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Current Research Working Groups

Foreign development theories introduction and domestication in China (Mengzheng YaoZhuang Han, and Jack Zinda)

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.


Rural Revitalization and Resiliency in Upstate, New York (John Sipple, Gretchen Rymarchyk, Heidi Mouillesseaux-Kunzman)

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?

World Historical Perspectives on Financialization (Aman Banerji, Michael Cary, Phil McMichael, Fouad Makki)

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.

Infrastructure, State, Cyborg (Jenny Goldstein, Mushahid Hussain, Kendra Kintzi, Sidney Madsen, Nidhi Subramanyan)

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.

Rural-Urban Interdependencies and Divides (David Kay, Robin Blakely-Armitage, Poppy McLeod, John Forester, Dan Lichter)

Over the next five years the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, in concert with the Provost’s Sustainability Task Force’s recommendations, will be exploring the role of resilient rural-urban systems in developing a holistic systems approach to sustainability. Our Polson Research Working Group (RWG) will use this next year to develop a proposal to submit to ACSF and possibly other funders to support our work. We are interested in approaching the topic holistically and along distinct thematic transects which manifest along the rural-urban spectrum. We will approach these through multiple disciplinary and place-oriented lenses to consider such issues as spatial and symbolic boundary setting, individual and group identity perception and stability, place attachment at different scales, demographic and other material processes that complicate these constructions, and more. Our intent is to lay the foundation for new collaborative research, teaching, and outreach projects.