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 “It has become urgent that we build on the new types of environmentally and socially responsible initiatives that are popping up across the world."

Saskia Sassen

Sociology of Development Conference

Co-hosted by Brown and Watson

March 9, 2015

This weekend, the Watson Institute will partner with Brown’s Department of Sociology to host the fourth annual conference of the Sociology of Development section of the American Sociological Association. The three-day conference, known as SocDev2015, will be the biggest yet, bringing more than 200 scholars together to explore this year’s theme, “Transformative Possibilities in the Global South.”

Some 50 panels will cover topics such as state capacity, climate change, food security, global supply chains, and alternatives to capitalism, looking at Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, and elsewhere in the Global South – all through the lens of development. An opening-day panel will feature Watson faculty fellow Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber, and John D. Stephens, authors of the seminal book Capitalist Development and Democracy, which has deep roots at Brown. Individuals from the World Bank will present their recently published World Development Report. A career panel for sociologists in development will feature three former PhD students from Brown, and there will be social events and opportunities for networking.  

Sociologist and Watson faculty Patrick Heller, who, along with five colleagues, helped organize the conference, sees in the theme a direct link to policies that can improve the world. “Given problems of security and inequality and economic stagnation that headline the news every day, what are the actual possibilities for promoting transformations?” he says. “Reducing inequality, making democracy more vibrant, making the economy more inclusive, improving urban governance, improving food security.”

For Saskia Sassen, Columbia University’s Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, former Watson Overseer, and author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, there is an urgency to these possibilities. “The models deployed in the last half century have wreaked havoc in the Global South and, in the past 30 years, in the Global North. The result is destroyed lives, destroyed small-scale distributed traditional economies, destroyed water and land,” she says. “It has become urgent that we build on the new types of environmentally and socially responsible initiatives that are popping up across the world.

“But that will not be enough,” she continues. “We need to transform some of our massive structures – I think of cities here, but there are others – into capabilities enabling distributive development, where all communities and neighborhoods are part of the transformation.”

Hosting the conference was a natural fit for both Sociology and Watson. According to Heller, not only does Brown’s department have an unusually high number of sociologists working on development – six, compared to one in most university departments in the US – but Watson, too, has a “critical mass” of faculty who work in the field. Twelve Watson faculty will present papers at the conference. “Brown is one of the more exciting places in the country for those of us who study development, both in sociology and across disciplines. We have the Graduate Program in Development, as well as one of the largest undergraduate majors, and certainly one of the best,” Heller says.

For Heller, one of the highlights is that the conference will also feature numerous graduate student presenters from across the country – many of whom are either currently at Brown or earned their degrees from Brown.

Another highlight is being able to bring promising young sociologists from the Global South to the conference, all expenses paid. “It’s difficult for young scholars in the Global South to get exposure in the Global North,” says Heller. “We wanted to give them a professional setting in which to present their work.”

-- Sarah C. Baldwin

SOCDEV2015 Conference Organizing Committee

Nitsan Chorev, Harmon Family Professor of Sociology and International Studies

Peter Evans, Senior Fellow in International Studies
Ricarda Hammer, Graduate Student in Sociology
Patrick Heller, Professor of Sociology and International Studies
Paget Henry, Professor of Africana Studies and Sociology
José Itzigsohn, Professor of Sociology
Timmons Roberts, Ittleson Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies
Andrew Schrank, Olive Watson Professor of Sociology and International Studies


Visit the Storify page to see the social highlights from the conference.