2014 Summer Institute on Contested Global Landscapes


Summer Institute 2014 group photo

The second Summer Institute on Contested Global Landscapes, sponsored by the Institute for the Social Sciences and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, was held at Cornell University from May 18-23, 2014. Selected through a competitive process, participants came to Ithaca from around the globe to address this year’s theme – Knowledge and the Politics of Land.

In the context of what has been called a contemporary “Global Land Grab” and expanded interest in questions of natural resource availability and access, we ask what role knowledge and knowledge production have played in shaping the politics, economics, and social life of land and land management? How have various disciplines, professions, and indigenous knowledges facilitated and challenged shifting patterns of ownership and access to land in the past and the present? How are knowledge-making capabilities both mobilized and shaped by struggles over land? Aside from in-house discussions, the group went on field trips and listened to public presentations from Julie Guthman, Matthew Huber and Philip McMichael.

We examined the relationship between knowledge (and ignorance) in land politics across time, space, culture, and ecology. Participants’ projects center on four emergent themes:

  • Critical cartography
  • Models, technologies, and norms
  • Binaries and hierarchies, experts and expertise
  • Networks and circulation

Discussions addressed this broad topic as well as a number of more specific, interrelated issues, including:

  • Knowledge claims and knowledge-making in contemporary land deals;
  • How and why certain forms of knowledge are moved, diffused, and imposed (as well as those that do not travel) and the wider environmental, economic, social, and political implications of such (im)mobility;
  • How actors negotiate particular and universal knowledge claims;
  • The role of measurement, standardization, estimation, and prediction in both reflecting and reproducing the politics of land;
  • The role of various experts and multiple, often competing forms of expertise in enabling, but also complicating and sometimes undermining struggles over land;
  • The ways that particular social and natural science disciplines are enmeshed in the politics of land management;
  • Construction of systems of innovation, land economics, and the politics of diffusion;
  • How knowledges of state and non-state actors combine, compete, and manifest in land politics;
  • The complex relationship and dynamics between “lay,” “local,” and “indigenous” forms of knowledge and “expert” or “scientific” knowledge;
  • How notions of scarcity, abundance, productivity, and potentiality infuse and animate the production and politics of knowledge.