Land project to build on three years of collaboration

Contested Global Landscapes, an Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS) theme project, ended this month after three years of collaborative study. But members of the interdisciplinary group will produce a new book series and jointly teach courses and summer institutes for graduate students.

“These were three years of pretty intense discovery,” said Wendy Wolford, project co-leader and professor of development sociology.

Co-led by Charles Geisler, also a professor of development sociology, the team focused on the changing nature of land in historical and contemporary moments by investigating relations among property, governance, economy and livelihood. The group brought scholars from across Cornell and other universities to participate in more than 50 events and workshops in 2012-15.

“As a collective of sorts, we have discussed the multiple meanings of land and territory for different groups; the construction of property through the legalization of norms and conventions; the formation of the state through negotiations over and on the land, in frontiers and along borders; the nature of ecosystems; and the role of water,” Wolford said.

“All of us have put our oars in new waters with regard to large land transfers and transformations, many of which displace and dispossess resident populations and communities across the globe,” said Geisler.

In addition to Wolford and Geisler, the team includes Raymond Craib, associate professor of history; Steven Kyle, associate professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Paul Nadasdy, associate professor of anthropology and American Indian studies; Sara Pritchard, associate professor of science and technology studies; and Steven Wolf, associate professor of natural resources.

Among the group’s accomplishments is a new book series, The Cornell University Press Series on Land: New Perspectives on Territory, Development and the Environment, to be co-edited by Wolford and Nancy Peluso, University of California, Berkeley.

Wolford will teach DSOC 6620, the Social Life of Land, in fall 2015, and Wolf will lead a series of talks and workshop meetings next spring.

“Beyond the papers and books that the team has produced, beyond the workshops and the conferences, beyond the grant proposals written and funded, beyond the number of students taught in courses, beyond all those tangible markers of success, this team is to be celebrated for building and creating a community,” said Kim Weeden, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for the Social Sciences. “They brought scholars from across Cornell to think holistically about land, about connections to land, and the changing nature of human and land relationships.”

Created in 2004, the ISS hosts faculty teams in theme projects enabling scholars across the university to advance systematic, evidence-based knowledge of social processes by harnessing interdisciplinary, collaborative research. Previous theme projects addressed such topics as immigration, poverty and judgment. Beginning this fall, the ISS will host two theme projects yearly. Topics will be announced this summer.

Meanwhile, plans are underway for the land project to continue an annual, weeklong summer land institute supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The third summer institute, Occupation: Violence and the Long-term Control of Land and People, runs May 11-15 at Cornell under Geisler, Nadasday and Craib. Summer land institutes addressed property in 2013 and knowledge and the politics of land in 2014.

The contested global landscapes group plans to continue the speakers’ series.

Lori Sonken is the staff writer for the Institute for the Social Sciences.

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