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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, a biannual publication dedicated to publishing exemplary undergraduate research in the humanities and social sciences.


The effect of imagining outcomes on children’s causal reasoning

This experiment investigates whether engaging in pretense may prompt preschool-aged children to reason counterfactually. Recent work suggests that ability to engage in pretense is associated with counterfactual reasoning abilities. While it is known that children are able to design accurate interventions on a causal system, are imagined interventions as informative as actual interventions in the real world? To this end, 4- and 5-year-old children were presented with a novel probabilistic causal apparatus. Children were either prompted to imagine actions performed on the structure, or were given a control task matched for attention and exploration of the apparatus.  Children were then asked to choose the intervention that would be the most effective in producing the desired outcome. Preliminary findings have demonstrated no difference in performance between conditions. However, the data indicated that children in the control condition might have spontaneously engaged in pretense when exploring the novel causal structure. To address this issue, changes have been made to the methods, and we are in the process of piloting the amended methods.

Residue or Residon't? The Value of Archaeological Micro-debris in Unraveling Dhiban's Imperial Past

The archaeological site of Dhiban, Jordan is characterized by a complex legacy of colonial dominance by foreign empires, with occupation ranging from the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 BCE) into the present. This turbulent history is reflected in its archaeological record, necessitating a much greater detailed system of analysis than ‘standard’ analytical practices for unraveling site use. Using archaeological data excavated from Dhiban's Middle Islamic occupation (1000-1450 CE), this paper introduces the initial steps of a larger project assessing the cost-benefits of conducting a more detailed analysis of excavated site material against the more ‘standard’ processes of analysis. The introduced methods focus on a ‘micro-debris’ analysis, using items ranging between <4 mm and 1 mm in size, to be used in conjunction with the more standard ‘heavy fraction’ analysis of items >4 mm in size for site interpretation. Although this paper provides only preliminary data and a speculative interpretation designed only to demonstrate the use of these methods, it appears that ‘micro-debris’ does not simply reflect the types and quantities of artifacts appearing in the ‘heavy-fraction’ materials, but rather represents different types of site activities then those found in ‘standard’ analyzed samples. The larger project works to expand on the pilot study introduced in this paper and to construct a solid narrative on greater social and economic trends, including the impact of state actions on local communities throughout this tumultuous, arid region, providing a much more comprehensive understanding of the daily lives of the people of Jordan’s past.

The Khmer Tour Guide: An Economical, Political and Cultural Nexus in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The goal of this research project was to investigate the current network of relationships involved in Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourism network, focusing on the tour guide specifically as a cultural, economic, and political nexus. Closer examination and interviewing revealed the tour guide licensing process as complex and corrupted, but crucial to the tourism industry in Cambodia’s current economy. The question of cultural transmission and self-identification through state intervention is also examined from the tour guide perspective. Rather than focusing on the negative effects of tourism development in a country emerging from third-world status, the focus of this paper was merely to examine the current day-to-day relationships that contribute to the intricacy of the tourism industry with the utilization of a singular position. It is impossible to consider the Cambodian tour guide’s social position without placing it into historical context. Cambodian culture and economy was greatly diminished by the Khmer Rouge; how did this effect the tour guide’s position in society as transmitters of Khmer culture and history? What was the economic and social position most commonly associated with the Khmer tour guide, and how did this affect everyday life and self-identification? Cambodia is still renowned for political corruption, however, the tourism industry seems to be the most bureaucratic and enforced sector as it remains one of the largest sources of income for the country. By exploring the details of becoming a tour guide, interviewing individuals, and observing everyday struggles and successes this paper attempts to approach these conceptual questions.

Understanding Mechanisms behind Cultural Differences in Help Seeking Propensity

Cultural psychological literatures have documented that in contrary to Caucasians who are individualist, prioritize autonomy and independence, Asians are collectivists, prioritize group goals, interpersonal harmony and possess self-construal that very much overlaps with others of their in-group. Hence, Asians (including Asian Americans) should be more likely to seek help from their in-group. However, clinical psychological studies have documented Asian Americans’ underutilization of professional mental health compared to Westerners even in times of distress. In attempt to resolve previous conflicting cultural and clinical psychological literatures, this is the first study that examined help-seeking tendencies in other daily-life domains apart from mental health. Help-seeking is comprised of three elements: the willingness to seek help, comfort level when seeking help and the extent to which help-seekers expect to benefit from others. In the present study, I found that: 1. it was neither Asian Americans nor Westerners but Tsinghua University Asian students who reported the highest overall help-seeking propensity for relational problem, emotional distress and personal religious conflict; and 2. indicated greater preference for seeking help from career-driven connections when they were low-context communicators or when primed with high implicit power.  Implications of findings for encouraging Asian immigrants and Caucasians’ help-seeking are discussed and explored.

The Food System and a Role for Ecological Ethics

This paper analyzes the contemporary food system using ethical philosophy, in hopes that this may help elucidate how to move forward in righting a system that leaves a wake of hunger, obesity, and environmental degradation.  I have chosen to focus on the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, concentrating on his ecological ethics because of the way in which agriculture represents the meeting of, and blurring between, the human and the natural realms.  My research first involved a survey of popular and academic works on the contemporary food system, focusing on broader analyses of political-economy, human and environmental impacts, and historical development.  My research also involved a survey of Arne Naess’s work, from his earlier writings and articulation of Deep Ecology in the middle of the 20th century until his death in 2009.  My research found that the main obstacle to building a more just food system is not a lack of ethical clarity, but rather the structural barriers of the capitalist economic system.  I argue that ecological ethics must be a catalyst for systematic change, and that the possibility of the immediate realization of an ecological ethos is quite limited within the current political-economic system.

The Constructed Landscapes of Horace’s Poetic Autobiography in the Odes

In this paper, I explore how the Latin poet Horace uses and transforms landscape in order to establish his poetic autobiography. This is accomplished through a close reading of Odes 3.13, O Fons Bandusiae. The facets of this particular landscape that are highlighted through Horace’s poetry reflect the way the poet sees the world and his place in it. By manipulating the aesthetic and temporal qualities of the scene, Horace transforms it into a poetic landscape, one that cannot exist outside this particular poem. In this way, Horace asserts several facets of his poetic identity and demonstrates his poetic prowess, claiming his place in the canon of Greek and Latin lyric poets.

Community and Exclusion in the Gay Mecca

The Castro district in San Francisco, California presents itself as the “Gay Mecca,” a safe haven for LGBT-identified individuals. However, demographics of and observations in the Castro illuminate quite a different story. On weekend nights, several low-income queer men and women of color consistently congregate on the corner of Market and Castro St., quite literally at the margins of Castro social life. Essentially, the marginal positioning of these low-income queer people of color on this corner results from a double exclusion, from their home neighborhoods and from the Castro. In their home neighborhoods, these individuals are marginalized due to their sexuality, and in the Castro they are marginalized due to their race and socioeconomic class. The corner of Market and Castro, then, is significant to these low-income queer people of color for a variety of reasons, including emotional and socioeconomic support, but namely in regard to identity formation. While marginalized, these low-income queer people of color manage to carve out a small space, however policed or challenged, that provides them with the platform to play with and embody their multiple, intersecting identities that they are unable to fully express in other spaces.

Understanding and Self-Advocacy: Students with Learning Disabilities, Unrecognized Talent

This is the first phase of a two-phase project that looks at the relationship between diagnostic testing and self-advocacy for students with learning disabilities (LD) within post-secondary education. In this first phase, data was obtained using in-depth, semi-structured interviews with professionals within the field of LD: three learning specialists, two administration staff, and five LD testing administrators. All data was thematically coded. Two four-year public universities in Northern California (one, a prominent research institution) participated. Findings show that university administrators often see students with disabilities as having less “economic value” than students without disabilities. In an effort to reduce costs, bureaucratic barriers are created through policies and burdensome documentation processes, which make it more difficult for students to gain or utilize support services. The data shows that few students understand their LDs, the diagnostic tests used, and their rights as a person legally defined as having a disability. The findings indicate that students’ primary focus is not on fully understanding their diagnosis and its implications. Rather, the initial data suggests that current policies require students to concentrate their energies on the documentation requirements to gain needed resources, and consequently, lower the possibility for self-advocacy.

Contemplative Neuroscience: An Integrative Approach for Investigating Consciousness

This paper explores the field of contemplative neuroscience as a means of studying consciousness on both neurological and experiential levels. While our current scientific paradigm favors the view that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon and should be examined as such, contemplative neuroscience posits that awareness, attention, and emotion are malleable skills that can be refined in order to provide detailed, accurate self-reports about the conscious experience. These reports can then be used to inform neurological data, in order to form a more holistic understanding of consciousness as both a physical and mental process. Buddhist meditation techniques are a paradigm example of the type of training necessary to cultivate accurate awareness of mental states. I practiced Buddhist meditation extensively over several months as a way to inform my study. In addition, I conducted a comprehensive review of scientific publications on the current research being conducted on meditation, and philosophical literature on the importance of contemplative training in respect to neuroscience. My experience meditating highlighted the large difference between the untrained, unaware mind and the mind that has been trained in awareness, emphasizing the value of using experienced contemplative practitioners as a means to further consciousness studies. These results point to a need to use refined phenomenological reports as a more accurate way of interpreting neurological data, making use of subtleties and details that would not be available to us were we to use untrained subjects.

CAYA Coven: Eclectic Paganism in the East Bay Area

CAYA Coven is an eclectic Pagan public service organization in San Francisco’s East Bay area that is dedicated to providing public rituals for all, encompassing a diversity of age, gender, beliefs and deities from all over the world.  As stated on their website, one of their main sacred tenets is to “honor one another’s unique spiritual practices, and seek to enrich [their] sense of community with diversity.”  This talk addresses the ever growing notion of “spiritual not religious” in modern American Culture.  As Talal Asad argues that religion cannot be universally defined, I seek to situate CAYA coven in this American cultural context, specifically involving individualism as a highly praised ethos.  In order to accomplish this, I include a brief history of Paganism the U.S. that lead to the creation of CAYA Coven, describe the content and construction of CAYA rituals based on participant observation, and explain aspects of ritual interpretation drawing from multiple interviews with long term and short term members.  I aim to show that eclectic Pagans demonstrate through ritual performances, that personal spiritual autonomy can be shared and maintained within a spiritual community of practitioners of a vast range of personal beliefs about the divine.

The Ramones: A Preliminary Towards the Poetics of Punk

Despite a wide variety of writing on punk as style, social phenomena, counter subculture, and politicized youth movement, little has been said on the literary nature of the genre; if there is a literary nature of punk, it remains to be written about. This paper begins to answer that unknown. By closely reading and listening to the lyrics and records of many punk bands from the earliest New York 70s scene, where punk most tangibly began before crossing over to the UK and then the world, I highlight and analyze what could be considered the formal poetic features of punk verse while marrying it to the structure of the music. The focus on the Ramones, arguably the kings of their genre, is simply the beginning of a larger research project that aims to include all bands from that period, as well as the music and artists inspired by the punk movement.

Taking Up Space: Locating Thoreau, Whitman, and Kerouac in Place

This paper explores one particular aspect of my thesis, which in it's entirety investigates the relationship between language, movement, and space. Sourcing from the American landscape in the form of literary texts, as well as geographical spaces, I hope to convey some of the complexities of what it means to be a product of a specific time and place. I investigate these spaces through the lenses of writings by Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Jack Kerouac. Ultimately I argue that my kinesthetic investigation of places and texts work as generative sources for choreography and that the choreography becomes a way of understanding the texts in three dimensionality. This paper serves as a taste and exploration of my larger ideas. 


Multiculturialism: The Dutch Influence in America's Beginnings

In this paper, I explore the roots of America’s multicultural heritage through examination of Dutch influence in America’s beginnings.  New Amsterdam (colonial New York) had one of the most diverse populations of it’s time due to the West India Company’s (WIC) involvement in the Pacific slave trade.  The consequent diaspora across the Pacific created a contact zone in which the Dutch tradition of tolerance and equal recognition became the foundations on which America became a melting pot.  By illustrating an underrepresented aspect of history, I hope for this paper to bring more understanding into the account of multiculturalism and America’s roots.

Beyond the Binary: New Roles and Implications of NGOs in Haiti

Recent academic debates regarding the proliferation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti often fall into the trap of pitting NGOs as an entity against the Haitian state. This paper seeks to follow academic arguments that go beyond this binary framework by examining the coordination and collaboration practices of health NGOs at the local level in the North Department of Haiti. Specifically, this paper will discuss how individuals, both Haitian and foreign, attempt to resist national and international hegemonic structures while still operating within these confines to present an acceptable “face” to the outside. To illustrate this point, I will draw on three specific instances and conversations I had while in Haiti that manifest acts of individual resistance. First, I will discuss how the Haitian state’s extreme centralization affects government workers and NGO partners at the local and regional level in Cap-Haitian. Second, I will illustrate the philosophy of one particular health NGO that negotiates both foreign and local ideologies and practices in an attempt to create a more accountable partnership with the local Haitian authorities.  Third, I will explore how my participant observation became wrapped up in dominant power structures and relations. Drawing on the theoretical work of Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault, I will explore how individuals contest the power structures and hegemonic discourses within which they are embedded, thereby constantly creating new spaces for possibility and change.

Teuf Love: Verlan in French Rap and Beyond

My research was performed with the intent of understanding the particular poetic and symbolic strategies at work behind the many uses and representations of the syllable-switching slang practice, verlan, in French society. I traveled to France and performed interviews with rappers (who systematized it in its current form), suburban residents, bourgeois adults and young adults, professors and employees of the language bureau the Académie Française. I also performed participant observation, observed its appearance in print and mass media, and found that though it can now be found everywhere, it is still stigmatized for its association with the lower class immigrant communities that brought it to the public’s attention in the 1980’s through rap lyrics and street culture. While I found that immigrant youths and rappers use it as an identity marker, poetic tool and symbol of linguistic freedom and cultural interaction, language authorities and mass media tended to depict it as a violent affront to traditional republican values and French national identity.  My research revealed the power relations that brought about and perpetuate this language game : canonical versus experimental knowledge, normative policies versus individual freedom, commercial gain versus artistic expression.  Though I am far from having a complete answer to why and how, my interviews led to me to see verlan as used in the suburbs as an act of reinterpretation that defines self and one’s community not by its adherence to monologic codes but by its accomodation of multiple codes, origins and individual perspectives.

Street Theater at Astor Place: The Silk Stocking Regiment and Antebellum Public Performance

The Astor Place Riot, in New York in 1849, was set off by a rivalry between actors: the eminent English tragedian William Macready, and the first American stage star, Edwin Forrest. When ten thousand rioters and spectators gathered outside the Astor Place Opera House, some throwing stones at the building and at the police guarding its perimeter, the state militia was summoned. They fired into the crowd, killing at least twenty. Although historians have accounted for the class dynamics that motivated the rioters, the militia have been overlooked as participants in the conflict.

The Seventh Regiment, the chief company to muster, was New York’s most prestigious militia unit, an elite social club, and a prominent parading corps. The social position and history of the Seventh Regiment suggests that its members held as great a stake in the outcome of the conflict as those who participated as rioters. Built from an understanding of the nineteenth century urban American street as a site for politically-charged performances, this paper explores the ways that the Seventh Regiment employed performance as a tactic at Astor Place to demonstrate the supremacy of law and order. They were understood then, and should be now, as interested parties in a conflict that antagonized the working class against the elite. In its response to the riot, the Seventh Regiment claimed elite dominion over the street and enforced a code of orderly public behavior.

Taking Steps: Exploring College Predispositions in College Track, Oakland Youth

This paper describes the factors that influenced rising 9th grade students from different middle schools in Oakland, CA, to apply to the College Track program. Using Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of Human Ecology, the author explains that students were influenced to apply to the program by peers, parents and school staff (i.e. teachers, counselors and principals) in their immediate environments.