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. I am particularly interested in the uneven effects of these processes on human-environment relations and changing notions of justice across space, time, and scale.

Ethnographic research in collaboration with community partners drives my investigations about Indigenous rights, land conflicts, socio-environmental (in)justice, and law in the context of development in Latin America, with a focus on human rights. I am also starting to experiment with the use of drones, Q-method, and critical phyiscal geography as ways to complement thinking with critical social theory and ethnography.

While I hold a Ph.D. in Geography, my training is thoroughly interdisciplinary and draws from political ecology, critical development studies, cultural geography, and applied anthropology. For publications, please visit my Academia.edu page.

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. Indigeneity, 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-Sur and Sanapana peoples in Paraguay since 2013. Settler colonialism predicated on cattle ranching, timber extraction, and exploiting Indigneous labor radically transformed the humid “Bajo Chaco” of Paraguay, creating racialized social and biophysical ecologies. Within this context, Enxet-Sur and Sanapana Indigenous communities have long struggled to reclaim portions of their ancestral territories, rejecting dispossession as an endpoint but instead leveraging it as a political tool that has transformed the Paraguayan state.

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, this research focused 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: Indigeneity, racial capitalism, and land politics in Paraguay’s Chaco, is based on this research.


2. Resource rule, Extractivisms, Rupture & territorialities

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?

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

3. Legal Geographies, SETTLER COLONIALISM, & Racial capitalism

Ranches that enclosed Indigenous communities in the Bajo Chaco of Paraguay in the 1970s. Image source, Powell (2009), “Y Entonces llegó un inglés.”

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 production 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 soical-environmental inequalities. Perhaps engaged research and the solidarities fromed through collaborative research design can contribute to such an aim…

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?


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.

New frontiers of extractivism and Indigenous environmental justice in the Gran Chaco (Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina) is my new study. 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. 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 committment to public scholarship.

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