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Fall 2017 Awards

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Small Grants Awarded Fall 2017

Global Africa and Ethnographies of Interconnection: A writing workshop for graduate students (Ewan Robinson and Janet Smith)

In his 2014 book “Emerging Africa,” Nigerian Central Bank Governor Kingsley Moghalu argues that the African Continent is the “Global Economy’s Last Frontier.” This claim is perplexing: how can a world region that has been central to international trade systems since the 17th century be said to be a 21st century frontier? While historically inaccurate, the narrative of “Africa as frontier” is part of an important modern discursive project. Framing Africa as “disconnected” elides the ways Africa and Africans have developed in connection to and have helped to constitute “the global” (viewed as global capitalism, inter-state relations, or universalistic knowledge, to name only a few instantiations). Its histories erased, Africa is rendered available for contemporary acquisition and transformation. In response to such narratives, a wealth of contemporary research - informed by historical and ethnographic approaches - has traced the specific processes of interconnection that have constituted social forms in and beyond Africa. This body of work reminds us that would-be global projects depend upon the particularities of the places in which they take shape, whether these are board rooms in Washington D.C. and Addis Ababa, marketplaces in Touba, or oil platforms in rural Chad. This Polson-funded workshop aims to contribute to this emerging literature, building on Anna Tsing’s (2005) famous use of “friction” to describe how projects become global precisely by connecting specific places, people, and rationale - without resolving their differences. The workshop will bring together early-career scholars who are actively studying global projects in and of Africa using ethnographic, historical, and/or relational approaches. Through critical exchanges and constructive engagement, participants will trace the ways that ethnographic approaches to interconnect can elucidate African agency in the contemporary moment and challenge conventional accounts portraying Africa as disconnected, passive, or marginal.

Control of the 'Almighty Dollar': Power, Religion and Race in Polarized Suburbs (John Sipple)

As one of three “experts” hand-picked by the state to study a very “troubled” community and school district in Rockland County, NY (first made (in)famous by a 2014 This American Life story (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/534/a-not-so-simple-majority). This is a community deeply fractured along religious, racial, legal and fiscal faults. A rapidly growing Ultra-Orthodox population in a traditionally integrated (Black and White) upper middle-class suburb moved through a free and open democratic process to gain control of the local school board in 2006 (though not without accusations of substantial voter fraud). Concurrent with the political takeover of the school board was the 2008 recession and a dramatic growth in the population of Central American immigrants seeking construction jobs (ironically building large Hassidic apartment buildings in the community), I began a journey that has lasted more than two years. Initially immersed in data, then immersed in people, and now working on relationships, I am now winding down my formal official state-appointed involvement. I now feel an obligation to more publicly tell the story of this “troubled” community and especially the extraordinary people and actions that are taken each day to try to save the community. While issues of community polarization, demographic change, and democracy are intertwined in complex and challenging ways, there are many parallels to the challenges our nation faces today. The bitter battle between two groups of Americans, each relying on information from different sources, rarely interacting with each other, and tossing accusations like bombs at each other is parallel to “my” community. This proposal to the Polson Institute is meant to spur this next stage of the project: continued coding of the data and brainstorming the various useful and productive conceptualizations that may help guide the writing of the book. 


Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) Annual Meeting (David Brown and John Sipple)

The Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) will hold its annual meeting at Cornell during March 23-25. TARRN is a network of scholars, both well-known and less experienced, from 7 institutions in the US and UK (https://tarrn.wordpress.com/). Member institutions include Penn State, Aberystwyth (Wales), Queens (Northern Ireland), Aberdeen University and James Hutton Institute (Scotland), Newcastle (England) and Cornell. TARRN was organized in 2006 as a result of a Polson Institute research working group. This year’s three day meeting will be organized around 5 sections: (a) Discussion of 5 think pieces identifying and examining emerging and newly important issues for rural research, (b) Informal discussion of new and mid-stream research projects, (c) Panel discussion of “research into policy” (d) meet the editors (editors of Sociologia Ruralis, Journal of Rural Studies, and Rural Sociology will attend) (e) field trip to the Erie Canal corridor. 

Please also visit our Current Research Working Groups page for information about other grants awarded.