For an overview, you can view my CV here.

oatsThemes

Transformations

Tourism development, commercial agriculture, people leaving for off-farm work, and conservation programs, among other trends, transform lives and landscapes. Who promotes these transformations, how do they happen, and what shapes their varied outcomes? To understand how people and environments weather change, I interview residents and officials, read government documents, and work with ecologists to measure changes in land cover.

Livelihoods

As people change how they put food on the table, it affects how people in communities are able to work together, where forests shrink or grow back, and how people draw on public services. How do different people face these choices? What are the impacts on communities and landscapes? I talk with people about how they make decisions about work on and off the farm, use forest resources, and get or give help. I use what I learn to further understandings of rural livelihoods in China and beyond.

Communities

How do members of communities work together to achieve common goals, or fail to do so? What makes policy impacts vary across communities? I examine how members of different communities deal with the opportunities in their social and environmental landscapes, showing how community organization and politics—and often the land and resources surrounding a community—shape local outcomes of policies and market changes.

The State

How do state personnel, from bureaucrats in towns and cities to community officials charged with enforcing rules and securing benefits for their neighbors, work out responsibilities to their superiors and to the residents they serve? I use interviews and policy analysis to clarify how state agents manage trade-offs and how residents respond.

Integrative Methodology

Accounting for patterns of change over time across communities, households, and landscapes requires bringing together methods of quantitative analysis, qualitative comparison, narrative explanation, and mapping. I am working on developing robust methods for linking household, community, and landscape processes to account for patterns that demographic and econometric methods do not adequately explain.

Projects

Land Management Programs, Communities, Livelihoods, and Landscapes in Southwest China

Tower

Worldwide, governments use incentive-based programs to encourage rural residents to conserve forests and intensify agriculture. The impacts depend upon how communities implement programs and how households respond. I am collaborating with a China-based landscape ecologist to address how community histories and political processes mediate the impacts of land management programs on livelihoods and landscapes. Focusing on government programs concerning afforestation of retired farmland, forest management, and agricultural intensification, we are analyzing in-depth case studies, household survey data, and land cover change data in twelve communities. We examine how community processes shape policy outcomes and how land use decisions impact land cover, household well-being, and community socioeconomic conditions, structuring social and ecological patterns across rural landscapes.

Confronting Flood Risk in the Hudson River Valley

Rising sea levels increase flood risk not just along coast but upstream in tidal river basins. Confronting more severe and more frequent floods, state and federal agencies adjust flood insurance and disaster relief policies, local governments consider infrastructure investments, and residents face difficult choices concerning housing. With support from the Water Resources Institute and Hudson River Estuary Program, I am working with research and extension staff at Cornell’s Community and Regional Development Institute to learn about how members of two municipalities understand and respond to changing flood risk.

Access to Biodiversity in Urban Areas

I am part of an interdisciplinary collaboration conducting a meta-analysis examining relationships between socioeconomic status and biodiversity within urban areas. This project is part of UrBioNet, a larger effort to integrate research on biodiversity in cities.

Making National Parks in Southwest China

My dissertation research examined an effort to set up a new model of people-friendly nature conservation in northwestern Yunnan Province and similar efforts across southwest China. I followed the arc of The Nature Conservancy’s effort to join community-led tourism and active conservation management in a new national park model, showing how competing government priorities yielded a model in which high-volume tourism dominated. I looked inward at how communities that became employed by this state-run tourism operation and others that had community-led tourism, or none at all, responded—their livelihoods, resource use, and interactions with park managers. I also moved outward to ten different protected areas across southwestern China, showing how Yunnan’s national parks fit into a broader pattern of “tourism dynamos” through which local governments turn scenic places into revenue-generating tourism attractions.

PARTNERS Research Coordination Network

Since 2013, I have been a member of the PARTNERS (People and Reforestation in the Tropics: a Network for Education, Research, and Synthesis) Research Coordination Network, which joins together scholars working on social and environmental aspects of reforestation and ecological restoration around the world.