Vice Provost for International Affairs; Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor, Department of Global Development
Wendy Wolford is Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development in the Department of Global Development. Her research includes work on international development, land use and distribution, social mobilization, agrarian societies, and critical ethnography.
As vice provost for international affairs, she focuses on strengthening the university’s many global connections and interdisciplinary initiatives.
At Cornell since 2010, Wolford has served as the faculty director for economic development at the David R. Atkinson Center, where she co-led CARE-Cornell and Oxfam-Cornell collaborations. She was co-leader of a three-year theme project on contested global landscapes at Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences.
Before joining Cornell, she was a faculty member in geography at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2001–10) and a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University (2004–05). She spent 2016–17 as a Fulbright scholar in Mozambique and Portugal, and she is currently working on a book on the politics of inequality and rural development in Brazil and Mozambique.
Wolford holds a PhD in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in economics and international development from McGill University.
Wendy's work draws upon and contributes to political economies of development, social movements and resistance, agrarian societies, political ecology, land use, land reform, and critical ethnography, all with a regional concentration in Latin America, particularly Brazil. For over fifteen years, she has worked with one of the most exciting and important grassroots social movements in Latin American history, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (the Movement of Rural Landless Workers, or the MST). From her work with the movement, she has developed the following projects: 1) an analysis of the historical relationships between land and labor that shape movement formation and maintenance in two distinct regions of Brazil: the relatively more developed South and the impoverished sugarcane region of the Northeast; 2) an ethnographic analysis of institutional culture, governance and land distribution in Brazil with a focus on the ways in which the politics of nostalgia, regret, solidarity and opposition shape the speed, nature and feasibility of land reform; 3) a critical evaluation of "participatory democracy " in the increasing articulations between the state and social movements in Latin America; and 4) an analysis of the shifting paradigms of farmer-led conservation and development in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.
Outreach and Extension Focus
Wendy directed an online multimedia Conservation Bridge case study profiling the CARE-WWF Alliance for Sustainable and Just Food Systems including an 18-minute video and accompanying written case study, now freely available online for educators worldwide. She returned to Mozambique in 2016 to screen and discuss the case study video with the community members featured.
In collaboration with a grade school teacher in Chapel Hill, NC, Wendy has developed a two-week curriculum unit for the sixth grade on "rural development and citizenship in Brazil." The unit covers the historical roots of landlessness and rural inequality in Brazil as well as the relationship between movements like the MST, property rights, and effective versus formal citizenship. Please see her research page to download this curriculum and use it in your own classroom.
One of Wendy's main inspirations is in teaching and working with undergraduate and graduate students. She is particularly interested in bringing research together with teaching, and to that end she encourages students to think critically about everything they read, write and experience. Wendy teaches courses in Development Theory at the undergraduate level and Development Theory, Qualitative Methods, Political Ecology, and Social Movements at the graduate level.
- Wolford, Wendy, 2021 “The Plantationocene: A Lusotropical Contribution to the Theory,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers, early view online.
- Scoones, I., Edelman, M., Borras , S., Hall, R., Wolford, W. W., & White, B. (2018). Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism. The Journal of Peasant Studies. 45:1-20.
- Doctorate, University of California at Berkeley, 2001
- Master of Science, University of California at Berkeley, 1997
- Bachelor of Arts, McGill University, 1994
Land use & distribution
Social mobilization & agrarian societies
Awards & Honors
- Grant for Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum: A Mozambique Case Study (with James Lassoie) (2015) Cornell University Einaudi Center for International Studies
- Fulbright Scholar award for research on “Cultivating Expertise: On Knowledge, Authority and Legitimacy in Rural Mozambique” with the Rural Observatory of Mozambique (2017) Fulbright Program
- DSOC 8900: Master's Level Thesis Research
263 Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
www43 [at] cornell.edu
Wendy in the news
- Polson Institute for Global Development
- Department of Global Development
- Global Development
An ambitious and innovative new initiative expands opportunities for faculty, alumni and students across the university to engage with 20 partner universities in 11 locations, while also welcoming international students here.
- International Programs
- Department of Global Development