Fall 2017 - Power of/in/through Development Discourse

Collaborators: Isha BhatnagarGeorge Spisak, Scott Peters

Across the social science disciplines ‘power’ is as pervasive and contested a term as can be found. It comes as no surprise, then, that the interdisciplinary field of ‘development’ should play host to a multiplicity of theoretical constructions and deployments of ‘power’, as both an explanatory framework and a dependent outcome. Unfortunately, the term itself is rarely afforded the same analytical rigor as the study of its circulation, with scholarship and pedagogy both relying on a tacit understanding that the analyst and audience share an understanding of ‘power’ without ensuring that this is true. Careful examination of discourses surrounding power and development provides a space to examine what this means for the practice of development itself. Our study of development as a process and ideology is incomplete without a critical analysis of power: theoretical perspectives, methodological directions, and ways in which it has been operationalized in contemporary studies on development. This project seeks to address this lacuna by undertaking a systematic review of how ‘power’ is thought within discourses around development.  Our goal is to prepare a syllabus for a course to be taught in Development Sociology that will allow students to locate and clarify the multiple and competing conceptions of power used within the scholarship of development.

Spring 2017 - Applied Research Methods for Social Policy

Collaborators: John Sipple and Amit Anshumali

This is a project to collaboratively prepare and design curricular materials for a course in advanced methodology entitled: Applied Research Methods for Social Policy. In designing the syllabus, our primary focus is on the needs of graduate students in Development Sociology, though the course is expected to draw students from multiple departments. We view the proposed course as a special topics class with weekly or bi-weekly modules that would be run as a workshop emphasizing hands-on learning and practice with the support of campus partners. The focus of the course is to provide exposure to a variety of techniques along with practical applications that can be directly useful for thesis/dissertation research and beyond. In developing the course we plan to build campus connections with different specialized units across campus, and with professionals off-campus regarding instruction and content development. We believe that this course would advance the capacity of students to conduct applied research, and contribute to professional training in the department. Since the course is designed to equip graduate students with the necessary tools of empirical research, our expectation is that the functional competencies acquired will position students well for the competitive job market. We also plan to make the course materials openly accessible to a wider community beyond the department, college and university.

Fall 2016 - Performing our Future

Collaborators: Heidi Mouillesseaux-Kunzman and Scott Peters

Dominant development patterns and processes at regional and local community levels tend to reinforce rather than ameliorate a host of problematic realities, including economic inequities, bounded imaginations, and resigned preferences.  Instead of adding to our understanding of how this situation is produced and sustained, our Research Working Group is conducting action research in the Southern Tier region of New York State that aims to produce new knowledge and theory about how these problems can be addressed.  Interweaving diverse methods and ways of knowing from the arts, humanities, design, and social sciences, we will take up and refine the following initial questions: How can arts and culture promote individual voice and collective agency, unbounding a community’s imagination and ambition in order to create the conditions for equitable economic development? How can a community organize itself to build an economy and civic culture that is democratic, equitable, broad-based and sustainable?  And how can scholars, students, and staff from higher educational institutions work with non-academic community members to contribute to these goals?

Fall 2016 - The Contested Significance of Land: Contemporary Discursive and Inscriptive Collisions Generating Land as a Particular Resource

Collaborators: Delilah GriswoldShrey Kapoor, and Fouad Makki

Contemporary economic and ecological crises are in many instances significantly remaking relations around land.  These new relations consistently elicit material and discursive contestations about the ontological status and cultural meaning of rural spaces, and frequently crystallize in narratives legitimating certain modes of use and access. What follows are often new and reformed regimes of exclusion and dispossession, as well as consequent forms of resistance. Given the livelihood and ecological significance of land, it is important to develop analytic and theoretical frameworks to understand contemporary phenomena legitimating and governing its access and use. Emerging from this imperative, the Contested Significance of Land Research Working Group is structured to address the following three thematic questions: 1) what are the key contemporary discourses and inscription techniques re-framing relations to land; 2) from where do these discourses and inscription techniques emerge, and do they share common elements in origin and/or character; and 3) what interactive dynamics become generated when these discourses and techniques collide in various scales of practice, such as policy codification and implementation, activism, and resistance? Recognizing that these contemporary narratives are as varied as the actors and geographies which they engage, this Research Working Group most importantly serves as a space where different theoretical perspectives and scales of analysis collide as they would on the ground.

Spring 2015 - Space, Place, Resistance, and Alternative Modernities in Latin America 

Collaborators: Fernando Galeana Rodriguez and Fouad Makki

In Latin America, uneven processes of democratization have given rise to new forms of governance and civic engagement that have empowered historically marginalized groups of people. Despite these significant changes, the region continues to be mired in appalling social and economic inequality fueling conflict and violence - and threatening social-political stability. Our own research in several countries of Latin America exemplifies how these tensions arise and are contested within claims of citizenship, security, and land and territorial rights. As emerging scholars, we are interested in exploring how these tensions relate to development in Latin America - how is development conceptualized, deployed and contested at multiple scales?

The Polson Institute has supported numerous Research Working Groups since its inception. For more information regarding previous initiatives, please contact polsoninstitute [at] cornell.edu ().