Current Research Working Groups

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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. 

 

Power of/in/through Development Discourse (Isha Bhatnagar, George Spisak, Scott Peters

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.