Current Small Grant Projects

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

This is a project to chronicle my experience as one of three “experts” hand-picked by the state to study a “troubled” school district in Rockland County, New York first made famous in 2014 on This American Life. The community is fractured along religious, racial, legal and fiscal lines. A rapidly growing Ultra-Orthodox population in a traditionally integrated upper middle-class suburb moved through a democratic process to gain control of the local school board in 2006, though not without accusations of substantial voter fraud. While issues of community polarization, demographic change, and democracy are intertwined in complex and challenging ways in this case, there are many parallels to the challenges our nation faces today. This project involves continued coding of data collected in Rockland County with undergraduate research assistants in the Department and brainstorming the various useful and productive conceptualizations that may help guide the writing of a book about that experience.

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 March 23-25 at Cornell University. TARRN is a network of scholars, both well-known and less experienced, from seven institutions in the US and UK. Member institutions include Penn State, Aberystwyth (Wales), Queens (Northern Ireland), Aberdeen University and The 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 five activities: (1) Discussion of five think pieces identifying and examining emerging and newly important issues for rural research, (2) Informal discussions of new and mid-stream research projects, (3) Panel discussions of “research into policy” examples, (4) meeting with editors of key journals (Sociologia Ruralis, Journal of Rural Studies, and Rural Sociology), and (5) a field trip to the Erie Canal corridor. 

Global Africa and Ethnographies of Interconnection: A Writing Workshop for Graduate Students (Ewan Robinson and Janet Smith)

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 (April 20th) 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 to elucidate African agency in the contemporary moment and challenge conventional accounts portraying Africa as disconnected, passive, or marginal.

The “Sustainable Communities Project”: Exploring Foundations for DSOC-CaRDI Applied Research Collaborations (David Kay and Robin Blakely-Armitage)

The Community and Regional Development Institute integrates extension, research and teaching campus-wide in addressing emerging challenges and opportunities. Its approach to working in the sustainable communities arena has taken many shapes, including using engaged frameworks such as the Rust2Green (R2G) Program. These frameworks are an opportunity to bring a concentrated, multidisciplinary, place-based systems approach to real-world challenges. They also provide a platform for tenure-track faculty to immerse themselves in an applied research agenda. This project explores possible connections and synergies in the sustainable communities arena, both domestically and internationally, setting a foundation for applied, community-based research around key themes of development. Emergent collaborations around climate-based migration and local and regional food systems have set the stage for further integrative work. Information gathering activities, including interviews and focus groups, will help inform the Departments discussion of its future relationship to the topic of sustainable community development.


The Risk of American Poverty: Developing and Evaluating a Web Based Poverty Calculator (Tom Hirschl)

This research seeks to further develop and evaluate a poverty risk calculator developed through prior research. The project will involve analyzing sample data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) in order to build a series of life tables estimating the adulthood probability of using a social welfare program, experiencing a spell of unemployment, and encountering a composite measure of economic insecurity.  In addition, I propose to assess, along with my research collaborator, whether exposure to the risk calculator changes attitudes towards poverty and inequality. To measure response to the risk calculator we will implement a test/retest design in college and high school classrooms where students will be surveyed using items from a set of previously researched questions about attitudes toward poverty and inequality.  Students will be randomly assigned to treatment and control groups, and the results will be analyzed to determine the type and degree of change, if any. Depending upon the results, changes to the content of the poverty calculator will be implemented. The research results will also be incorporated into a research proposal to the National Science Foundation.