thus moral worth. Alternative economic consumer cultures revolving around social media and material goods – scales, diet programs, clothing – emerge as well, allowing for the quantification and comparison of the changing self. However, despite these convergences, dieting and pro-ana groups actively distance themselves from one another, evoking the healthy/disordered division as well as diverging views regarding what makes a body “ideal”. In a society that demands of its members both indulgence and restraint, restrictive eating become a way for women to manage and negotiate contradictory cultural prescriptions regarding both physical and economic consumption and feminine body ideals.