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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. While the majority of this work has been completed in South Africa and Botswana, I also have research interests within the United States.
The first primary research direction is an examination of 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. This research is demonstrating that livelihood patterns and environmental systems are experiencing transformations in response to the onset of disease within rural households. Understanding the particular trajectories of these patterns is critical to ensure effective disease management and support sustainable responses.
To support this research direction, 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, 2016, GSS 1056683). This CAREER program is conducting intensive research in South Africa over five years working in close collaboration with research institutes and governmental agencies. This research is specifically examining 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.
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. This research helps show that communities need to be socially and spatially disaggregated in order to understand the diverse impacts of community conservation. More recently, I have been studying the political and economic impacts of transboundary conservation projects which are being advanced by various stakeholders through various ecological and economic discourses.
Although my research has concentrated upon South Africa, my interest in these themes extends to other areas. Working with Dr. Kelley Crews and Dr. Ken Young (both at the University of Texas), we are directing a research project in the Okavango Delta, Botswana to assess 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 2014, GSS 0964596).
Colonial and apartheid governments utilized space to forcibly classify and regulate human populations throughout rural and urban South Africa. Central to this project were the bantustans, which were intended to become discrete territories for the majority African population. I have conducted qualitative and archival research in the former KaNgwane bantustan since 1999 to examine how social and environmental systems were discursively constructed by colonial and apartheid authorities. This work considers the relationships between society and space to evaluate how the geographies of apartheid remain relevant for local populations while simultaneously providing opportunities for change. My research demonstrates that the post-apartheid transition remains socially and spatially structured by historical spatial economies but is creating new opportunities and avenues for development agencies to pursue their particular goals. The dynamic reimagining that is occurring is generating often conflicting agendas for these territories that include nature tourism, sugar cane farming and livestock grazing being advocated as idealized development schemes.
The last major theme of my research is an engagement with the field of development studies to interrogate how development theory and practice shapes social and ecological landscapes within Southern Africa and elsewhere. Building upon this research, I am working to integrate space more directly into livelihood analyses and critical development studies. Additionally, the ‘institutional turn’ within critical development scholarship is also of interest in order to understand how social networks advance particular ideas, and how these ideas become hegemonic at the expense of competing alternatives.
At Penn State I have taught Human Use of the Environment (GEOG 430), Geographies of Environment and Sustainability (GEOG 30), and Geographies of Justice (GEOG 497). In the future, I will offer undergraduate courses on health geographies, development studies, and environmental justice. My graduate courses concentrate upon political ecology and international development.
Prior to arriving at Penn State, I taught several undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Texas, including:
Prospective graduate students who share similar research interests should feel free to contact me.
Kayla Yurco, Ph.D. Geography (current)
Arielle Hesse, Ph.D. Geography (co-advisor with Dr. Melissa Wright, current)
Maureen Biermann, Ph.D. Geography (current)
Jamie Shinn, Ph.D. Geography (current)
Daniel Kunches, Ph.D. Geography (current)
Erica Hann, M.S. Geography (current)
Paul Shaffner, M.S. Geography (current)
Christopher Parrett, MGIS Geography (2014)
Patrick Hammons, M.S. Geography (2011, recipient of the E. Willard Miller Award)
Lauren Anderson, M.S. Geography (2011)
Chelsea Hanchett, M.S. Geography (2010, recipient of the E. Willard Miller Award and Political Geography Specialty Group Student Paper Award)
Zachary Hurwitz, M.A. Geography at UT-Austin, co-advisor with Dr. Bill Doolittle (2009)
Marina Burka (Undergraduate Honors Thesis advisor)
Sean McGrath (Undergraduate honors thesis, 2010)
Allison Bullock (Undergraduate honors thesis, 2009) University Co-op/George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Student Award recipient, Rapaport-King Scholarship recipient, First author on publication in Journal of Environmental Management
Kevin Kalra (Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2007)
Kendle Wade (Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2007) Plan II Model Thesis Recipient
Tuyen Lee (Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2006)
Marlena Del Hierro (Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2005) Rapaport-King Scholarship recipient
Alex Wagner (Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2005)
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.