Notes from the ASA Sociology of Development Conference

The Polson Institute (PI)  once again offered the travel grants for two faculty members and five graduate and undergraduate students to attend the annual Sociology of Development Conference that was held at the University of Notre Dame from October 17-19, 2019. During the conference, the faculty and graduate students presented their respective papers while three undergraduate students actively participated and broadened their knowledge.  We have pubDeveished their reflection pieces in order to share their experiences with fellow undergraduate students.

“I was able to gain nuanced opinions on some of my own insights”-Benjamin Fields

Benjamin Fields with Keri Johnson (right) and Rebekah Jones (left)

Attending the Sociology of Development Conference was one of the most valuable experiences I have had at Cornell to date, even though I did not present a paper. I was privileged with the opportunity to attend with a grant from the Polson Institute for Global Development. The conference was held at the University of Notre Dame and involved many themes such as international peace studies, global affairs, global health, and more. Aside from the excellent professional treatment and ease of navigation, I was surrounded by many leaders in the field whom so far, I had only been able to read their work. Our conversations were great, and I was able to gain nuanced opinions on some of my own insights, in addition to the academic opinions that I had read previously.

Moving on specifically to the presentations, there were many that I found myself to be very invested in. There were a few relating to religion and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one on community-based research. The ones related to HIV/AIDs complemented my education at Cornell and helped me understand some of the relationships between social institutions and disease. I could say the same for the community-based research presentation that explained some details about this methodology. I learned about the history and of it and its place in the contemporary academe which is very important for my understanding of its usefulness (as I am currently taking a course in it).

Holistically, this meeting was very important for my future professional and academic goals. I was on the fence about attending graduate school because I wasn’t sure what academia would be like. Seeing the process of attending a conference, learning what the new literature is, and connecting with scholars throughout the discipline helped heighten my awareness of what the world of academia is like, as well as convince me that it is something that I want to participate in myself. I am very thankful to the Polson Institute for Global Development for giving me this opportunity, and I hope to put it to use in the future by becoming an academic and adding my own footprint to the knowledge sphere.

“This experience gave me exactly what I was looking for”- Keri Johnson

As a non-traditional student through the employee degree program, I found my way into Development Sociology a bit backward. I started working in the field before I even had a full understanding of what it meant. When I applied for the Polson Institute for Global Development fellowship, I was hoping to gain a better understanding of the field and the work that people were doing. This experience gave me exactly what I was looking for.

Keri Johnson

The eighth annual Sociology of Development Conference was held at the University of Notre Dame on October 18-19, 2019. This year’s topic was “Development in Dialogue: Engaging Practitioners and Across Disciplines.” The opening reception really made me feel at home and comfortable on the grounds of a new University. Also, two of our professors and a hand full of graduate/post-doc students were there from Cornell to present their works and supported us on our journey. I was impressed with how well organized the conference was in the way that every detail was paid attention to, and there was no shortage of food.

Throughout the day you could listen to presentations from academic experts, business professionals or graduate students on a wide variety of topics from women’s rights, AIDS, agriculture and global warming to drinking water in Brooklyn, political dynamics in developing nations, demography and my personal favorite, global health.

Before the conference, I was lacking direction and I wasn’t sure what area I wanted to focus on when it came to Development Sociology. I was dabbling in a little bit of everything. Being at the conference allowed me to see the vast topics in the field, and while attending all the different lectures, it became clear what I am really interested in. I soon found myself following all of the health and development topics. I introduced myself to the lecturers after their presentations and had inspiring conversations with them throughout the conference.

Applying for the Polson Institute Fellowship was a valuable experience, one that I would highly recommend. It’s hard to put all that I took away from the conference into a few paragraphs. I truly had a remarkable time, so much so that I have already looked up the conference for next year to attend on my own.

It “broadened my understanding of the implications of research” – Rebekah Jones

Rebekah Jones

As an undergraduate researcher, I often reflect on the relevance that our academic research may truly contribute to our broader society. Outside of our academic conversation and attempts to rationalize social behavior and phenomena, can we truly lend a hand better to the lives of the populations that we encounter and study?

In attending the ASA Sociology of Development Conference this October, I had the opportunity to listen to researchers that actively engage in these questions, using their research to offer recommendations on how we can better approach some of our world’s major issues. For example, one of the panels highlighted a slew of researchers whose projects directly spoke to the issue of migration in various contexts. One project approached the question of migration by focusing on the process of integration for migrants from the same region. The professor’s research was centered on the rise of Haitian migrants migrating to the Dominican Republic. Aside from the obvious language barrier, his work highlighted the difficulties that may arise when different conceptualizations of class, race, and religion are forced to conflict. When these realities are understood more deeply, solutions for structural change can be realized. For example, perhaps as we uncover the potential barriers that migrants face while achieving upward mobility, we can effectively advocate policymakers and communities to remove those barriers.

Another project focused on the state-societal fracture between farmers, indigenous communities, and the state in Colombia. The graduate student illustrated the struggle of Colombia’s most vulnerable populations to fight the neoliberal economic policies that have allowed their land to essentially be divided amongst mining companies. In light of the country’s recent peace resolution (theoretically putting to end a 50-year civil war), how can conceptions of peace be understood by these populations? It is virtually impossible to paint a picture of our “developing” world without understanding the sociological realities underlying it. It is impossible to understand the political trends in migration or the implications of a political resolution without considering the impact it will have on the individuals that compose these societies.

Over the course of the weekend, a variety of panels tackled issues ranging from democracy and voting patterns to the violence-capitalist relationship. Listening to the various projects broadened my understanding of the implications of research to give a more profound understanding of the world’s most pressing matters. As I apply to Ph.D. programs, I am excited at the possibility of being able to contribute to the work of engaged scholarship.




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