Department of Development Sociology

The Department of Development Sociology, the only department of its kind in the nation, is Cornell University’s hub of interdisciplinary activity related to global development. Faculty and research associates conduct theoretical and applied research, teaching, and outreach on the causes, dynamics, and consequences of social, cultural, political and economic change with the goal of: 

  • preparing tomorrow’s leaders and assisting today’s leaders to secure human well-being and environmental sustainability, and
  • seeking solutions for problems related to social and economic change and engaging organizations and people at all levels of society who are working to build community and local/global problem solving capacity.

Under the leadership of Albert Mann, the Department of Rural Social Organization was founded in 1915. In 1943, the department changed its name to Rural Sociology, and then in 2000 became the Department of Development Sociology. This latter name change helped to bring the department’s graduate and undergraduate programs into better balance with its increasingly international research endeavors. The department conducts theoretical and applied research, teaching, and outreach on the causes, dynamics, and consequences of social, cultural, political and economic change in New York, nationally, and worldwide.

The Department is comprised of 16 professors and 9 research and extension associates. The undergraduate program has grown rapidly in recent years with approximately 128 current majors and 30 minors. The Department teaches almost 7,000 credit hours per year, the fourth largest total in CALS. Development Sociology undergraduate students are strongly motivated by social justice. About half use their Development Sociology degree as preparation for professional training in law, medicine, business, social work or other professions while many others obtain positions in the Peace Corps, Teach for America, Oxfam America and other not for profit organizations in the US and in the developing world.

The Graduate Field of Development Sociology is broadly international, having 45-50 PhD students in residence at most times. These scholars obtain jobs in academia as well as in not for profit research and development organizations throughout the world.

The Department includes a large and effective Extension/outreach program centered around the Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) and including LEAD New York and the Cornell Farmworkers Program. Taken together, these three programs provide an integrated program of applied research and outreach focused on the needs of Upstate New York’s small and medium sized communities and their surrounding regions. Through webinars, conferences, face to face consultation, and through our web site, the department’s outreach programs fulfill the information needs of elected and appointed officials across upstate New York as they face today’s challenges and attempt to turn them into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Moreover, our international faculty play an active and instrumental role in providing up to date analysis for the UN, the FAO and various development-oriented NGOs thereby informing a wide variety of decisions related to such issues as population dynamics, nature/society conflicts, the evolving global food system and/or the causes of social and political instability.

The Department of Development Sociology prides itself in having a unique program profile that is unmatched by any other departments of sociology in the nation. The integrated package of scholarship on development, environment, population and community is its distinguishing characteristic and comparative advantage. The department is shaped by a concern for understanding the determinants and consequences of societal development, and driven by a desire to produce knowledge and educational programs that contribute to the alleviation of social problems, both local and global.

Development Sociology faculty play important leadership roles across the Cornell campus, especially in the area of international studies. Current faculty have directed numerous international programs within the Einaudi Center including Southeast Asia, Comparative Societal Development and Population and Development, as well as the University’s Feminist, Gay and Sexuality Studies Program.  

Our institutional location in a college of agriculture within a major research university demands that our scholarship be responsive to both disciplinary concerns and to the social issues of particular interest to the College. Our guiding principle is to produce theoretically grounded and practical scholarship. Both motivations—disciplinary and mission-oriented—are of equal importance in shaping our scholarship. They have resulted in a program profile that is highly visible and influential within the discipline sociology and contributes to the formation and administration of development policy in New York and worldwide.

The Department's teaching, research, and extension programs address the determinants and consequences of societal development, with particular reference to the areas of environment, community, governance and population. Hence, there is a logic to our faculty recruitment, research problem choices, and graduate and undergraduate curricula. We are an academic unit that has developed over time in response to both theoretical and methodological issues in the discipline of sociology, applied issues of concern to Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and our mission as a global land grant university.