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Clemson University
college of agriculture, forestry and life sciences clemson university

Kenneth Robinson

Associate professor
Agribusiness extension specialist
Agribusiness Program Team

Office: Dept. of Sociology, 132 Brackett Hall
Phone: 864-656-1449



Educational Background

Ph.D. Development Sociology
Cornell University 2001

MPAf Public Policy
University of Texas - Austin 1988

B.S. AgEcon & Rural Sociology
Clemson University 1984

Courses Taught

FCS830 Community Development
RS301 Introduction to Rural Sociology
AP EC 490/899 (APEC/CRD 494/694), Locally Grown Foods, Creative Inquiry Research
AP EC 899, Community Development in Africa, Independent Study
RS/SOC 401/601, Human Ecology/Social Impact Analysis

RS/SOC 459/659, The Community
CRD 492, Entrepreneurship and Marketing Locally Grown Foods
CRD 491, Internship
RS/SOC 459/659 Community (online)
PO ST 851 Rural Economic Development Policy
ENV 399 Special Topics in Human Ecology/Social Impact Analysis, Savannah River Environmental Sciences Field Station, South Carolina State University (Summer 2011)
CHS Honors 202, Poverty and Development in Haiti
APEC490 Agribusiness Entrepreneurship


Ken Robinson is a Clemson alumnus and his hometown is Graniteville, SC. Ken is an Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice. He is also an agribusiness extension specialist with the Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia. His research and outreach interests include rural sociology, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development. He teaches courses in Community Sociology, Human Ecology, Social Impact Analysis, and has previously taught a “creative inquiry” research course on Locally Grown Foods. He is active both professionally and locally, serving on the Executive Council of the Rural Sociological Society, past president of the Southern Rural Sociology Association, and as a member of the Pickens County Education Foundation. Also, he has served on the board of directors of Market Matters, Inc., an international business development services organization based in Ithaca, NY, and Pretoria, South Africa. Ken is a former Presidential Management Intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., and lobbyist in the Texas Governor’s Office of State-Federal Relations, also in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in Development Sociology at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY., and his Masters in Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Ken is married to the former Miss Lisa Harris of Ithaca, NY, and they reside in Clemson.

Research Interests

Why are some regions more successful than others? What attributes characterize successful regions? What factors and conditions are necessary for regions to be successful in improving social and economic conditions? To help frame such development questions, I generally employ “the sociological imagination” which calls for scholars to challenge familiar understandings to critically assess the truth of commonly held assumptions. I believe that as researchers if we expect to find solutions to poverty, income inequality, and the other development issues that confront us in the 21st century, we must question those assumptions as we attempt to better understand our complex world. My research includes independent scholarship and work with colleagues on topics that represent a growing body of theory on the effects of locally-based enterprises, sustainability, regional networks and associations, and entrepreneurship on community well-being. I use a multi-level, multi-method approach, including case studies, surveys, hypothesis testing, and other analytical tools of sociological investigation to address issues facing rural communities. I have undertaken research on regional development and found that many economically distressed communities across SC face immediate human capital and labor market concerns that may prevent the implementation of competitive economic development approaches (Dickes and Robinson 2010, Dickes and Robinson in press). These studies were part of a larger research project sponsored by a regional planning organization aimed at identifying industries and occupations that were most likely to grow in the region and neighboring metropolitan counties. The link between sustainable agriculture and community development was made clear in my research on a local food system intermediary, the Lowcountry Food Bank, and how it distributed produce for small scale farmers to nonprofit emergency food assistance agencies and to retail markets (Robinson et al. 2007). The food bank engaged in value-added efforts that contributed to local economic development and general community sustainability. Positive outcomes provided the impetus for exploring the possibility of “scaling up” the project in the rest of S.C., starting with the Upstate region. Our effort to expand the project is supported by a $437,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant (No. 2008324) to document the potential for local, nonprofit foods system intermediaries to enhance the economic sustainability for small and limited resource farms, and to reveal the potential for these local food systems to increase incomes in rural communities. I plan to further explore the health implications of community organization and food systems. Much of this research emanates from my work on the local food movement and local food systems as well as an earlier ecological analysis of communities, focusing on the interplay between community organization and the environment (Young and Robinson 2010). This research used factor analysis to identify types of communities and the threats they face, and evaluated their success in dealing with comparisons based on the health outcome measure, age-adjusted mortality. In an effort to integrate my research into my overall teaching and outreach program, I plan to investigate the impact of service learning on the teaching effectiveness and learning experience of students in my courses. The project study is entitled “Engaging Students in Community-Based Research and Outreach through Service Learning,” and surveys students enrolled in Rural Sociology (RS) 401/601 Human Ecology/Social Impact Analysis to explore service learning and related learning outcomes. This research complements ongoing teaching and outreach activities designed to motivate students by developing field learning experiences that facilitate real world applications. In sum, many of today’s communities, rural and otherwise, are economically disadvantaged, impoverished, and distressed. As suggested by the Rural Sociological Society’s (RSS) Task Force Report on Persistent Rural Poverty, “we must work not only to understand rural poverty, but to alleviate it” (RSS 1993). Thus, my research is framed to draw serious attention to the urgent need to find more equitable and balanced solutions to the development challenges facing these communities.

Extension and Outreach

I expect to continue ongoing outreach in the SC Lowcountry Promise Zone and other economically-disadvantaged rural communities across the state and to expand upon my earlier work on topics and issues related to local foods systems, entrepreneurship, development and community well-being. I intend to further explore the community-level needs and social impacts of environmental justice communities in SC and across the region. I am currently seeking funding from U.S. EPA Region 4 – Atlanta, to support this research. I plan to begin looking at the impacts of in-migration on local populations resulting from upscale, gated communities and development in rural areas in collaboration with Patrick Mason, co-founder of the Center for Carolina Living. I will continue my work, in collaboration with the Heirs Property Preservation Project, to examine heirs’ property and its effect on development in economically disadvantaged communities. In terms of better understanding globalization and development, I would like to perhaps extend my interest in heirs property to include a comparative analysis within an emerging market context, and thereby building upon recently published research from a project that looks at the issue of land tenure reform and other post-Apartheid policies and their relevance to emerging farmers and agribusinesses in South Africa (Tihanyi and Robinson 2011).


Dickes, L. and K. L. Robinson, "An Institutional Perspective on Rural Entrepreneurship," American Journal of Entrepreneurship, Vol. 7, No. 2 (2014): 44-57.

Dickes, L. and K. L. Robinson, "Rural Entrepreneurship" in C. Bailey, L. Jensen, and E. Ransom's (editors) Rural America in a Globalizing World: Problems and Prospects for the 2010s. Decennial Volume, Rural Sociological Society Rural Studies Series. West Virginia University Press, 2014. 591-608.

Dickes, Lori and Kenneth L. Robinson, “Community Partnerships as a Tool to Reduce Regional Labor Gaps: A South Carolina Regional Case Study,” Journal of the Community Development Society, 2011.

Dickes, Lori A. and Kenneth L. Robinson, “Enhancing Cluster Effects to Reduce Regional Labor-Supply Gaps: An Example in South Carolina,” Journal of Extension (October 2010).

Robinson, K. L. "Food Deserts in Upstate South Carolina: How do We Both Ethically and Sustainably Feed the Region's Food Insecure?," Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2015): 37-52.

Robinson, Kenneth L., et al. The Arkansas Delta Produce Marketing Association: Rural Entrepreneurship in the U.S. Delta Region. Chapter 11 in The Handbook of Research on Entrepreneurship in Agriculture and Rural Development, edited by Gry Alsos, Sara Carter, Elisabet Ljunggren, and Friederike Welter. (2011), Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.

Slocum, Sue, Kenneth L. Robinson, and Kenneth F. Backman, “Tourism Pathways to Prosperity: Perspectives on the informal economy in Tanzania” Tourism Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1/2 (2011).

Tihanyi, K. and K. L. Robinson. Chapter 1: Setting the Scene in Case Studies of South Africa’s Emerging Farmers and Agribusinesses, edited by E. Mabaya, K. Tihanyi, M. Karaan, and J. van Rooyen. Stellenbosch, South Africa: SunMedia. (October 2011).

Young, Frank W. and Kenneth L. Robinson, “An Ecological Regional Analysis of South Carolina,” Social Indicators Research (August 2010).


Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Southern Rural Sociology Association
Rural Sociological Society
College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences
College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences |