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History of Development Sociology



Sept. 15, 2015

Development Sociology celebrates 100 years of impact

The Department of Development Sociology at Cornell is kicking off a yearlong centennial celebration this month on the theme “Looking Back to Move Forward.” For the past 100 years, the department has influenced the trajectory of social scientific research, teaching and outreach on development and social change.

Public events began Friday, Sept. 25, when Julie Zimmerman, Ph.D. ’97, presented “100 Years of Scholarship in Development Sociology at Cornell.” During a day long symposium Sept. 26, distinguished alumni and current members of the department offered panel discussions and opportunities to discuss the challenges of development and possibilities for transformative change in the next century.

“Throughout its long history, the Department of Development Sociology has helped shape development scholarship, discourse and policy domestically and throughout the world,” says Phil McMichael, professor and chair.

Fifteen faculty members and alumni have served as president of the Rural Sociological Society, and two have been elected president of the American Sociological Association. Recently, the department played a leadership role in establishing the Section on the Sociology of Development in the American Sociological Association, chaired by Cornell’s David Brown. The department offers an undergraduate major and two minors and has produced more than 330 Ph.D.'s who have gone on to distinguished careers in and out of academia. In addition, the department is home to several applied research and outreach centers with on-the-ground impact.

The field of development sociology is a specialized area of sociology that focuses on the determinants and consequences of societal development. At Cornell, the department focuses on population and development, the politics and economics of development, environment and development, and the social organization of food systems. All geographical regions – including the United States, other advanced industrial nations and the global south – are areas of study.

In 1915, the department was founded as the Department of Rural Social Organization in the College of Agriculture at a time when New York and most of the U.S. was rural and agricultural. Over the years, its name and focus have evolved with the changing demographics and development needs of New York state and the wider world. The department was renamed Rural Sociology in 1939, reflecting the establishment of the national Rural Sociological Society. In 2003, the department changed its name once more, to Development Sociology. This change recognized the importance of urban and rural transformations to the broader development process.