MDI Fellow Feature: Helge-Johannes Marahrens

Written by Carrie McDonald, MDI Journalism Intern

Helge-Johannes Marahrens is a Postdoctoral Fellow, who joined MDI in June after finishing his Ph.D. in Sociology in May. In his dissertation, he uses computational methods to analyze how cities develop within the context of globalization. Marahrens’ scholarly appointment at Georgetown is split between MDI and the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), focusing on the Massive Data and Displacement (MaDD), co-led by MDI Director Lisa Singh, Professor Katharine Donato, and Professor Ali Arab in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

As forced mass migration events continue to unfold, Marahrens’ research on the MaDD project seeks to build a framework for understanding forced displacement patterns and learn what distinguishes forced migration from existing models based upon a slower, deliberate, economically driven global migration flow. 

The team uses computational methods to analyze fine-grained temporal and spatial data to build new models and theories to predict the flows of forced migration on the ground in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Ultimately, the team’s goal is to help policymakers and stakeholders like governments, NGOs, and humanitarian organizations, who allocate resources in crises, by providing models that are better able to predict forced migration flows.

As a computational social scientist, this research project falls at the nexus of Marahrens’ interests in sociology, computer science, and statistics. The interdisciplinary collaboration at MDI is essential for beginning to solve one of society’s most pressing issues. 

“We all come to the table with very different questions,” Marahrens said of his interdisciplinary research team. “In computer science, the question is, how much can we use data or information that we have at a particular time to predict what happens tomorrow? In sociology, there’s more of an emphasis on understanding. Can we build a theory or a model that helps us understand what kind of causal mechanisms are behind these events?”

Marahrens said he is excited to see how this multidisciplinary approach will shape scholarly understanding of forced migration events in the years to come. 

“The disciplines are looking toward each other to find the answers to puzzles within their own disciplines, and it might be changing, for example, how we theorize about migration situations in sociology,” Marahrens said. “I really feel like this is how interdisciplinary work should be done.”