Sectors Symposia

Sectors publishes symposium articles that focus on topics of interest related to the study of sociology of development. Each issue’s symposium topic and links to each article appear below.

Spring 2022

Symposium: Policy, Politics, and Praxis in Development Sociology

Karl Marx famously critiqued philosophers for simply interpreting the world when, according to him, “the point is to change it” (Marx, 1845). Many contemporary sociologists would likely agree. The question is how? The sociology of development, as a field of academic inquiry, took shape alongside applied international development policy and practice (Viterna and Robinson, 2015). But, today, the relationship between sociological research on development and on-the-ground development interventions is often unclear. To what extent do these fields inform one another? And to what extent should they? Prasad (2021) argues that emancipatory social science, which aims not only to understand but to improve society, is well-suited to take on real problems, like hunger, poverty, disease, and others that have long been a focus of development research and practice. However, there is an implicit tension between the impulse to ask broad, historically-informed questions about why poverty and inequality persist and the actions required to reduce everyday hardships, regardless of their causes. There are concerns that theory alone cannot produce change and that critical perspectives on development fail to offer ‘actionable’ recommendations. On the other hand, there is a real risk that sociological knowledge will be instrumentalized to advance the agenda of powerful entities, including governments and funding organizations, who have vested interests in what ‘development’ is and how it should occur. 

In this edition of Sectors, we present two provocative essays that grapple with these tensions. Both essays are written by sociologists whose day-to-day work lies at the intersection of scholarship and practice and, as such, offer crucial insights that are often overlooked within traditional academic spheres. Dr. Daniel O’Connell’s essay focuses on the legacy of activist scholarship in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where demands for social, economic, and environmental justice have underscored challenges to industrial agribusiness as a taken-for-granted pathway for local ‘development.’ Dr. Michael Woolcock, drawing on decades of experience at the World Bank, focuses on the inner workings of the international development policy arena, where contentious debates about ‘what works,’ ‘for whom,’ and ‘at what cost’ ultimately helps inform the type of social development policies implemented by multilateral agencies. 

The two authors inhabit very different geographic and organizational spaces. But, remarkably (or not?) their essays converge around several common themes. Notably, they both highlight the difference between scholarly analysis produced by and for academics, and action-oriented research, in which practical rather than theoretical concerns drive the agenda. Using research to influence development in real time often means defying the traditional institutional logics of academia: writing for different audiences, sustaining an agenda over years or even decades, and navigating fierce pushback that is not scientific but political in character. As both authors point out, development praxis is a battleground in which public policymakers, corporations, universities, communities, and others key players often have conflicting interests. In this context, it seems that one of the most important things that we, as development sociologists, have to offer is our capacity to produce new and better ‘truths’ about the social world. Scholarly ‘truth-telling’ and sustained coalition-building, at the elite and grassroots levels, is the alchemy needed to turn ideas into action, thus shaping the present and future of development.

Dr. Daniel O’Connell: “The Praxis of Activist Scholarship in the Fight against Industrial Agribusiness

Dr. Michael Woolcock: “Putting Sociology to Work in Development Policy and Practice

Fall 2021

Symposium: War, Global Capitalism, and Feminist Mobilizations for Liberation

In August 2021, the Biden administration withdrew US troops from Afghanistan after twenty years. With no opposition from the Afghan government, the Taliban took over Kabul and now controls much of the country. While some welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw, others have argued that women in Afghanistan will suffer under Taliban rule. Even President Biden referred to how the United States must “speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, as we speak out for women and girls all around the globe.” However, many scholars have critiqued these narratives that say Muslim women need “saving,” often from their own men. Scholars such as Lila Abu Lughod criticize the tendency in the West to point fingers at the “Muslim world” (in spite of the variations among various Muslim majority countries) or “Islamic culture” without acknowledging how imperialist wars and global capitalism have contributed to poverty and lack of freedom in those countries. The conversation around “saving” erases feminist mobilizations in Muslim majority countries, especially when those mobilizations have been critical of imperial wars and capitalism.  

In this edition of Sectors, we present two essays from Dr. Catherine Sameh and Dr. Valentine Moghadam discussing how US imperial power often exacerbates women’s oppression while claiming to “save” them. In the essay “Standing with Afghan Women,” Sameh draws attention to how feminist mobilizations in Iran, often working within Islamic traditions, have made significant gains in education, civil rights, and reproductive rights after the 1979 revolution. The demonization of Iran and the sanctions imposed by both the Republican and Democratic administrations in the United States have only served to undermine women’s social and political power. Sameh’s argument is clear. It is not possible to stand up for women’s rights while supporting endless wars, occupations, and sanctions against countries like Iran and Afghanistan. In her essay “Afghanistan, Patriarchy, and the World-System,” Moghadam traces the complicated history of US involvement in Afghanistan that began long before the 2001 invasion. In the late 1970s, for example, before the rise of the Taliban, the United States had supported the Mujahideen – a group that opposed girls’ education – in order to weaken the socialist government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Afghanistan is one of the many examples of how core countries in the capitalist world-system destabilize countries in the Global South. While acknowledging that the Taliban is not a progressive force, Moghadam argues that United States’ defeat in Afghanistan shows how “the contemporary capitalist world-system is in historic decline, as is its hegemon.”

Catherine Z. Sameh: “Standing with Afghan Women

Valentine M. Moghadam: “Afghanistan, Patriarchy and the World System

Spring 2021

Symposium: Global Inequities in Covid-19 Vaccine Testing, Production and Distribution

While life may be “returning to normal” throughout much of the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cripple many parts of the Global South, in large part due to stark cross-national disparities in vaccine roll-out. As of June 2021, over 51% of adults in the United States have received at least one dose. Yet, the world average hovers at only 12%, and in dozens of countries the vaccination rate is below 1%. Although the trend is shifting, the world’s 27 wealthiest countries, which contain around 10.5% of the global population, still account for over 25% of all COVID-19 vaccinations. The pernicious effects of global vaccine inequities may be evident, but their causes remain open to debate. To what extent have corporate profit motives and “vaccine hoarding” generated an economy of scarcity in the Global South? To what extent have partisan infighting and weak state capacity contributed to low vaccination rates? Is vaccine hesitancy driven by reasonable skepticism or intentional disinformation campaigns? And, how have specific forms of US imperialism and economic warfare impacted the global distribution of vaccines and people’s access to them? This special Sectors symposium addresses some of these questions by examining the hows and whys of COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in four countries: China (Li), Brazil (Flynn), India (Jalali), and Kenya (Chorev and Mutwafy).

Jeb Sprague, Preethi Krishnan, and Leslie MacColman: “Introduction to the Symposium

Lantian Li: “Brief on China: COVID-19 Testing and the Production, Distribution, and Export of Vaccines

Matthew Flynn “Politics, Ideology, and Poor Planning in Brazil’s Bumpy COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Rita Jalali: “Ineptitude and misplaced priorities define India’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nitsan Chorev and Salma Mutwafy: “Innovation contests, vaccine diplomacy, and health nationalism: The case of Kenya

Fall 2020

Symposium: U.S. Wars on Negatively Racialized Working People

How do the policies of the United States government undermine development for negatively racialized working and marginalized people? In the articles below, the authors examine this question in international and domestic arenas. Justin Podur considers how sanctions and economic war carried out by the U.S. have wrought havoc upon a wide variety of mostly global south populations. Importantly, many sanctions have been ratcheted up during the Covid-19 pandemic. Podur also notes how UN sanctions need to be understood as leading to even more human suffering and mass death when they are applied upon a country. Salvador Rangel and Jamella N. Gow look domestically at how negatively racialized black and brown workers in the United States have suffered under the Coronavirus. They point out how U.S. federal government policies consistently side with industry owners over workers. They look at the example of meatpacking plants.

Justin Podur, “Sanctions as a weapon targeting development

Salvador Rangel and Jamella N. Gow, “The Economy vs. The People: Capitalism & Essential Labor in the Pandemic

Spring 2020

Symposium: Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Catherine van de Ruit, “Covid 19: Lessons from the sociology of AIDS

Silpa Satheesh, “Break the Chain”: Exploring the Kerala Model of Pandemic Response

Joseph Harris, “The Novel Coronavirus and the Generation of New Sociological Knowledge

Fall 2019

Symposium: Gender in the Era of Global Studies

What does development mean in today’s world? Is there such a thing as “national development” under globalization? How can we see development studies in light of the rise to prominence of global studies? How is development changing under today’s socio-economic conditions, and in regards to various institutions and different exploited, racialized, and gendered social strata? Sociologists studying development tackle a variety of structural problems faced by diverse communities. In the two essays in this symposium, M.S. Sreerekha, Rosalba Icaza, Jeb Sprague, and Hilbourne Watson provide some brief thoughts on the fundamental characteristics of development in today’s era of globalization.

Sreerekha Sathi and Rosalba Icaza , “Gender, Development and the Global

Jeb Sprague and Hilbourne Watson, “Development and Global Capitalism