Northwestern graduate students travel to 44 countries for dissertation research thanks to grants from the Buffett Institute

June 27, 2017

This summer, close to 50 Northwestern graduate students will travel to 44 countries to pursue research thanks to funds from the Buffett Institute. The majority of these students received funding from Buffett's graduate student dissertation research awards, which totaled over $180,000 this year. The awards provide funding for field work outside the US related to graduate dissertations on important contemporary political, economic, and social issues.

Graduate affiliates doing international research in summer 2017

Dissertation research topics for this summer include:

  • The conceptualization of blackness, indigeneity, and citizenship in Mexico
  • How unequal land rights inherited from colonialism in Zimbabwe and South Africa affect current institutions and land reforms
  • The impact of climate change and globalization on the local food economy in Ghana
  • The impact of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) on high courts in Brazil, Argentina, and Peru
  • The formation of queer politics and public cultures in post-WWII Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, and England) through migration and transnational networks
  • Syrian refugees and their intersection with and impact on Lebanon's health care system
  • The distributional impact of China's recent acension in the World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Factors behind the rise of anti-immigration policies in Russia since 2012
  • British Muslims and Islamic politics in a counterterror United Kingdom

What does international field work look like for Buffett graduate students?

As part of his preliminary dissertation research, sociology graduate student and Buffett graduate affiliate Rahardhika Utama is spending time in Indonesia and Myanmar to study the lives of smallholder rubber farmers, most of whom live in poverty. 

“Southeast Asian rubber plantations have supplied the majority of global rubber raw materials since the end of the 19th century,” says Utama. “Yet in general, rubber product consumers such as car owners are not aware that natural rubber comes from smallholding plantations and estates in Southeast Asia run by marginalized farmers and workers with limited rights and indecent working conditions.” 

Here are some photos of his recent field work:

soaked lumps/frogs nest

Soaked lumps/frog nest

As the global rubber price plunged in 2016, a rubber farmer in North Sumatra, Indonesia attempted to hoard his collected lump rubber by soaking it in a tub behind his house.

milking the rubber tree

Milking the rubber tree

Natural rubber comes from latex tapped from the bark of Hevea brasiliensis trees. Taken in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

a colonial heritage

A colonial heritage

A frog nestled in one of the oldest rubber tree specimens in the Bogor Botanical Garden, Indonesia. The colonial governments launched rubber cultivation in Southeast Asia after conducting extensive research at these botanical gardens.

stinky and sticky rubber

Stinky and sticky rubber

Utama observes low-quality raw rubber materials in the form of smallholders' lumps in Bengkulu, Indonesia. Smallholding farmers in Indonesia earned less income by producing low-quality lumps than their counterparts in other Southeast Asian countries. In Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia, farmers gain more income from applying post-harvest technology to produce ribbed smoked sheet (RSS) rubber, which has a higher price in the market.

where acid meets rubber

Where acid meets latex

Two factory workers mix latex and formic acid to coagulate rubber. Prolonged skin contact with formic acid can cause severe burns and other health effects.

crossing the border for rubber

Crossing the border for rubber

Many informal workers from Thailand cross the Thai-Myanmar border to supply labor for the emerging rubber sector in Myanmar. They live in humble shacks inside plantations with their families with undefined working hours. Workers are responsible for tapping rubber, maintaining the health of the trees, and processing latex into RSS rubber. Most of the children living in rubber plantations do not go to school because they assist their parents in turning rubber milk into cash.

Asia, For Graduate Students