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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI) at the University of California, Berkeley is a research center dedicated to understanding the processes of social change and contributing to the transformation of conditions of inequality. ISSI researchers use a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to undertake empirical investigations into critical social issues facing the nation, with a particular focus on California communities. 

Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

There are 203 publications in this collection, published between 1977 and 2022.
ISSI Fellows Working Papers (89)

Perceived Social Status and Adolescent Health and Risk Behaviors: A Systematic Review

Although the inverse graded relationship between social class and infant, child, and adult health is well established, this gradient is inconsistent and understudied among adolescents. The empirical inquiry into health inequalities among adolescents is of particular significance because health in adulthood is strongly influenced by early life circumstances. Current research suggests that social stratification as reflected by subjective social status may be an important determinant of adolescents’ health independent of traditional objective social class indicators. The following article is a systematic review of the subjective social class-adolescent behavior and health relationship. It highlights the known dimensions of subjective social position and health, and the large gaps in the scientific understanding of the determinants of adolescent health. Suggested future research directions are discussed.

Between Two Worlds: Hmong Youth, Culture, and Socio-Structural Barriers to Integration

Studies on the children of post 1965 immigrants recognize that there are various paths to incorporation due to race and class barriers and suggest that a strong adherence to traditional immigrant culture and values helps contemporary immigrants achieve integration. These studies acknowledge that there is not a single core culture of American society into which these immigrants are assimilating. The concept of segmented assimilation has been used to suggest that the process of assimilation is not as linear, simple or inevitable as classical assimilation suggests. Despite its important contribution to the theoretical debates on immigrant integration, segmented assimilation continues to use a cultural argument, suggesting that immigrant culture can explain and account for immigrant integration. Regardless of whether immigrant culture is present to buffer and mediate youth behaviors, some youth still take a path toward downward assimilation due to race, class and gender barriers. Based on data from a survey distributed to Hmong youth at a youth conference and interviews with community members, this study examines the role of race, class and gender and their impact on the incorporation of Hmong youth into American society. The Hmong community, whose migration to the United States was a direct consequence of their participation and involvement in the Vietnam War as U.S. allies, provides an important lens to understand the broader conditions that contribute to the incorporation of other racialized, poor immigrants into American society.

More than Mental Disorder: Toward a Situated Understanding of Recidivism and Risk

Individuals with serious mental disorder diagnoses (SMD) are grossly overrepresented in jails and prisons, returning to custody more often and more quickly than their non-diagnosed counterparts. This paper delineates two distinct approaches to understanding how these individuals enter carceral revolving doors, one which views them as criminalized patients and one which views them as high risk/need offenders, arguing each is limited in its ability to explain how individuals with SMD come to be carcerally involved and presents results from a qualitative pilot study (n=24) to narrow this gap. The study inductively builds from the experiences of carcerally-involved individuals with SMD, asking: what are the events and circumstances precipitating arrest and how do they contribute to carceral involvement? The paper takes a first step toward an alternative, participant-informed framework for understanding the overrepresentation of individuals with SMD. Results indicate carcerally-involved individuals with SMD are risk-exposed agents whose carceral involvement is related to early institutionalization, varying mental states of deliberation and intoxication, interpersonal conflict, and life circumstances punctuated by socioeconomic marginality. Conceptually, findings indicate risk is best understood as accumulative, interactive, dynamic, and across individual and structural levels of analysis, with early and frequent institutionalization, social and economic exclusion, and the criminalization of drug use contributing to risk.

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ISSI Project Reports and Working Papers (33)

Interpreting Chicano History: The World-System Approach to 19th Century California

The focus of this working paper is to suggest the outlines of an alternative theoretical approach to Chicano history. In doing so I summarize Immanuel Wallerstein’s ‘world-system perspective” and propose ways in which this approach might be useful in interpreting our past history. The arguments presented in the application of the “world-system” approach to Chicano history are still speculative in nature. Much of the historical sketch that I present here is yet to be fully developed. Needless to say, the primary purpose of this working paper is not to present a completely detailed study but merely to suggest one new approach to the question of theory in Chicano historical interpretation.


In approaching the issue of interpretation in Chicano history, I focus my discussion on 19th century California. This historical period is particularly important since the entire southwest was to undergo during this century the political and economic dominance of three different countries: Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Analyzing the distinctive features of economic life in these political “periods” raises a number of vexing questions for one doing Marxist historiography in this century. By focusing on this century-long history of California I show that one of the most crucial problems that arises in defining the type of society that existed during the “Spanish”, “Mexican”, and “American” periods is whether the social and economic organization of California was basically “feudal” or “capitalist.” In examining this issue in the last part of this paper, I tie my interpretive discussion of the 19th century California into the broader Marxist debate on the “transition from feudalism to capitalism.”

Note: This working paper was originally published in 1977 by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, which became the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues.

Frame and Context for Understanding Mental Health Problems across Cultures: Language and the Social Self (Chinese Americans and Euro-Americans)

The interface between institutions and communities, between service providers and their recipients, is informed and implicitly organized around certain cultural issues. In the present paper, it is the backdrop for once again raising and questioning certain fundamental assumptions that underlie the way in which we think and conceive of mental health problems. The goal is not to substitute an alternative “definition” of the phenomenon but to step back and view such problems in a comparative framework which brings us “up the ladder of abstraction.” While language is the most explicit conduit through which the self gains expression, it is still far from a precise, analytical tool. One key to unlocking certain doors to the mental health question is the variable nature of the self as a social entity and perceptions of problems as they are thereby framed.

Note: This working paper was originally published in 1984 by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, now the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues.

Alliance Between Women: Psychological Processes Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Heterosexism

A project was organized in the Netherlands to study and interrupt the psychological factors that divide women from one another. Black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, and lesbian and heterosexual women met in parallel groups for several five month cycles. Groups focused first on self-disclosure (visibility and pride), then on within-group dynamics (solidarity), and then on between-group dynamics (alliance).

The black-white process was characterized by anger and blame on the black side and by guilt and fear of revenge or need for reassurance on the white side. The Jewish-non-Jewish process was characterized by feelings of isolation and needs for protection on the Jewish side and by feelings of banality and needs for seeking specialness by association on the non-Jewish side. The lesbian-heterosexual process was characterized by feelings of defiance and needs to exclude on the lesbian side and by feelings of confusion and needs for seeking self-definition through others on the heterosexual side. Participants moved in a direction of greater demands for change, contact with others, self-definition, self-assertion, and choice.


Note: This paper was originally published in 1984 as a working paper by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, which later became the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. A revised version of this working paper was later published as:

Gail Pheterson. 1986. Alliances between Women: Overcoming Internalized Oppression and Internalized Domination  Signs, 12 (1), pp. 146-160. 

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