Joshua Muldavin

BS, MA, PhD, University of California-Berkeley. Special interests in China, Japan, and Asia policy, rural development, international aid, agriculture and food, climate change, environment, political economy, and political ecology. Current research projects analyze international environmental policy and impacts on local resource use and vulnerability in the Himalayan region; climate change policy; socialist transition’s environmental and social impacts in China; sustainable agriculture and food systems; global resource and development conflicts via capital flows to Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia; and aid to China since 1978. Twenty-eight years of field research, primarily in rural China. Recipient of grants from National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Fulbright. Invited lecturer at Princeton, Yale, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, US Congressional Commission, European Parliament. Executive director of the Action 2030 Institute. Contributor to The Political Geography Handbook, Economic Geography, Geopolitics, Environment and Planning A, Geoforum, and Annals of the Association of American Geographers, International Herald Tribune, BBC World News, and other media outlets. SLC, 2002–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018


The Geography of Contemporary China: A Political Ecology of Reform, Global Integration, and Rise to Superpower

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and its necessary partnership with the United States—what do we really know about the country? In this seminar, we will explore China’s evolving place in the world through political-economic integration and globalization processes. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses. We will begin with an overview of contemporary China, discussing the unique aspects of China’s modern history and the changes and continuities from one era to the next. We will explore Revolutionary China and the subsequent socialist period to ground the seminar’s focus: post-1978 reform and transformation to the present day. Rooted in the questions of agrarian change and rural development, we will also study seismic shifts in urban and industrial form and China’s emergence as a global superpower on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. We will analyze the complex intertwining of the environmental, political-economic, and sociocultural aspects of these processes as we interpret the geography of contemporary China. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives, we will analyze a series of contemporary global debates: Is there a fundamental conflict between the environment and rapid development? What is the role of the peasantry in the modern world? What is the impact of different forms of state power and practice? How does globalization shape China’s regional transformation? And, on the other hand, how does China’s global integration impact development in every other country and region of the world? Modern China provides immense opportunities for exploring key theoretical and substantive questions of our time. A product first and foremost of its own complex history, other nation states and international actors and institutions—such as the World Bank, transnational corporations, and civil society—have also heavily influenced China. The “China model” of rapid growth is widely debated in terms of its efficacy as a development pathway, and yet it defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism to market socialism to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, it is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is its impact on global climate change. Other challenges include changing gender relations, rapid urbanization, and massive internal migration. In China today, contentious debates continue on land reform, the pros and cons of global market integration, the role of popular culture and the arts in society, how to define ethical behavior, the roots of China’s social movements—from Tian’anmen to current widespread social unrest and discontent amongst workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals—and the meaning and potential resolution of minority conflicts in China’s hinterlands. Land and resource grabs in China and abroad are central to China’s rapid growth and its role as an industrial platform for the world. But resulting social inequality and environmental degradation challenge the legitimacy of China’s leadership like never before. As China borders many of the most volatile places in the contemporary world and increasingly projects its power to the far corners of the planet, we will conclude our seminar with a discussion of security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Throughout the seminar, there will be comparisons with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned above. Weekly selected readings, films, mass media, and books will be used to inform debate and discussion. A structured conference project will integrate closely with one of the diverse topics of the seminar.


First-Year Studies: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Open , FYS—Year

Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolutions of a world political economy, of which the Third World is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation states. We will then examine globalization; and its relation to emergent international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class—the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project in the fall semester to be completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.


Previous Courses

The Political Ecology of Global Land Grabs: Food, Resources, Environment, and Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prior experience in the social sciences is highly recommended though not required. Advanced first-year students are welcome to interview.

Global land grabbing is in the news daily, but what is behind the headlines? Why are land and resource grabs important? How can we understand the role that they play in the rapid transformation of environments and peoples’ livelihoods around the planet? How might the many destructive aspects be challenged or changed? What is the relationship between land grabbing and hunger, climate change, growing inequality, poverty, and cultural and environmental destruction? And, of course, who benefits and loses most from the current waves of dispossession underway? This seminar is about land grabs and, in particular, its rapid increase around the world in the last decade. As such, we ask a number of additional questions: How and why do land grabs happen? Which information about them is heard and attended to, and which is not? What role does science play in predicting and assessing the impacts? How are certain styles of development and development paradigms deployed to either promote or counter land grabs? Who are the major actors and institutions actively involved—from nation-states to hedge funds to international environmental NGOS to sovereign wealth funds to transnational corporations? How do they justify the various forms of dispossession and loss of control over land and resources that communities around the world face daily? What are the historical antecedents that might inform our understanding of these processes from enclosures of commons to decollectivization to privatization of public spaces? How are government policies promoting or regulating land grabs? What is the role of social movements in challenging them? We start with a historical review of the struggle over land, and how this has shaped environment-development discourses, revealing competing approaches to key contemporary issues related to land grabs such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, sustainability of agriculture, population, food security, poverty alleviation, energy, community-based natural-resource management, environmental violence, and environmental and social justice. While largely focusing on the Global South—with reference to Asia, Latin America, and Africa—and policies driven by international institutions such as the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as dominant nation-states—such as the United States, China, Japan, and members of the European Union—the seminar will also draw upon examples from the Global North. We then move to epistemology and theory building in the social and environmental sciences. We examine diverse and contested approaches—from social theory to political ecology to political economy—that are being used to analyze land grabs. We discuss power and the construction of our knowledge of these processes of dispossession at international, national, and local levels. We will then explore these varied approaches to analysis with an eye toward identifying appropriate methodological means to assess land grabbing in practice. In our final weeks, we will examine the controversial efforts for reform and accountability—and associated movements for increased participation and democratization in decisions affecting control of land and resources of all kinds—as we creatively approach the essential question of what is to be done. There will be a number of sessions involving group presentations, debate, and role-play on specific case studies and issues. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project focusing on an analysis and critique of an instance of land grabbing of the student’s choice (usually grounded in texts but also involving fieldwork, where feasible, over October Study Days). The intent will be to provide inputs for chosen actors—from social movements to NGOs to market actors and formal policy makers. As such, project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions.