Previous Research Working Groups

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Space, Place, Resistance, and Alternative Modernities in Latin America (Karla Peña, Fernando Rodriguez, and Fouad Makki)

We are broadly interested in understanding how space and place shape resistance and identity in ways generative of what can be considered “alternative modernities” in Latin America. In this region, uneven processes of democratization have given rise to new forms of governance and civic engagement that have empowered historically marginalized groups.  Despite these significant changes, this increased political participation has not necessarily materialized into improved economic conditions for these groups. The region continues to be mired in appalling social and economic inequality fueling conflict and violence - and threatening social-political stability. Given this paradoxical relationship of empowerment and exclusion, our research group is interested in multi-disciplinary approaches that engage with the themes of development, security, citizenship, territory, environmental conflicts, and agricultural technology. During the 2015-2016 academic year, we discussed key scholarly texts on these areas, developed a syllabus for professional development, and organized a workshop with graduate students from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. During our second year, we will continue to hold our discussion meetings and we will plan a second workshop with graduate students from other universities as well as collaborate in round tables about issues of development in Latin America.

The Contested Significance of Land: Contemporary Discursive and Inscriptive Collisions Generating Land as a Particular Resource (Delilah Griswold, Shrey Kapoor, and Fouad Makki)

Contemporary economic and ecological crises are in many instances significantly remaking relations around land.  These new relations consistently elicit material and discursive contestations about the ontological status and cultural meaning of rural spaces, and frequently crystallize in narratives legitimating certain modes of use and access. What follows are often new and reformed regimes of exclusion and dispossession, as well as consequent forms of resistance. Given the livelihood and ecological significance of land, it is important to develop analytic and theoretical frameworks to understand contemporary phenomena legitimating and governing its access and use. Emerging from this imperative, the Contested Significance of Land Research Working Group is structured to address the following three thematic questions: 1) what are the key contemporary discourses and inscription techniques re-framing relations to land; 2) from where do these discourses and inscription techniques emerge, and do they share common elements in origin and/or character; and 3) what interactive dynamics become generated when these discourses and techniques collide in various scales of practice, such as policy codification and implementation, activism, and resistance? Recognizing that these contemporary narratives are as varied as the actors and geographies which they engage, this Research Working Group most importantly serves as a space where different theoretical perspectives and scales of analysis collide as they would on the ground.

Applied Research Methods for Social Policy (John Sipple and Amit Anshumali

This is a project to collaboratively prepare and design curricular materials for a course in advanced methodology entitled: Applied Research Methods for Social Policy. In designing the syllabus, our primary focus is on the needs of graduate students in Development Sociology, though the course is expected to draw students from multiple departments. We view the proposed course as a special topics class with weekly or bi-weekly modules that would be run as a workshop emphasizing hands-on learning and practice with the support of campus partners. The focus of the course is to provide exposure to a variety of techniques along with practical applications that can be directly useful for thesis/dissertation research and beyond. In developing the course we plan to build campus connections with different specialized units across campus, and with professionals off-campus regarding instruction and content development. We believe that this course would advance the capacity of students to conduct applied research, and contribute to professional training in the department. Since the course is designed to equip graduate students with the necessary tools of empirical research, our expectation is that the functional competencies acquired will position students well for the competitive job market. We also plan to make the course materials openly accessible to a wider community beyond the department, college and university.

The Polson Institute has supported numerous Research Working Groups since its inception. For more information regarding previous initiatives, please contact