Collaborations of mutual scholarly interest.

Research Working Groups are desesigned to promote sustained, cooperative research activity and reading groups in substantive and methodological research areas of interest to students and faculty in the Department of Global Development. Polson Institute grants promote research at the intersection of systemic inequality and social-environmental justice, and focus on the advancement of global development as a critical, innovative and participatory practice.

Energy and Society Research Working Group 

Energy research focuses heavily on technology and engineering advancement, emphasizing the development of innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency and reliability. Emerging literature, however, has highlighted its socio-technical nature that encompasses energy transition interactions and dynamics, multi-stakeholder involvement, policy frameworks, and human-scale centered energy services. Addressing this new stream of literature, the Energy and Society Research Working Group aims to facilitate discussions to understand how policies, infrastructure, and technologies interact to increase access to clean and reliable energy in the Global South. The Working Group envisions to create a collaborative platform for students and postdocs in Global Development and across campus and build a supportive community of scholars to advance energy and society research.

Food Systems Transformations: Pathways and Methods

The terms 'transition' and 'transformation' have emerged as buzzwords, signifying the imperative need for changes to nurture sustainable, resilient and just food systems. This Research Working Group aims to delve into the nuanced interpretations of these concepts within scientific literature, exploring their origins, pathways and methods through a reading group and organizing a transformation method’s workshop. A food systems transition and food systems transformation are not mutually exclusive but rather offer complementary insights into describing and facilitating radical and non-linear societal changes. Researchers intend to reveal how the perspectives and approaches associated with these concepts can enrich one another, contributing to the design of pathways for sustainable, resilient and just food systems. Furthermore, they seek to stimulate

Critical Development Studies Research Working Group

The Critical Development Studies research working group aims to maintain and build on Cornell's leading role in critical development studies scholarship. The group consists of several streams of activity: a biweekly reading group, a film series, and a running workshop on methodology. The group promotes interdisciplinary collaboration in critical development studies research by connecting graduate students and faculty across the university through interdepartmental networking and community building. A methodology workshop is planned for October 2023, and the group will host a week-long graduate student workshop in Spring 2024. Ultimately, the group seeks to strengthen Global Development’s commitment to critical development studies by drawing on the university’s unique strengths and uniting like-minded scholarship across departments and disciplines.

Revisiting Critical Agrarian Studies: From Classical Debates to New Directions

This Research Working Group will explore both classical and contemporary work in critical agrarian studies to support Development Studies graduate students specializing in agrarian political economy, rural sociology, political ecology, and related fields. The questions debated in this literature —from the role agriculture can play in various development pathways and economic transitions to debates about the formation, persistence, and politics of rural class formations — continue to loom large, as do the analytical tools pioneered by the literature’s foundational texts. This reading group will provide graduate students an opportunity to explore these texts in preparation for their A exams, dissertation proposals, or early dissertation chapter drafts. The research working group, will connect these foundational contributions with current debates in the interdisciplinary field of critical agrarian studies.

Critical Soil Studies

Soils elucidate how agrarian futures are shaped by the entwined forces of climate change, capital expansion and scientific innovation but also a locus for societal change through food sovereignty, collective soil building and agroecology. Drawing upon scholarship from the social sciences: including development studies, political ecology, political economy, anthropology, feminist science studies, and the natural sciences: soil science, agronomy, and plant science, this transdisciplinary research group seeks to trace the genealogy of soils' theoretical engagements, from perspectivist to relational approaches, to better understand soils’ role in contemporary environmental crisis and to shape a new generation of soil scholars. 

Previous Research Working Groups

Numerous scholars have highlighted a need to develop rural-specific policy planning, research methods and outcomes that are sensitive to rural needs in their own context. We engage in this effort not to compare, respond to, or adapt from urban or suburban contexts, but rather to explore the unique contexts of rural communities, the major institutions involved, and how best to promote community vitality. Indeed, as Lu & Jacobs (2013) note, “many issues facing rural places transcend arbitrarily set and obsolescent political – particularly county – boundaries. At the same time, we must also examine their role within the larger context of increasing urbanization, climate change, and shifting political landscapes. Our main question is: How can research at Cornell, done in collaboration with local partners, help inform and shape policies, practices and knowledge of rural revitalization and resiliency?

Financialization has become an important concept for understanding the restructuring of global capitalism following the neoliberal turn. Yet, much like neoliberalism, the term functions as something of a vague signifier. Scholarship on financialization has highlighted varied processes including the increasing prevalence of accumulation patterns delinked from production, the deification of debt, and shifting forms of governance. This research working group seeks to complicate our understanding of these processes by asking to what extent financialization represents a truly qualitative shift in the structure of capitalism versus a mere expansion of its endemic economic forms. An interdisciplinary, global perspective that puts empirical case studies into conversation with world-historical sociology will enable the group to historicize these processes, advance their understanding of financialization’s uneven trajectory and complexify the capital-labour relation.  The group will connect scholars from a host of different disciplines interested in the implications of ‘modern’ financial instruments - from agricultural futures, interest rate swaps, hedge fund investments, cash transfers, and green bonds.

Infrastructures incarnate disparate and deeply contested social imaginaries, becoming nodes of expression that are interwoven into quotidian acts of making meaning and political acts of exercising voice.  A growing body of academic literature emphasizes the importance of theorizing infrastructures as socio-technical systems, complex assemblages of material, technical, and representational spaces that both shape, and are shaped by, constellations of social relations.  Unique to infrastructure is its role as an accumulated networks that shape the flow and movement of bodies, things, and ideas, requiring attention not only to the technical functions that infrastructures fulfill, but to the social imaginaries and representational spaces that they create.  This research working group will critically explore the discursive and material dimensions of infrastructural change and urban-rural transitions in postcolonial states, with particular attention to questions and histories of governance, modalities of social provisioning, and the production of urbanity.  By bringing together theoretical and methodological tools from development sociology, geography, anthropology, political ecology, and cultural studies, the group will contribute to 1) ethnographic understandings of institutions and inscription technologies, and 2) critical exploration of infrastructural development as a performative, power-laden practice.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

Until recent years, China has long been perceived as monolithic by media, governments and even academia from the global north. In this RWG, we believe China shouldn’t be understood as an administratively isolated state for most of its history. Instead, the country has deep connections to the world. On one hand, it absorbs and tests theoretical thinking and empirical practices from the whole world to implement its domestic revolutions and reforms. On the other hand, Chinese scholars and reformers generate new theories and practices which create impacts on the global south and the global north altogether. Such exchanges in thinking and practices are what this RWG wants to explore more. We are interested in investigating how thoughts from the world land and blossom in China and how new ideas and practices created in China impact the rest of the world later. Our goal is to discuss China as globally involved and to establish a family lineage tree for different theories in this process.

An interdisciplinary and diverse group of scholars involved in collaborative research and learning on topics that include: Critical Pedagogies, University Extension, Participatory Action Research (PAR), and more. There will be an opportunity to develop and international conference or collaborative book in year 2. 

Interested in applying?

The Polson Institute offers two grant cycles during the year. For full grant information, submissions processes, and deadlines, please visit our main grant page.