Marion Dixon is a professorial lecturer in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC. and is a member of the School’s (MA) International Development Program. Dr. Dixon is a historical and environmental sociologist who studies global agri-food system change and political resistance to this change, with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. She received her PhD from the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University in 2013.
Her two main research projects are the following:
My primary research examines the enabling and limiting factors in the growth of corporations in agriculture and food in Egypt during the period of globalization. This project uses mixed qualitative methods, including fieldwork in Egypt between 2008 and 2012, to trace networks of actors, institutions, and policies in agriculture and food at multiple scales. These networks span from the sandy soil in the western Delta where agribusiness is concentrated to the globally-circulated agri-technologies that turn the soil into cultivatable fields; from Egyptian family business to transnational corporations. The research shows that a corporate agri-food system in Egypt depended on the development and expansion of new lands for cultivation and settlement. And the development of this ‘desert frontier’ was realized through, and exacerbated, social inequalities. Growing class-based vulnerabilities to global food prices, consolidation of the formal economy, and other outcomes of these changes, in turn, engendered popular opposition to the Hosni Mubarak regime (and the economic elites associated with the regime).
My first early career research project is a comparative historical study of chemical fertilizer from the 19th century. Through a combination of archival material and secondary literature, I trace phosphate rock mining in the three main frontier regions (American South, French North Africa, and South Pacific) to the manufacturing of rock into fertilizer in the metropolitan centers to the trade in superphosphate fertilizer throughout the metropoles in the post-US Civil War/Emancipation era of industrial capitalism. This research shows that the development of this new class of chemical fertilizers was only possible through the extension of imperial state power and the institutionalization of a coercive, racial labor regime. And its development bolstered not only commercial agriculture but also chemical industries in the imperial states.
Both of my research projects address a key issue in the sociology of development — the relationship between agri-food industrialization and economic development. And a key methodological and theoretical concern of my research are the relations between nature and society. I address both issues in my teaching by relating local and national phenomena to global systems and by offering an ecological perspective on development and social change.
I also involve students in my research. Currently, I am working with a student on a research project on the role of international actors in South Sudan before independence, during the interim period, 2005 to 2011. We are asking about the discourse and practice of three actors — the United Nations, American missionaries, and foreign investors — in shaping state-building and peace-building in South Sudan. This project builds on earlier work that I have done on Egyptian investors in southern neighboring countries, including South Sudan, in the wake of the 2007-08 crises.