Brian King



Honorary Research Associate, African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town

Faculty Research Associate, Population Research Institute, Penn State University

Faculty Research Affiliate, Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Penn State University

My research concentrates upon several topics, particularly the impacts of conservation and development in Southern Africa, social and environmental justice, and the intersections between livelihoods, health and environment. 

Livelihoods, health and environment

My research examines the production of livelihoods and environmental change in the developing world. This work evaluates the relationships between health and environment, focusing in particular on the effects of HIV/AIDS upon social and environmental systems. I am the PI on a NSF CAREER grant Political Ecologies of Health: Coupling Livelihood and Environment Responses to HIV/AIDS ($485,292, September 1, 2011 – August 31, 2017, GSS 1056683).  This CAREER program is conducting intensive research in South Africa working in close collaboration with research institutes and governmental agencies to examine how livelihood systems adjust in response to HIV/AIDS, how livelihood responses to HIV/AIDS rework access patterns and the rules governing resource use, and whether intra-household and intra-community variations shape livelihood responses to HIV/AIDS. This work asserts that attending to health-environment interactions is needed to understand how disease results in transformations to social and environmental systems, and how these systems in turn shape the trajectories of disease and the possibilities for sustainable disease management.

This research was reported in October 2017 on The Academic Minute "How does food scarcity affect the treatment of HIV?"

Recent articles covering this research include:

Ending HIV while Isolation and Stigma Endure

Apartheid's Lingering Effects for HIV/AIDS

A recent presentation on this work is available at: "Eat Healthy and Nutritious Food"

and an article at the Conversation "How Bucking Climate Change Accord Would Hinder the Fight Against HIV/AIDS"

Selected publications:


Conservation and development in Southern Africa 

The expansion of national parks and protected areas throughout the developing world raises political, economic and ethical challenges for balancing the often competing needs of biodiversity protection and economic development. My work demonstrates that there is measurable community variation in the perceptions and benefits arising from community conservation initiatives and other conservation models.  More recently I have been involved in a project in the Okavango Delta, Botswana that is assessing the social and ecological effects of environmental variability. The uncertainty in terms of the location and intensity of the flooding has significant implications for human populations dependent upon various resources for livelihood production. Additionally, competing resource pressures from state and non-state agencies, in conjunction with anticipated variability due to climate change, are reshaping social systems within the region.  This research project is supported by a National Science Foundation grant ($606,369, August 2010 – May 2017, GSS 0964596).

Selected publications:


At Penn State I have taught Human Use of the Environment (GEOG 430), Geographies of Environment and Sustainability (GEOG 30), Health Geographies (GEOG 497), and Geographies of Justice (GEOG 433). While affiliated with the University of Cape Town during academic year 2015 - 2016, I taught an Honour's Module on Environmental Health (EGS 4040).  My graduate courses concentrate upon political ecology and international development. 

Graduate advising

Prospective graduate students who share similar research interests should feel free to contact me.

Research Interests

  • development
  • conservation
  • Southern Africa
  • cultural and political ecology
  • health
  • livelihoods
  • justice

Previous Appointments

  • 2004-2008, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas-Austin
  • 2007-2008, Faculty Research Associate, Population Research Center, University of Texas-Austin


  • Ph.D. Geography with certificate in Development Studies, University of Colorado-Boulder, 2004
  • M.A. Geography, University of Colorado-Boulder, 1999
  • B.A. Environmental Studies with Honors, Bucknell University, 1995


Margaret Boyle, Ph.D. Geography (current)

Nari Senanayake, Ph.D. Geography (current)

Arielle Hesse, Ph.D. Geography (co-advisor with Dr. Melissa Wright, current)

Khathu Mkosi, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town (current)

Daniel Kunches, Ph.D. Geography (current)

Ruchi Patel, M.S. Geography (current)


Courses Taught

  • GEOG 497B: Geographies of Justice
  • GEOG 030: Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability and Human-Environment Systems
  • GEOG 497C: Health Geographies
  • GEOG 597: Political Ecology and Health
  • GEOG 430: Human Use of the Environment
  • Parks and People


National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow 2017.

Wilson Award for Excellence in Teaching 2015.

Recipient of the University of Texas Jean Holloway Award for Excellence in Teaching 2007.

Finalist for the University of Texas Friar Society Centennial Teaching Fellowship. 2007. 

Nominee for the University of Texas President's Associates Teaching Award. 2008 and 2007.