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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Jenny Goldstein, assistant professor of global development, has been named to a prestigious faculty fellowship to develop an ambitious research project focused on environmental rehabilitation in Indonesia.

Goldstein will confront the issue of degraded land as a 2021-22 faculty fellow in the Cornell Center for Social Sciences (CCSS). The yearlong fellowship includes a semester in residence at the center. Goldstein plans to pursue a book manuscript tentatively titled “Land of No Return: Indonesia’s Development Out of Ruins.”

The book project is a culmination of a decade of research and fieldwork that Goldstein conducted on the politics of Indonesia's peatland rehabilitation. Her empirically grounded study of the vast peatland ecosystem explores how scientific knowledge is diverse and contested, and the role it plays in land restoration and rehabilitation, as well as in extractive industries.

“My research takes up the broad question of what happens to land that has been thoroughly scraped over by extractive capitalism. These destructive processes often result in ruin, and — in the case of Indonesia’s peatlands — emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” Goldstein said.

Indonesia’s peat swamp forests extend across a million hectares of waterlogged soil encircling the island of Borneo. In the 1990s, the government instituted a policy now known as the Mega Rice Project to transform the vast region into productive agricultural land. The hope was to replace dense swamps with thriving rice paddies and inject the country with a rich new food source for its rapidly growing population; however, the deposits of carbon-dense vegetation transformed into highly flammable landscapes which put Southeast Asia at great risk of air pollution.

“We at CCSS are thrilled about Jenny Goldstein’s project," said CCSS co-directors Sahara Byrne and Peter K. Enns. "She works on furthering our understanding of climate change and technological solutions to restoring our planet. She unveils a political crossroads that may house a hidden key to our successful future as human beings who living together on a fragile planet. She investigates hope in the dismantling of tragedy.”

Originally trained as a geographer and political ecologist, Goldstein brings a unique lens to the social sciences which draws interests not only in the fields of geography, anthropology and environmental studies, but also in the biophysical sciences.

“Dr. Goldstein is a rising star in the social sciences and at CALS,” said Beth Ahner, senior associate dean and professor of biological and environmental engineering. “This strategic and synergistic book project will offer the opportunity to coalesce her years of fieldwork and research in Indonesia.”

Fellow Global Development assistant professor Jack Zinda was previously awarded a 2020-21 fellowship.

CCSS is housed under the Research Division. The Research Division, headed by the Vice President for Research, enables and advances the university’s research priorities as well as research activities of Cornell colleges, schools, research centers, institutes, and laboratories.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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