Changes in rural poverty and politics the focus of April 9 talk

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Cynthia "Mil" Duncan, research director for AGree, a food and agriculture policy program in Washington, D.C., will discuss the causes and persistence of rural poverty when she delivers the 2014 M.E. John Lecture, sponsored by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Duncan's talk -- "Poverty and Politics in Rural Communities: What Has Changed over the Last 20 Years?" -- will take place at 2:30 p.m. on April 9 in 101 Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building on the University Park campus.

Twenty years ago, Duncan and her colleagues interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life in three remote rural communities, trying to understand why poverty persisted. In "Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America" (Yale University Press 1999), she argued that in Appalachian and Delta communities -- areas dominated by coal and plantation economies, respectively -- the absence of a middle class and deep divisions between haves and have-nots undermined community institutions essential for creating economic opportunity for the poor.

In contrast, a more diverse, less-poor community in northern New England was not divided and invested in community institutions that served everyone. This year, Duncan returned to those communities to learn what changes have occurred in Appalachia, the Delta and northern New England. She provides updates on these communities in a revised edition of her 1999 book that will be published in 2014.

In her April 9 lecture, she will talk about those changes and what they may tell us about development and opportunity in chronically poor and transitioning rural communities in the United States.

Prior to her post with AGree, Duncan was professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and founding director of the Carsey Institute, an interdisciplinary research center focused on vulnerable families and sustainable development in rural America. From 2000 to 2004, she served as the Ford Foundation's director of community and resource development, guiding work in poor communities in the United States and overseas.

She has written numerous articles on poverty and development, and she edited "Rural Poverty in America." Among her awards are the Earl D. Wallace Award for Contribution to Education Reform in Kentucky, the Thomas R. Ford Distinguished Alumni Award for Sociology at the University of Kentucky, and the American Sociological Association's 2001 Robert E. Park Book Award. She serves on several regional and national boards related to poverty and development.

Duncan received her bachelor's degree in English from Stanford University, and her master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Kentucky.

The lecture will be followed at 3:30 p.m. by an informal discussion. A reception will be held from 4:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in 215 Armsby Building.

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Last Updated March 28, 2014