Credentials: Faculty Director, IRIS NRC
Position title: Associate Professor, Geography & International Studies, UW-Madison
Website: Stephen Young's website
Stephen Young is an Associate Professor of Geography and International Studies. He received a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Washington in 2010 and holds Master’s and bachelor’s degrees in sociology from the University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds, respectively. His primary academic interests are in economic geography, development studies, and urban and political geography. An affiliate of the Center for South Asia who conducts research in India, he teaches courses in international studies, global poverty and inequality, economic and human geography, and research design. He is a 2017 recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
An interview with Stephen
What are your current research interests? What sparked your interest in this field?
My current research project looks at the recent rise of universal basic income as a way to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world. I mostly focus on India, where a variety of basic income programs have been proposed and some experiments have been conducted. What I find intriguing is that this is an idea that has suddenly become visible in policy debates in places as diverse as Kenya, Finland, and – thanks, in part, to Andrew Yang – the U.S. It is both global in scope and also very flexible in terms of how it is framed politically. I am interested in how and why this idea started to travel globally and what difference it makes to people’s everyday lives in the State of Telangana in India.
What makes your research unique?
I don’t know about unique but, as a Geographer, I try to think about the place where I am doing research as a product of its myriad interconnections with other places. So, rather than thinking about my research as site specific or as global in scope, I try to think of the global/local as mutually constituted. In the case of my current research that means understanding how some basic income policy models are able to gain global circulatory power and shape local political debates around the world as they travel.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had doing research?
In 2012, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Lal Bihari in Uttar Pradesh. Many years earlier, Bihari discovered that he had been registered as “dead” in state records after his uncle bribed a bureaucrat to prevent him from inheriting family land. He told me about his legal struggles to be reinstated as a living person and introduced me to members of the Association of Dead People, an organization he founded that includes thousands more “living dead” from across Uttar Pradesh.
What languages do you speak?
I can speak Hindi, albeit not as well as I would like. I am planning to enroll in another of our excellent summer language courses next year, so that I can become more fluent.
What classes do you teach?
In addition to being part of the Introduction to International Studies rotation, I regularly teach Global Poverty and Inequality, Research Design for Social Scientists, and Economic Geography. As of Spring 2021, I will be teaching two new courses, one on Universal Basic Income and one called The Global Game about soccer, politics, and identity.
What preparation would you recommend for students wanting to advance in this field?
It’s obviously important to stay informed about a wide range topics and places but it’s also necessary to narrow your focus. What region of the world are you most interested in? What research methods do you feel most comfortable using? What issue do you most want to learn more about? Asking yourself those questions and identifying scholars who share your interests can help you transition from being someone with a general concern with global issues to someone who can acquire a grounded, complex understanding of how processes play out in a specific place.
Why do you believe is it important to conduct international research?
I would say that the biggest problems facing the world right now are poverty, climate change, and new infectious diseases. Understanding the causes and consequences of any these issues necessitates grappling with transnational flows – of capital, knowledge, bodies etc.– so doing fieldwork outside the U.S. is part of that work. If you live in a country like the U.S., doing international research can also help you understand why addressing problems in another part of the world often requires taking action at home.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work?
Just that if any students are interested in talking about universal basic income or contemporary India, they should feel free to drop by my office in Science Hall.