Research

My research seeks to understand how extra-local political and economic processes—like international Indigenous rights mechanisms, environmental laws, and global commodity production and exchange—influence local struggles for social and environmental justice. Collaborative research alongside community partners drives my investigations about Indigenous rights, land conflicts, socio-environmental (in)justice, and law in the context of development in Latin America. Informed by critical social theory, I employ a suite of methods that range from ethnography and legal analysis to the use of drones, Q-method, and visual media. Throughout, I strive to use research as a vehicle to support more equitable futures.

To date, my research program has been supported with several prestigious awards. The National Science Foundation (2015), the American Council of Learned Societies (2021), fellowships from the Fulbright Scholar (2021), Fulbright Hays (2014), and the U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies programs (2011 & 2012) have all funded my research, in addition to numerous internal institutional grants. For publications, please visit my Google Scholar, ResearchGate, or Academia.edu pages.

Students interested in these issues should feel welcome to contact me about research opportunities or pursuing graduate education at University of Florida. I also welcome inquiries about collaborative and/or public research from other academics or community organizations working on related topics.

Four Intersecting areas animate much of my current research:

1. indigenous rights, Environmental Justice, Land politics

I have been researching how agrarian development, environmental change, and law create new territorial orders, governable spaces, and contradictory political possibilities for Enxet and Sanapana peoples in Paraguay since 2013. Settler colonialism predicated on cattle ranching, timber extraction, and exploiting Indigenous labor radically transformed the humid “Bajo Chaco” of Paraguay, creating new social and biophysical ecologies. Within this context, Enxet and Sanapana Indigenous communities have long struggled to reclaim portions of their ancestral territories, always rejecting that dispossession is an endpoint but instead leveraging it as a political tool.

Through critical ethnography, action research, and partnerships with affected community members and their legal counsel, this project seeks to understand the how different actors navigate life in the gap between de jure and de facto rights and rework spaces of dispossession to drive social-environmental justice. Conducted via ethnographic field research employing counter-mapping, extensive archival research, 150+ interviews, and participatory methods, primarily between 2013-2017 (but ongoing), this research focuses on the politics of implementing Inter-American Court of Human Rights decisions in favor of territorial restitution for Indigenous communities in the Paraguayan Chaco. My book project, Disrupting the Partón: Unsettling racial geographies in pursuit of Indigenous environmental justice, is based on this research.

Related journal articles also appear in Geoforum (here and here), Erasumus Law Review, and Roadsides and under review for the edited volume Indigenous peoples and land rights: A global analysis (Oxford UP).


2. development Geographies, Rupture, Territoriality

Trained at the intersection of political ecology, Science Studies, and critical social theory, I have a keen interest in resource politics, environmental change, (more-than-human) territorialities, and violence. My scholarship investigates the work done by the human/environment or nature/culture bifurcation with attention to the relationships between binary logics and the production of inequality, broadly construed.

Attentive to these issues, I research how resource rule, rupture, and territorialities are manifest through agro-export oriented development, radical environmental change, and state-society relations in Latin America. Recently, I have been thinking about how development imperatives promoting land-extensive genetically-modified soybean production and cattle ranching establish landscapes that promote the destruction of life rather than foster the abundance of life, drawing into question state formation and social vulnerability in frontier spaces.

What are the ramifications of how different groups know ‘nature’ or ‘the environment’? How do such positionings shape scientific method, field research, and the production of social-environmental knowlege? How do growing debates (both academic and public) about climate change and the Anthropocence challenge the purported human/nature divide and with what potential ramifications on social imaginaries or the practice of science? How has the bifurcation of humans from nature been used to reproduce systems of discrimination, broadly construed?

To date, I have published articles in this area of inquiry that appear in The Journal of Peasant Studies, The Journal of Latin American Geography (here and here), Etnografías Contemporáneas, and currently under under review in other journals.

Fresh deforestation in Paraguay’s Chaco to establish new pasture lands for cattle.
Drone imagery from June 2019.

3. Law, SETTLER COLONIALISM, Racial capitalism

Location of cattle ranches that enclosed Indigenous communities in Paraguay’s Bajo Chaco through the 1970s. Data based on Powell (2009), map by Correia.

Much of my research considers the intimate relationships between social-environmental processes, the production of racilized inequalities, and the rule of law, or lack thereof. At the core of these concerns lies attention to the historical manifestation of settler colonialism in specific sites across Latin America and its persistence as an enduring structure of land-labor-extractivist relations, particularly with regard to the legal geographies that allow such structures to persist. Yet I also consider how different actors usurp, or break, the law to challenge setler colonial power. The aim is not merely to name systems of oppression or discrimination as settler colonial or racialized but to consider how they are formed and persist with an eye toward breaking down social-environmental inequalities.

In what ways are law and space iteratively related, and with what effects on social-environmental justice? How is settler colonialism manifest in different extractive frontiers across the Americas? How does racial capitalism operate vis-a-vis environmenntal governance and legal geographies of settler colonialism?

I have several forthcoming book chapters that elaborate on these issues in the following edited volumes: The Handbook of Space, Place, and Law (Edward Elgar Press); Re-imagining the Gran Chaco: Identities, politics, and the environment (University Press of Florida); The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Movements with an additional chapter in progress for The Routledge Handbook on Land Grabbing.


4. Collaborative Action research & Public Scholarship

Engaged scholarship—both in collaboration with local partners and students or shared via public fora—animates my research program. Writing for outlets like The Conversation or World Politics Review, conducting high-impact public policy research with interdisciplinary teams for organizations like the Open Society Justice Initiative, and sharing results with broad stakeholder groups, from affected communities, state officials, and ranchers to civil society organizations are hallmarks of my commitment to public research. I am currently working on developing accessible, public platforms for communicating research results. I believe that research should be used not only for broader knowledge creation, but for the public good, and that critical studies should intend to address pressing issues of social-environmental injustice.

Since 2018, I have coordinated a series of public workshops with Indigenous and Afro-descendant human rights activists and environmental defenders from across Latin America. Through an inter-institutional collaboration between the UF and University of Arizona Centers for Latin American Studies, we have hosted four interdisciplinary working group meetings that seek to build networks of action and awareness about some of the region’s most pressing environmental conflicts with particular attention to Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. Recordings of some of the workshop proceedings are available (in Spanish) on the UF Center for Latin American Studies YouTube Channel here, here, and here.

Building the future: Infrastructure and environmental justice in South America’s Chaco (Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina) is one of my current projects. The study investigates how mega development projects expanding the frontiers of resource extraction (and speculation about these resources) for natural gas, new varieties of genetically modified soy, and cattle production intersect with Indigneous territorial goverance and environmental justice. Preliminary field research to build new relationships, scope potential research sites, and test new methods took place in June-July 2019 whereas I will continue this work as a Fulbright Scholar in 2022. The study is an inter-disciplinary collaboration with members of Indigenous communities, scholars, and civil society organizations that draws from Indigenous research methodologies and a commitment to public scholarship.

I look forward to creating opportunities for interested students to get involved in this project.