Mike Bishop

Ph.D. Candidate, Development Sociology

  • Research focus: Power, race and social movements and institutions in rural USA
  • Hometown: Mt. Morris, New York
  • College attended and degree earned: Georgetown University (BA); Harvard Graduate School of Education (M.Ed.)
  • Fun factMy first career was leading adventure based counseling trips for court-committed youth in Massachusetts and Missouri.

What are the big challenges you want to tackle in the world?

I believe that public universities, state operated prisons, Haudenosaunee nations, and the communities that surround them in Central and Western New York State form a network. I aim to investigate, within this network, what I see as anomalous nodes or sites that allow for transforming versus maintaining current racialized power relations. My project is to pursue the qualities of these anomalous nodes.

How do some white people in rural US come to resist white supremacy ways of being, knowing, and doing? Who are the people of European descent who eschew the “psychological wage” of whiteness of W.E.B. Dubois and commit to racial justice?

I will confront all or some of the following issues in my work:

  • What do the interactions look like among wider community members, indigenous peoples, students in these rural universities, and incarcerated individuals in rural prisons?
  • Where are/are there reciprocal, knowledge sharing relationships and action projects between residents on either side of the abyssal (community/campus/prison) line in these areas?
  • Can relational networks at the local level connect people to national and international movements?

Tell us more about your research.

As my project comes into focus I know in broad strokes that I aim to answer questions of interest to both the field and to communities. What questions are being posed by current social movement leaders in rural areas who are committed to racial justice? My project will take place in rural NY state. My research is grounded in the understanding that race is the defining feature in rural United States, an often invisible construct that provides rural people of European descent – settlers – with a sense of power, regardless of their class standing. While both universities and prisons do more to maintain than to challenge white supremacy ways of being, knowing, and doing, both can serve as sites of resistance to its manifestations. What forms of solidarity between communities in rural areas, and the sovereign nations, prisons and universities sited there, can lead to transformation of institutional power relations?

What were you doing before the PhD program?

I continue to work full time while pursuing my PhD. In my current paid work at Cornell University I serve as a bridge connecting academic and student affairs initiatives through on- and off-campus collaborations. I have worked in university setting for 20 years coordinating student leadership and social action programs, and have come to see my purpose as strengthening democracy. I relocated to Tompkins County to be closer to my hometown in western NY and be a part of Engaged Cornell. Recently I taught Introduction to Sociology at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3), with a focus on C. Wright Mills. Before transitioning to higher education, I spent eight years in youth development, including five years with the Missouri Division of Youth Services in the Ozarks where I saw rural poverty – and resistance to it – previously unknown to me. I have years of community and university experience connecting race and movements for justice, including cultivating the type of collective leadership and consciousness development of emerging adults who seek to participate in these movements.

What has been the most memorable or impactful experience of your academic or professional career so far?

Leading a 10-year university commitment to post-Katrina New Orleans, 2005-2015, while working at University of California, Berkeley. In the process I deepened my understanding of race and class oppression and resistance.

How do you envision the PhD contributing to your career?

My primary intention is to produce scholarship that will advance movement strategizing. I imagine future work in higher education or other public interest sites that aim to strengthen democracy.

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