For an overview, you can view my curriculum vitae.
Infrastructure investments, changes in employment, commercialization of agriculture, and reforestation programs, among other interventions, 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.
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.
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.
How do varying exposures to and understandings of risk shape how people respond to natural hazards? Floods are getting bigger and more frequent, straining the resources of households and communities to deal with them. I am part of a team drawing on survey data, focus groups and interviews, and policy analysis to help understand how people in flood-affected areas deal with risks and how policy interventions might lessen inequalities in costs and damages.
How do state personnel, from bureaucrats in capitals 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.
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.
Facing Floods in New York State
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 New York Water Resources Institute and Hudson River Estuary Program and a USDA NIFA Hatch Smith-Lever grant, our team is examining how people in flood-affected areas understand and respond to changing flood risk, with a focus on how flood insurance coverage is delivered and who does and does not get insured.
Apples, Disease, and Agrarian Change in China
In many parts of China, perennial crops are remaking landscapes once dominated by staple grains. Concentration and homogenization of agriculture often increase crop disease risk and displace small farmers. In a unique collaboration spanning anthropology, genetics, plant pathology, landscape ecology, and sociology, we investigate how the social organization of apple cultivation—by smallholders, large commercial farms, and agribusiness firms—affects disease management and pathogen population dynamics. We are working with farmers to understand how they manage a new crop and deal with changing markets and policies.
Land Management Programs, Communities, Livelihoods, and Landscapes in Southwest China
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 collaborate with China-based landscape ecologists to learn how community histories and political processes mediate the impacts of land management programs on livelihoods and landscapes. Focusing on afforestation of retired farmland, forest management, and agricultural intensification, we analyzed in-depth case studies, household survey data, and land cover change data in twelve communities. We show 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 landscapes.
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.