Past Master's Projects

The variety of master's projects produced by our students testifies to the interdisciplinary nature of the Duke GLS program.  Some take the form of a traditional master's thesis, but explore issues from a perspective that requires stepping back from disciplinary boundaries or combining the methods of different disciplines.  Others combine traditional academic analysis with other modes and genres -- whether creative, documentary or practical.   Each of them represents the culminating efforts of a student in achieving the MALS degree.  

Each year, a few projects that are especially noteworthy are given the designation of "Exemplary Master's Project," and are marked as such in these records.  Search for the word "exemplary" to find them.  Exemplary projects make particularly good models for students who are contemplating master's projects of their own.  

The Disparity of Infrastructure Between the Jewish Settlements and Palestinian Villages Located in the West Bank
Spring 2017
Author:
Leonard Piechocki III
Supervisor:

Why is there such a disparity of infrastructure between the Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages adjacent to one another in the West Bank? Through historical events, agreements, and continuing conflicts, enormous differences have been created between each of these groups that have a direct impact on life today in Israel and the West Bank. My research, coupled with my own recent visit to the West Bank and personal interviews, reveal that Palestinians are repressed by the Israeli government in ways that are undeniable. By examining the infrastructure in the West Bank through this project, the conditions of unhindered transportation, water services, and individual freedom are shown to be lacking and unacceptable today in the West Bank.

Story As Biology
Summer 2017
Author:
James M. Wahlberg
Supervisor:

In Cosmopolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes “people tell and discuss stories in every culture as far back as the record goes.” Donald Brown agrees in his comprehensive cross-cultural anthropological survey, Human Universals, by including mythmaking, a kind of storytelling, in his list of practices that humans everywhere do. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio even puts a kind of “wordless storytelling” at the very root of his model of human consciousness. Any behavior that is shared by all people everywhere must have a basis in our most shared heritage, our biology. This project applies a classic biological heuristic, Tinbergen’s Four Questions, to gain a fresh perspective on storytelling and to explore story as a signature activity of mind. Two experimental paradigms are developed and preliminary data presented in an effort to answer the question posed by Salmon Rushdie’s character Haroun of Haroun and the Sea of Stories: “what good are stories if they aren’t even true?” That is, what might be the biological value of the human compulsion to engage in narrative? The data support the notion that interpreting stories together primes subjects for joint action tasks, opening a connection of narrative to evolutionary processes of group selection. Finally, by focusing on space as an intersection of cognitive science and narratology, the project examines narratives ranging from spontaneous natural language utterances to the highly developed examples of literary art found in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World to explore how our biology shapes and is reflected in our stories.

Screening Love: The Cinematic Representation of the Cultural Revolution, 1980s to Early 1990s
Summer 2017
Author:
Jingyi Lu
Supervisor:

The ten-year Cultural Revolution exerts a tremendous influence on the domain of cultural production in contemporary China. After the Cultural Revolution, many filmmakers delved into the representation of this traumatic historical period and produced relevant films in the 1980s – 1990s. In these films, the motif of love is frequently employed to embody the impact of the Cultural Revolution on interpersonal relationships. What types of love relations do these films represent? How do the modes of love change over time? How do these films represent the Cultural Revolution and identify the root causes of this disastrous time? In this essay, to answer the above questions, I will explore the changing representation of love relations in the films about the Cultural Revolution: the scar films (also called post-socialist films) that prevailed in the 1980s feature romantic love, while The Blue Kite, Farewell, My Concubine and To Live directed by the fifth-generation filmmakers in the early 1990s mainly display family love. By looking into the cinematic interpretation of the Cultural Revolution, I will gain insight into the social and cultural environment in that two decades, and show that the films produced in these two different periods seek greater authenticity in representing that historical period and gradually break away from state ideology and propaganda.

To Teach Science, Tell Stories
Spring 2017
Author:
James V. Rose
Supervisor:

The narrative is a fundamental, ubiquitous mode of human communication. A story – an account of events with emphasis on personal perspective or connection, employing dramatic tension – is among the most widespread and common methods of communicating information. Stories strengthen the social bonds of human society and facilitate the transmission of culture. We learn about our world by hearing and seeing stories, and in turn we share our understanding of the world by telling stories. Neuroscience research supports the importance of narratives to human culture. Stories activate neurochemical pathways related to trust and social bonding, and the emotional resonance evoked by a narrative stimulates neural systems related to empathy. Education has long made use of the story as a pedagogic technique. Evidence is building that not only is a story innately interesting and compelling, but that use of this technique stimulates learning and recall. Teachers of humanities have widely embraced the value of teaching with stories. Although science teachers have been hesitant to adopt this technique, research indicates storytelling and related use of narrative is effective in promoting the understanding and acceptance of science concepts. There are a wide range of narrative teaching techniques that can be used in a science classroom, involving involve both teacher and student as storyteller.

Beyond the Diagnosis: A Photographic Inquiry of Chronic Illness
Spring 2017
Author:
Alexandra Monroe
Supervisor:

The old adage for authors is to ‘write what you know,’ and I believe the same can be said for any other artistic medium. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome about four years ago and it has been a life-altering experience for me. I now have to shape the rest of my life around the management of a medical condition that forces me to locate the nearest bathroom whenever I go somewhere new, carry medication with me at all times, and cook everything I consume. I have struggled with this new way of life, and wanted to help remove stigma while building connections with others. It finally occurred to me that I could use my passion for photography to document the experiences and stories of myself and others with chronic illness. The main portion of this project is a website, www.monroephotos.com, that shows photographs I made with each individual as well as a portion of the story behind their illness. I struggled to give a name to this project but I ultimately decided on Beyond the Diagnosis because it implies that there is a story to tell after a diagnosis of chronic illness, and that an authentic life can be lived in the face of illness. And, as I will outline in the paper component of this project, there is real world evidence and scholarship that examines the need for a reclaiming of the self after facing a life-altering diagnosis. The project provides a window into the lives of five survivors of chronic illness beyond what is detailed in their patient charts – they are more than their diagnosis. With the contributions of my collaborators- Kevin, Eleri, Sam and Alex, as well as my own story- the website and paper explore the ways in which chronic illnesses impact the daily lives of each participant.

From Family to Facebook to Foreign Fighter – The Attraction of Young Adults to ISIS through Societal Relationships and Social Media
Spring 2017
Author:
Christopher Woodard
Supervisor:

How, who, and why are Western young adults within the United States and the European Union attracted to modern radical Islamic movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? How have technology and social media aided these movements in areas such as recruitment, retention, and empathy for the organization? At the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism in 2001, the average foreign fighter in the Middle East was 28 years old. Today, the average age is closer to 21 years old. In the modern age of technology, this current wave of inexperienced jihadists being “radicalized” is now being discussed as a “violent extremist social trend.” Radicalization is not a new concept. Extreme ideology has a long history; yet it has often required face to face exposure to have a lasting effect. These particular Islamic movements appear to inspire both active and sympathetic allegiance by a new group of young fighters via secondary interactions such as internet videos, social media applications and live chats via smart phones. ISIS is considered one of these new radical movements that employs technology to recruit and groom potential members. As terrorist-based groups such as ISIS continue to attract young adults, it is imperative that motivation for joining such groups be researched and analyzed. A “one size fits all” approach to countering violent extremism does not appear to be a viable option for today’s modern, technologically astute society. There are many different pathways to radicalization, and the mechanisms in place that may aid in radicalization operate in different ways for different people at different points in their lives. Through the research conducted during this thesis, I have discovered that contributing factors such as cult and gang association, mental illness, cultural and societal identity, and social media all have the potential to contribute to the radicalization of individuals. Data analysis and a deeper understanding of marginalization factors (host, parental and traditional cultures) aid in countering the recruitment, retention and empathy for groups such as ISIS. As radicalization is considered a long, social process, governments and citizens must gain a greater understanding of the core elements that exist in these processes and be willing to acknowledge that actions on their part may contribute to the problem or to the solution.

Childhood Obesity in China
Spring 2017
Author:
Wa Meng
Supervisor:

In the context of globalization, economic reforms, and urbanization, China is experiencing a nutrition transition, a trend referring to shifts in dietary and physical activity patterns. In recent decades, the prevalence of childhood obesity increased dramatically and became a public health concern. Childhood obesity has multiple drivers, and the increasing rate reflects the changing food system, economic growth, and changes to dietary and physical activity patterns. Moreover, it becomes more complex when considering the disparities between urban and rural regions of China. Despite rural children have a lower prevalence in obesity than their urban counterparts, they are experiencing a higher rate of increase indicating a potential explosion. Effective interventions should be comprehensive, addressing both dietary and physical activity patterns and health education in both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, a whole-system intervention approach is suggested, which needs efforts of schools, communities, and families.

Equal Care Versus Graded Love
Author:
Botian Liu
Supervisor:

The central question for this paper is: what should we do when the interests of our family members conflict with the interests of strangers? There has been a heated debate within the Chinese philosophy community on this question. The debate is situated in two classic Chinese schools of thoughts: Confucianism and Mohism. This paper begins by analyzing the debate. Recently, some scholars have argued that this so-called Confucian-Mohist debate is the result of misinterpretation. I reject this view and argue that, although Confucians and Mohists have some common grounds, they do have a central difference. Mohists believe that we should treat family members and strangers equally when they conflict, whereas Confucians believe that we should treat family members with some priority. Besides the interpretation issue, I argue that Confucians are right on the normative aspect. We should give family members some priority, and this is one of the important factors to consider when facing the moral conflict between family members and strangers. However, I argue that there are other important factors to consider, including our equal obligation towards strangers. Thus, in order to make a better decision in the conflict, we need to distinguish between doing and allowing harm, and love and care.

Gender Dimensions of Climate Change in Pakistan: Reducing the Vulnerabilities of Rural Women to Climate Change Effects in the Province of Sindh
Spring 2017
Author:
Mishalle Kayani
Supervisor:

The province of Sindh in Pakistan is predominantly an agriculture-based region which has a large proportion of the population living in rural areas. Here, women play a significant role in agricultural activities and are also held responsible for household activities. Given rigid social structures, the influence of power by elites who exercise control through landholdings and additional cultural and religious restrictions, women in rural Sindh are considered to be amongst the most disenfranchised. Through this paper, I attempt to identify the vulnerabilities of women in rural Sindh to climate change effects and evaluate the gender differences in access to resources, services and facilities. From the analysis conducted, the increase in the burden of responsibilities for women of rural Sindh in combination with the social, economic and cultural barriers, ineffective implementation mechanisms and subsequent structural causes result in exclusion of women from sustainable livelihood management practices. The situation is further exacerbated by the effects of climate change.The paper assesses various policy options and provides recommendations to the Provincial government of Sindh to invest in capacity building schemes and improve agricultural practices through investments in social protection programs, technical and vocational skills. Investing in such mechanisms will have considerable positive effects on the social, cultural and economic status of women and help to build resilience against disasters and additional climate change effects within the region.

Improving the Doctor-­Patient Relation in China Through a Three-­Level Framework
Spring 2017
Author:
Yifang Bai
Supervisor:

This thesis discusses the controversial doctor-patient relation problem in contemporary China. The key issue it aims to address is how to improve the doctor-patient relation with efforts from multiple levels. This thesis reviews literature on China’s healthcare service as a way to identify the causes of the doctor-patient tension. It then recommends possible interventions drawing on international experiences. The recommendations follow a three-level—macro-, meso- and micro-level—framework. What this thesis found is that the tension between doctors and patients is not only the fault of the frontline health workers. As a result, interventions for its improvement cannot target exclusively doctor’s behavior. Meanwhile, since the doctor-patient relations problem is not unique to China, we should also learn from the successful lessons in the global society. It is not our goal to resolve the problem in China’s healthcare system. With the discussion in this thesis, we hope to show that there is the potential to alleviate doctor-patient tension in China with joint efforts in the society.

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