Fall 2019 - Control of the 'Almighty Dollar': Power, Religion and Race in Polarized Suburbs

Collaborator: John Sipple

This is a project to chronicle Jon Sipple's experience as one of three “experts” hand-picked by the state to study a “troubled” school district in Rockland County, New York first made famous in 2014 on This American Life. The community is fractured along religious, racial, legal and fiscal lines. A rapidly growing Ultra-Orthodox population in a traditionally integrated upper-middle-class suburb moved through a democratic process to gain control of the local school board in 2006, though not without accusations of substantial voter fraud. While issues of community polarization, demographic change, and democracy are intertwined in complex and challenging ways in this case, there are many parallels to the challenges our nation faces today. This project involves continued coding of data collected in Rockland County with undergraduate research assistants in the Department and brainstorming the various useful and productive conceptualizations that may help guide the writing of a book about that experience.

Spring 2019 - Reducing Food Waste on College Campuses: Innovations and Ideas

Collaborator: Lori Leonard

Food waste is an understudied environmental issue that has only recently gained political traction. In the US, up to 40 percent of the food produced is wasted, and most of this -by some estimates more than 90 percent of it-ends up in landfills, where it takes up space and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. For both of these reasons, state and municipal solid waste management services are making it a priority to divert organics from landfills. This 1.5-day workshop brought together people working on the problem of food waste from across the country to discuss innovations and ideas that might be tested on college campuses. The event was an opportunity to form a network through which to share information, organize experiments, spark entrepreneurial ventures, and advocate for policy and legislative action on this issue. The event serves as a precursor to the launch of a Cornell-wide Student Challenge to reduce food waste.

Fall 2018 - Teambuilding Workshop: The Children Science Center Kenya

Collaborator: Larry Van de Valk

The Children Science Center Kenya (CSCK) was launched in 2016 under the direction of Mr. Kenneth Monjero, a research assistant at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and a member of the IP-CALS Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows program. The CSCK has expanded quickly since it's inception in 2016 and a now 35 person staff faces team difficulties and collective challenges as a result of rapid change. Dr. Van de Valk will facilitate a teambuilding workshop involving discussions of effective team norms, styles of decision making, conflict management, and communication with the objective of repairing and building team trust and effective work practices.

Fall 2017 - Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) Annual Meeting

Collaborators: David Brown and John Sipple

The Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) held its annual meeting March 23-25 at Cornell University. TARRN is a network of scholars, both well-known and less experienced, from seven institutions in the US and UK. Member institutions include Penn State, Aberystwyth (Wales), Queens (Northern Ireland), Aberdeen University and The James Hutton Institute (Scotland), Newcastle (England), and Cornell. TARRN was organized in 2006 as a result of a Polson Institute Research Working Group. This year’s three day meeting will be organized around five activities: (1) Discussion of five think pieces identifying and examining emerging and newly important issues for rural research, (2) Informal discussions of new and mid-stream research projects, (3) Panel discussions of “research into policy” examples, (4) meeting with editors of key journals (Sociologia RuralisJournal of Rural Studies, and Rural Sociology), and (5) a field trip to the Erie Canal corridor. 

Fall 2017 - Global Africa and Ethnographies of Interconnection: A Writing Workshop for Graduate Students

Collaborators: Ewan Robinson and Janet Smith

A wealth of contemporary research - informed by historical and ethnographic approaches - has traced the specific processes of interconnection that have constituted social forms in and beyond Africa. This body of work reminds us that would-be global projects depend upon the particularities of the places in which they take shape, whether these are board rooms in Washington D.C. and Addis Ababa, marketplaces in Touba, or oil platforms in rural Chad. This Polson-funded workshop (April 20th) aims to contribute to this emerging literature, building on Anna Tsing’s (2005) famous use of “friction” to describe how projects become global precisely by connecting specific places, people, and rationale - without resolving their differences. The workshop will bring together early-career scholars who are actively studying global projects in and of Africa using ethnographic, historical, and/or relational approaches to elucidate African agency in the contemporary moment and challenge conventional accounts portraying Africa as disconnected, passive, or marginal.

Fall 2016 - The Risk of American Poverty: Developing and Evaluating a Web Based Poverty Calculator

Collaborator: Tom Hirschl

This research seeks to further develop and evaluate a poverty risk calculator developed through prior research. The project will involve analyzing sample data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) in order to build a series of life tables estimating the adulthood probability of using a social welfare program, experiencing a spell of unemployment, and encountering a composite measure of economic insecurity.  In addition, I propose to assess, along with my research collaborator, whether exposure to the risk calculator changes attitudes towards poverty and inequality. To measure response to the risk calculator we will implement a test/retest design in college and high school classrooms where students will be surveyed using items from a set of previously researched questions about attitudes toward poverty and inequality.  Students will be randomly assigned to treatment and control groups, and the results will be analyzed to determine the type and degree of change, if any. Depending upon the results, changes to the content of the poverty calculator will be implemented. The research results will also be incorporated into a research proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Fall 2016 - Food, Agroecology, Justice and Well-Being Symposium

Collaborator: Rachel Bezner-Kerr

The Food, Agroecology, Justice, and Wellbeing collective is a research group consisting of graduate students, faculty and post-doctoral students from across the university. Our overarching interests are on the intersections and connections between the broad themes of agroecology, food sovereignty/food justice and health/nutrition/well-being. We began as a Research Working Group in 2014 with support from the Polson Institute, and have met numerous times to share work in progress, host speakers, and discuss relevant papers on these themes. The membership of the group has changed over the last 2 years, and we currently consist of approximately 15 members from Nutrition, Development Sociology, Agricultural Economics, Crop and Soil Sciences and Ecology. In April 2017 , a 3-day symposium was held which will brought together external participants (5 international, 15 domestic) as well as Cornell researchers—including junior and senior faculty, postdocs, and graduate students, exploring transformative methodologies for linking agroecological practice, food justice, food sovereignty and improved health and well-being through presentations, discussions and collective writing.

Spring 2015 - "Land Grabbing as a Form of Identity Construction" - Workshop

Collaborator: Shelley Feldman

This project was funded to hold a one day workshop on the relationship between land appropriation and forms of identity construction. The workshop explored whether this relationship understood as that between security of private property and recognition as a citizen is meaningful for contexts not tied to institutional ethnic exclusion such as class difference. The purpose of the workshop is to build a more distinct theoretical connection between the robust literature and the multi-faceted processes entailed in land grabs and communities or specific populations marked as targets for appropriation.

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