Skip over navigation

Global Systemic Risk

Representation of annual shipping lanes. Image: Manish Nag; data source,

Upcoming Events

Spring 2016

Wednesday, February 18, 4:30pm: Public Lecture, Aaron Burr Hall, Rm. 219
Venkat Venkatasubramanian, Columbia University
“Is Extreme Income Inequality Posing Systemic Risk? Mathematical Foundations of a Stable Capitalist Society”

Fall 2015

Friday, October 16, 12 noon: Luncheon Lecture, Wallace Hall, Room 165
MV Ramana, Princeton WWS Program on Science & Global Security
"Assessing Risk Assessment: Nuclear Regulation and Reactor Safety"

Wednesday, October 28, 4:30pm: Public Lecture, Aaron Burr Hall, Room 219
Benoit Pelopidas, University of Bristol and Visiting Fellow, PIIRS GSR Research Community
"The Closest We Ever Came to Nuclear War: New Insights on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1995 Black Brant Event"

Monday, November 9, 4:30pm: Public Lecture, Aaron Burr Hall, Room 219
Donald W. Light, Princeton University CMD, Rowan University & NYU
"Systemic Risks in Development and Marketing Prescription Drugs"

Friday, November 13, 12 noon: Luncheon Lecture, Wallace Hall, 165
Manish Nag, Princeton Department of Sociology
"Understanding Media Discourse Regarding Risk Using Topic Models and Network Text Analysis"

Wednesday, December 9, 4:30pm: Public Lecture, Aaron Burr Hall, Room 219
Jeff Hass, University of Richmond Dept of Sociology
"Breaking and Making the Rules as Things Fall Apart: Desperation, Innovation, and Traces of Order in the Blockade of Leningrad"

Friday, December 11, 12 noon: Luncheon Lecture, Wallace Hall, 165
Presentation of senior thesis research on Global Systemic Risk by PIIRS GSR undergraduate fellows

About the Project

There is no better indicator of increasing globalization than the massive and accelerating increase in international transactions beginning in the late 1970s. These in turn have required the construction of a complex system of global nodes and links providing the channels through which these can flow. The interdependence of massive global interactions and structures has caused systemic risk to increase exponentially in recent times. Tangible risks—in systems as diverse as energy exploration and production, electricity transmission, computer networks, healthcare, food and water supplies, transportation networks, commerce, and finance—now threaten global political, economic, and financial systems that affect citizens of every nation. As a result, the study of risk has the potential to become an important and influential academic and policy field.     

The research community on Global Systemic Risk at Princeton University provides structure for a core group of scholars across a wide variety of disciplines to establish a common dialogue in this emerging field. Working as a group, the depth and breadth of their interests will help to establish a comprehensive and cohesive framework for the study of risk and thus move the field forward. The research community will receive up to $750,000 in support from PIIRS over three years and is led by Chair of the Sociology Department Miguel Centeno, Musgrave Professor of Sociology and a professor of sociology and international affairs.

The community — with a core group of 22 scholars — will frame its multidisciplinary inquiry from a number of vantage points to better understand the nature of risk, the structure of increasingly fragile systems, and the ability to anticipate and prevent catastrophic consequences. These include: 

  • computer science
  • economics
  • engineering
  • finance
  • history
  • history of science
  • mathematics
  • operations research
  • philosophy
  • physical sciences
  • politics
  • psychology
  • public policy
  • sociology
More specifically, Global Systemic Risk will focus on the robustness and fragility of global human-made organizational systems and is concerned with risks that have short- to medium-term likelihood and consequences. 

The most obvious example of how interactive systems can lead to risk is the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Over and above regulatory failure and personal malfeasance, the manner in which declines in the real estate values of pockets of American suburbia led to the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression reflects the interconnectivity and interdependence of financial institutions. The research community argues that other global systems may be subject to the same kind of emergent disruptions: those caused not by the characteristics of any single part, but from the interaction of large numbers of apparently autonomous agents. The global energy system, information networks, and  air and sea transport may increase the efficiency of production and distribution, but may also make these more susceptible to catastrophic failure. Our food and epidemiological security, for example, may be improved by paying greater attention to how the systemic whole comes to represent more than the sum of its parts.
PIIRS funding supports research, course development, and conferences. The community’s activities will begin in fall 2013 and are listed below.
For more information contact Jayne Bialkowski, program manager.

Read the press release

Representation of annual airplane traffic. Image: Manish Nag; data source,




Miguel Centeno is Musgrave Professor of Sociology, a professor of sociology and international affairs, and chair of the Department of Sociology. Centeno is interested in how states work. Much of his research has focused on Latin American cases, including the development of Latin American states in the 19th century. He is also interested in globalization and is working on a project comparing contemporary state capacity, with an emphasis on Brazil, India, and South Africa. A prolific author, Centeno’s most recent books include State and Nation Making in Latin America and Spain: Republics of the Possible, with Agustin Ferraro, (2013), and, with Joseph N. Cohen, Global Capitalism: A Sociological Perspective (2010). Forthcoming books include War and Society (2014) and, with Atul Kohli and Deborah Yashar, an edited volume on state capacity in the developing world.Ph.D. Yale University.


Erhan Çinlar is Norman Sollenberger Professor in Engineering and a professor of operations research and financial engineering. A probabilist, Çinlar has been honored for his contributions to the study of Markov Processes, an important subfield of the mathematical study of probability. At Princeton, he was the first chair of the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, a department he helped to create. He is also one of the founders of the annual Seminar on Stochastic Process. Ph.D. University of Michigan.

Daniel Cloud is a lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the University Center for Human Values. He specializes in the philosophy of biology and the social sciences and cocreated, with Adam Elga, a class on the philosophy of randomness. Prior to Princeton, Cloud was a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Alberta in Calgary, where he helped model the dynamics of gene-regulatory networks in cancer cells. He also is a founding partner of the Firebird Fund, one of the first successful Russia funds, and has been an equity analyst for W. I. Carr in Hong Kong. Ph.D. Columbia University.

Angela Creager is Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History. She studies the history of 20th-century biomedical research. Creager’s current project addresses science and regulation from the 1960s through the 1980s, focusing on how researchers conceptualized and developed techniques for detecting environmental carcinogens. Her most recent book, Life Atomic: Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, was published in 2013. Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley.

Paul DiMaggio is A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and founding director of the Center for the Study of Social Organization. He has written widely on organizational analysis, focusing on nonprofit and cultural organizations, patterns of participation in the arts, and cultural conflict in the US, and is currently studying the social implications of new digital technologies.   His publications include The Twenty-First Century Firm (2001). Ph.D. Harvard University.

Avinash Dixit is John F. Sherred ’52 University Professor of Economics, emeritus, at Princeton University; a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Economics at Lingnan University, Hong Kong; and a senior research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.  His research interests include microeconomic theory, game theory, international trade, industrial organization, growth and development theories, public economics, political economy, and institutional economics. A prolific author, his books include Theory of International Trade (1980, with Victor Norman), The Art of Strategy (2010, with Barry Nalebuff), and Investment under Uncertainty (2012, with Robert Pindyck). Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Adam Elga  is a professor of philosophy. He has taught courses in the theory of knowledge, ethics, logic, decision theory, and the philosophies of physics, randomness and extreme risk, mind, religion, and science, among others. His research interests include probabilistic epistemology (including self-locating beliefs and the epistemology of disagreement), modeling inconsistent states of mind, and probabilistic modeling of systems subject to cascading failures. Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Edward Felten is a professor of computer science and public affairs and director of both the Center for Information Technology Policy and the Program in Information Technology and Society. He was appointed the chief technologist for the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2010 ans currently serves as a technology consultant to the FTC. Felten’s research interests include computer security, privacy, and public policy issues relating to information technology. Specific topics include software security, electronic voting, cybersecurity policy, technology for government transparency, network neutrality, and Internet policy. He has published widely and, in 2004, was included in Scientific American’s list of 50 worldwide science and technology leaders. Ph.D. University of Washington.

Sheldon Garon is Nissan Professor in Japanese Studies and a professor of history and East Asian studies. He studies modern and contemporary Japan, with research interests in relationships between state and society, the links between culture and popular economic behavior, and locating Japan within a global or transnational history of ideas and institutions.  Garon’s most recent book is Beyond our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves (2011). His current book project, Fashioning a Culture of Thrift: Promoting Saving in Japan and the World, examines the impact of state-directed moral suasion on popular behavior. He is also coediting a collection of essays, Consumer Culture and Its Discontents, which examines ambivalence toward American-style consumer culture in Northeast and Southeast Asia and Europe.  Ph.D. Yale University.

Harold James, Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies, holds a joint appointment as professor of international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and Princeton's Department of History, and is director of the Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society. His research focuses on economic and financial history and modern German history. In 2004 he was awarded the Helmut Schmidt Prize for Economic History, and in 2005 the Ludwig Erhard Prize for writing about economics. He is also Marie Curie Visiting Professor at the European University Institute. James regularly teaches courses on the history of financial crises, on 20th-century economic history, and on modern German history. The author of numerous publications, James’ current projects include a history of the corporation in modern Europe, a study of the 1929 crash, and a study of the history of European monetary integration. Ph.D. Cambridge University.

Stanley Katz is a lecturer with the rank of professor in public and international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School. His current research focuses on recent developments in American philanthropy, the relationship of civil society and constitutionalism to democracy, and the relationship of the US to the international human rights regime. He is a specialist on American legal and constitutional history and on philanthropy and nonprofit institutions. A prolific author and editor, Katz is editor of The International Encyclopedia of Legal History (2009).  Ph.D. Harvard University.

Robert O. Keohane is a professor of public and international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School. He has served as editor of International Organization and as president of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Much of his recent work has focused on issues involving uncertainty and risk in connection with climate change and how international institutions have been and could be designed to cope with these global issues. Ph.D. Harvard University.

Sanjeev Kulkarni is a professor of electrical engineering and director of the Keller Center at Princeton University. He is also an affiliated faculty member in the departments of philosophy and operations research and financial engineering.  Kulkarni's research interests include statistical pattern recognition, nonparametric estimation, applied probability, machine learning, information theory, networks, and signal processing. Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thomas Leonard is a research scholar in the Council of Humanities and lecturer in the Department of Economics. Leonard’s teaching includes courses on Law and Economics and Economic History. His research interests include economic philosophy, economic history, rational choice theory and addiction, and the social and economic theories of the Progressive Era. Ph.D. George Washington University.

Simon Levin

Simon Levin is George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Levin’s current interests are in the parallels between ecological systems and financial and economic systems, particularly with regard to what makes them collapse and to the evolution and development of structure and organization, and in the management of public goods and common-pool resources. His ecological research is concerned with the evolution of diversification, the mechanisms sustaining biological diversity in natural systems, the implications for ecosystem structure and functioning, and the dynamics of infectious diseases. He has also been involved in issues of sustainable development with emphasis on the linkages between environmental and socioeconomic systems. Ph.D. University of Maryland.

Jonathan Levy is an assistant professor of history and John Maclean Jr., Presidential University Preceptor. He is an historian of American capitalism with interests in business and economic history, cultural and intellectual history, and the histories of slavery and freedom. His book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (2012), won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Ellis W. Hawley Prize, and Avery O. Craven Award. Levy is currently working on two book projects—the first is a history of the American corporation and the second is a synthetic history of American capitalism from English colonial settlement to the present. Ph.D. University of Chicago.

William Massey is Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering. His research interests include queueing theory, a field of mathematics that is critical to the modeling and design of modern communications systems; operations of communications systems and services; stochastic networks; and applied probability. Ph.D. Stanford University.

Atif Mian is a professor of economics and public policy in the Woodrow Wilson School and codirector of the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance. His research studies links between financial markets and the macro economy. Mian's work emphasizes the role played by political, governance, and organizational constraints in shaping the effectiveness and scope of financial markets and he has published widely.  More recently, his work centers on understanding the origins of the global financial crisis; the political economy of government intervention in financial markets; and the link between asset prices, household borrowing, and consumption. Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zia Mian is a research scientist in the Woodrow Wilson School’s Program on Science and Global Security. His research focuses on technical and policy issues related to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation with special interests in nuclear weapon materials and in nuclear programs in Pakistan and India.  He is a founder and codeputy chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an independent group of experts from seventeen countries working on initiatives to reduce global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. He is also coeditor of Science & Global Security, the international technical journal of arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. In addition to his scholarly articles, he is the editor of several books and has made two documentary films on peace and security in South Asia. Ph.D. University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Michael Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School. His research interests include science and policy of the atmosphere, particularly climate change and its impacts. Much of his research aims to understand the potential for dangerous outcomes of increasing levels of greenhouse gases by exploring the effects of global warming on ecosystems such as coral reefs, on the ice sheets and sea level, and on patterns of human migration. He also studies the process of scientific learning and scientific assessments and their role in problems of global change. Ph.D. University of Chicago.

Eldar Shafir is William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. His main areas of interest include reasoning, judgment, and decision making, and issues related to behavioral economics, with an emphasis on descriptive studies of how people make judgments and decisions in situations of conflict and uncertainty. A central theme is the tension between normative assumptions and behavioral findings. Most recently, the focus has been on decision making in the context of poverty and on the application of behavioral research to policy. His most recent book is The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy (2013). Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jacob Shapiro is an assistant professor of politics and international affairs and codirector of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. His research focuses on political violence, economic development in conflict zones, and security policy. The author or editor of numerous publications, his most recent book, The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations, was published in 2013. Ph.D. Stanford University.

Janet Vertesi is an assistant professor of sociology. Her research for the past seven years has focused on NASA's robotic spacecraft teams, and the decision-making dynamics of large, complex, technical organizations. She brings this sensitivity to the discussion of scientific and technological risk, with an interest in organizational practices of risk construction and management and technologies in transnational processes. At Princeton, she teaches courses on the sociology of science and technology and is a Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy. Ph.D. Cornell University.


Fulya Apaydin is currently an AXA Research Fund postdoctoral researcher at Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, Barcelona, Spain. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Brown University. Broadly, her work examines how social and political actors in the non-western world negotiate new development policies. In particular, she is interested in the aftermath of sudden economic transformations that induce notable uncertainties in the manufacturing and finance industry across developing settings. As a part of the research community on Global Systemic Risk at PIIRS, Apaydin will work towards advancing her new research on the risk taking behavior of Islamic financial institutions. This agenda seeks to better understand the role of the state in financial market development, with a focus non-democratic settings. Specifically, the project unpacks the political and religious institutions that frame financial exchanges and maps out how these actors influence Shari’a compatible product design and trading, and give way to diverse risk-taking behavior following the 2008 global financial crisis.

Benoit Pelopidas is lecturer (assistant professor with tenure) in International Relations at the University of Bristol (Global Insecurities Center), and an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.

He received his Ph.D. in politics from Sciences Po (Paris) and the University of Geneva. He has been awarded two international prizes for his research, from the International Studies Association and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He also received the Swiss Network for International Studies’ award for best dissertation of the year.

His research focuses on experts and intellectuals’ roles in the global politics of nuclear vulnerability, the cases of near use of nuclear weapons, the lessons learned from global nuclear history and French nuclear policies. He is currently completing an edited volume on the experience of the Cuban missile crisis worldwide as an early set of experiences of global nuclear vulnerability and its implications for security, responsibility and alliance dynamics. During his stay at Princeton, he will investigate experts’ overconfidence as a source of global systemic risk in the nuclear and financial worlds.

Research Fellows

Thayer Patterson is a research fellow with the  research community "Global Systemic Risk." Subsequent to receiving a Master in Finance from Princeton's Bendheim Center for Finance, his research has focused on the causes and consequences of catastrophic systemic risk.


Serena Stein is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology and is also earning a certificate in health and health policy at the Woodrow Wilson School. She previously earned a master's degree in international development from University of Oxford. Her research interests focus on food and nutrition security, the urban food system, food technology, nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, and social inequality. She is currently pursuing dissertation work in the United States, Brazil, and Mozambique. 


Affiliated Faculty

Scott Pauls is a professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on the study and analysis of complex systems using tools from geometry and network theory. His work has a broad array of applications across several fields including sociology, political science, economics, neuroscience, psychology, and genetics. His recent investigations focus on robustness and fragility in trade relationships, mathematical models of ideology, dynamic models of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and measures of social support in virtual social networks. Prior to Dartmouth, he held a G.C. Evans postdoctoral instructorship at Rice University. Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania.

Diane Vaughan is a professor of sociology at Columbia University.  Her interests are the sociology of organizations, sociology of culture, deviance and social control, field methods, research design, and science, knowledge, and technology.  The prime theoretical focus of her research is how the social -- history, institutions, organizations -- affect individual meanings, decisions, and action. Since 1980, she has been working on analogical theorizing: developing theory from qualitative data based on cross-case analysis.  The goal is to compare cases of similar events, activities, or phenomena across different organizational forms in order to elaborate general theory or concepts.  This project has focused on the "dark side" of organizations:  mistake, misconduct, and disaster.  Vaughan's books include, Controlling Unlawful Organizational Behavior (1985), Uncoupling (1990), and The Challenger Launch Decision (1997).  The product of this work is a book in progress, Theorizing:  Analogy, Cases, and Comparative Social Organization. Ph.D. Ohio State University.

Graduate Student Fellows

Carole Dalin is a fifth-year doctoral student in water resources in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Princeton Environmental Institute-Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (PEI-STEP) fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School. Her research focuses on water resource use for agriculture and the global virtual water trade network associated with international food trade. Dalin is currently studying virtual water trade between Chinese provinces. Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University.

Andrew Shaver is a second-year doctoral student in security studies in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a member of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. His research focuses on the causes of terrorism and insurgency, the role of territory in nonstate violence, and risk. Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University.

Manish Nag, Department of Sociology. Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University.

Keng Sum Alex Tham, Department of Sociology.  Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University.

Anwar Jason Windawi, Department of Sociology. Ph.D. candidate, Princeton University.