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Past Research Working Groups

Polson Institute Research Working Groups have been organized around the following themes: 

The Food Studies Collective

Rachel Bezner Kerr (rbeznerkerr@cornell.edu)

Goals: The Food Studies Collective was formed to provide a forum where graduate students, faculty, staff and other interested members share ideas, ongoing research and examine questions of interest related to agriculture and food.

Our long-term aspirations are to look beyond present expressions of PTP towards a more expansive and ambitious PTP that is responsive to different ecological and socio-cultural contexts and can inform a philosophy of practice across levels of governance.

Though it's customary to see public trust in relation to natural resources, the discourse could be broader and more fundamental.  We are all trustees in relation to others—friends, families, society at large.  Social Security is nothing if not an intergenerational trust that constantly turns over—trustors become trustees over their life cycles, with working people providing the corpus of the trust from their payroll taxes.  I have a lot to learn about trust expressions and experiences.

Public Trust Research Working Group (PTRWG)

Dan Decker, Natural Resources (Daniel Decker djd6@cornell.edu)                                               

Summary: Public Trust Policy is evident in the statutes and constitutions of approximately 20 nations and in the norms and customs of numerous other societies. Yet it lacks a coherent, well-articulated transboundary set of core characteristics and is only now enjoying self-referencing discourse at multiple scales across multiple landscapes. Our RWG will pursue these questions: where are formal and informal public trust policies operating, what do they share in common, how can critical communication among “practitioner societies” be advanced, and in what ways is public trust theory/implementation relevant to global development? A Spring, 2014, Public Trust Symposium will be held at Cornell.

Rethinking the Global Crisis: A Collaborative Cornell-Sussex Research Working Group

Fouad Makki, Development Sociology (Fouad Makki fmm2@cornell.edu); Shelley Feldman, Development Sociology (rf12@cornell.edu)

The geographic reach and social depth of the contemporary world economic and socio-ecological crisis signals the advent of a new global conjuncture understood as a concentrated moment of transition from one epoch to another. This transition is by no means a homogeneous or linear process. It represents a powerful concatenation of contradictory processes capable of generating a number of different possible outcomes. This suggests the need for a critical examination of the uneven but inter-related world-historical processes that compose the current conjuncture set within the epochal trajectory of the international capitalist order. One plausible and intellectually productive way to conceive of this relationship of epochal and conjunctural analysis might be in terms of the overall trajectory and contemporary crisis of the neoliberal project, conceived not simply as the doctrine of laisser faire capitalism, but as a complex ideological, political, and cultural project advanced by states and international institutions alike. This project offers an opportunity to begin reading together to understand the complex relations and dynamics that enable and sustain this concatenation of crises.

New Enclosures

This working group has explored the theoretical framework of "enclosure," specifically as it relates to contemporary land grabs in Africa and beyond, and as it intersects with the concept of terra nullius. Outcomes of the working group have included, to date, weekly discussions among graduate students and faculty members, sponsored talks and meetings with visiting speakers such as James Scott and Silvia Frederici, and a workshop, held in the fall of 2012, in which group members shared draft papers on the theme of new enclosures. 

Changing Rural Societies

This research working group has explored dynamics of rural change in the U.S. and Europe, focusing on the demographic composition and spatial distribution of the rural population, the phenomenon of social exclusion in rural areas, changing food systems, and the relationship between land reform and community social organization. The working group has been global in scope, involving the participation of scholars from the Polson Institute, the UHI Millennium Institute, and the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

GIS/Spatial Demography Core

This working group, co-sponsored by the Cornell Population Program (CPP) and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center (BLCC), was set up to explore the formation of a GIS/Spatial Demography Core at Cornell.

Food Systems in the Global Economy

This research working group explored the global restructuring of agriculture and its implications for food production, labor conditions in the food industry, and the sustainability of rural communities. Key outcomes from this working group include the establishment of advanced graduate seminars in the Sociology of Food and Ecology.

International Agriculture Trade Policy

This research working group focused on the issue of agricultural trade and its implications for farming populations, and involved the participants at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. The outcomes of the working group included workshops in Toronto (2001), Ithaca (2003), and Paraty, Brazil (2005).  

Social Movements

Focused on the role of social movements in shaping and contesting development policy, this research working group resulted in a conference at Cornell (2003), a book workshop (2007), and, eventually, in the publication of the book Contesting Development. Critical Struggles for Social Change in 2010.

The World Food Crisis in Perspective

The aim of this research working group was to bring together faculty and students interested in the global food crisis. This working group culminated in a conference, entitled “Visible Warnings: The World Food Crisis in Perspective,” which was held in April 2009 at Cornell. Graduate student members of the working group also presented papers on the global food crisis at the Agriculture and Human Values in the summer of 2009 and attended a workshop on Biofuels, Land and Agrarian Change at St. Mary's University, Halifax, in October, 2009.