Graduate students receive fellowships for dissertation research

December 13, 2016

Three Cornell graduate students, two in fields within Arts & Sciences, have received fellowships from the U.S. Department of Education to support their international research. 

The highly competitive Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellowships cover travel, living costs, health insurance, and other research-related expenses for six to 12 months. Spouses and children are also supported. The Einaudi Center administers the awards at Cornell. 

Okinawan oral histories

Ryan Buyco, 28, of Stockton, CA, will travel to the Philippines to conduct oral history interviews with immigrants from Okinawa, Japan, and their descendants. Indigenous Okinawans left Japan in large numbers during the last century and settled in the Philippines, Hawaii, California, and other locations.

“In the United States, the dominant narrative about Okinawa relates to the U.S. military bases and the local responses to them,” said Buyco, a fourth-year PhD candidate in Asian Studies. “I want to focus instead on the stories that Okinawans abroad tell about themselves, and what those stories say about Okinawa’s long history of migration.”

Buyco plans to conduct interviews in Davao, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, and compare what he finds to the writings and accounts of Okinawans living in Hawaii. He will also conduct archival research in Okinawa during the fellowship period.

“I’m interested in how stories produced by Okinawans in the diaspora contribute to a global Okinawan identity,” he said. “I’m looking at Hawaii and the Philippines as two very different contexts of migration that may provide insight into contemporary Okinawa.” 

Racial politics in Brazil

David De Micheli, 27, of Montrose, NY, will conduct his research in Brazil. A fourth-year PhD candidate in Cornell’s government department, De Micheli is interested in the ways in which Brazilians’ attitudes toward racial identity are changing, and what that means for political behavior.

“Brazil used to talk about itself as a ‘racial democracy,’” he explained. That changed in the early 2000s, when then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso decried the economic inequality among racial groups and called for affirmative action in social programs and university admissions.

“People were shocked,” De Micheli said. But the national conversation about race changed, and today many more Brazilians self-identify as black or of mixed race than they did before.

De Micheli will study whether and how this shift is affecting electoral politics. “How do individuals develop a consciousness of their social identity,” he asked, “and how does that find political expression?” He hopes to produce a book based on his findings.

Shrimp farming in Thailand

Katie Rainwater, 33, of Charlotte, NC, will spend much of next year in Thailand studying the shrimp industry there. Rainwater is a fifth-year PhD student in Cornell’s development sociology department. She previously spent nine months examining the shrimp industry in Bangladesh.  

“I’m looking at the shrimp industry as a lens for understanding the lives of workers in export food commodity industries,” Rainwater said. “It’s not like working in other export industries, like garments or electronics.”

Scholars often describe the shift of labor into export industries as a process of “proletarianization,” in which subsistence farmers become wage-earners in factories. The shrimp industry is more complicated than that, Rainwater said.

Thailand’s shrimp farms are typically owned by small-scale farmers who have shifted from growing rice. The farmers make significant investments in imported shrimp, special feed, and equipment. The threats of disease outbreaks and price instability can make those investments quite risky, Rainwater explained. “How are farmers dealing with this?” she asked.

The education department launched the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program in 1961 in response to the shortage of Americans who were knowledgeable about countries that were politically, economically, and militarily important to the United States.

“Fulbright-Hays fellows have become a very important resource for the country,” said Cornell emeritus professor Gil Levine, who serves as the Einaudi Center’s Fulbright advisor.

Cornell is traditionally among the national leaders in placing Fulbright-Hays fellows, Levine said.

This story first appeared on the Einaudi Center website.

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