I am a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Kansas. My interdisciplinary research uses qualitative methods to study social and environmental problems in rural and (sub)urban places. With funding from the National Science Foundation (Award #1946941), I am currently completing dissertation research with hop farmers operating in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and across the Midwest. This project studies the practices of these unique farmers as a case example to better understand the generalizable relationships between agricultural innovation, technological change, and environmental outcomes. My next project will examine the links between environmental outcomes and labor/owner inequalities in high-labor food production.
Do Farmers Know Better?
This project examines farmer-driven innovation, and whether such innovation results in environmentally sustainable or socially beneficial outcomes. Using qualitative methods, I work with hop farmers in the US who innovate their own implements and/or operate their own breeding programs. Broadly, I ask the simple question: do farmers know better? This research reveals how environments, social values, scientific knowledge, and financial pressures play into these farmers' practices. Further, I show how involving farmers in scientific knowledge-making can support more sustainable futures.
2021. Comi, Matt Seeds, Chemicals, and Stuff: The Agency of Things in (un)just agriculture regimes Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene Ed. Melinda Laituri, Stacia Ryder, Katharyn Powlen. Routledge. [In Print]
2020 Comi, Matt "Other agricultures of scale: Social and environmental insights from Yakima Valley hop growers" Journal of Rural StudiesDOI:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2020.10.041
Sustainability and Digital Agriculture
This research stream examines the paired social and environmental results of emerging digital agriculture practices in large commodity industries. Drawing on qualitative research with midwestern agricultural professionals working in the corn and soy industries, this work examines the myriad biological, mechanical, and social technologies that "lock-in" large commodity farmers into unsustainable practices. By taking a relational approach to understanding "sustainability" and "digital agriculture" my research critically engages with the meanings of these practices and identifies potential methods for increasing farmer autonomy and improving sustainability in agricuture.
Related Grants and Awards
2019. American Sociology Association (ASA) Robert Boguslaw Award for Research on Technology and Humanism
2019. Comi, Matt "'The right hybrid for every acre': Assembling the social worlds of corn and soy seed selling in conventional agricultural techniques." Sociologia Ruralis 59(1) pp 159-176. DOI: 10.1111/soru.12227 *Recipient, ASA Robert Boguslaw Award
Food, Culture, and Community Resilience
This research stream examines the links between food, culture, and community resilience in rural and (sub)urban places. My research examines multiple levels of the food production chain and this research specifically examines the material and cultural components of commensality and convivality. Recent work in this area draws from event-based participant observation in rural Kansas to identify ways shared food at community fairs can produce conviviality and resilience in flagging small towns throughout the rural US Midwest.
Related Grants and Awards
2019. Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) Alex McIntosh Paper Award
2021 Comi, Matt and Ruth Stamper. "Chicken Noodle Night: Conviviality, Resilience, and Food at the Vinland Fair." Food Culture and Society Special Issue ed. Bonnie Miller. DOI: 10.1080/15528014.2021.1873033"
Broadly, sociology relies on an inquistive curiosity. I see my primary goal as supporting student's own development as independent, inquisitive, thinkers more ready to engage in the classroom, workplaces, and home communities. I work to create accessible and equitable spaces where students gain skills to ask critical questions about their worlds and find answers to produce better, more equal and sustainable futures. To do this I focus on project based learning: approaching students as collaborators involved in making knowledge. I am prepared to teach a range of courses in sociology and environmental studies.
Areas Prepared to Teach
Environment + Society
Science and Technology Studies
Courses Previously Taught
Introduction to Sociology
Understanding Kansas Landscapes [Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Methods]
Varieties of the Human Experience [Intro to Cultural Anthropology]
Environmental Studies Senior Capstone
Other Pedagogical Experience
Research Mentor. Haskell Environmnetal Research Studies [HERS] Program *
Graduate Writing Consultant. KU Writing Center
Office of Multicultural Affairs Safe Space Training