Research Statement

My research applies critical theory and social science to understand how societies adapt to climate change. My over-arching research question is: How do social power and social difference affect adaptation to climate change, and how does adaptation reinforce or disrupt social differences or hierarchies?

Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to civilization as we know it. While many actions can still be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the overall severity of the impacts of climate change, the scientific evidence shows that we will inevitably experience a warming planet over the next centuries, and with it we will experience a rapidly shifting social-ecological system. Thus human beings must adapt to an unpredictable environmental future. I study how we make choices about these adaptations, what stimulates adaptation, and how the costs and benefits of adaptation to climate change are distributed through society. To structure my research and analyze my data, I employ my training as a political ecologist, a synthetic and interdisciplinary framework combining insights from political economy, cultural anthropology, sociology, and critical theory.

My dissertation, Discourse, Disaster, and the Urban Hazardscape,completed in 2016, uses the aftermath of a major disaster as a lens through which to view adaptive processes. Beginning my research even before the storm made landfall in late October of 2012, I spent most of 2013 in residence in New York City. While in the field, I became a member of an independent research collaborative, Superstorm Research Lab, and began working with community organizations such as Occupy Sandy and Make the Road New York. Throughout, I gathered data such as semi-structured interviews, survey results, participant observation, and media reports.

I frequently work with students as a mentor, supervising their own projects, and employing them as research assistants. I also recently visited Guatemala to develop a research partnership with a community forestry initiative (Chajil Siwan) in the municipality of Totonicapán. This is directly relevant to my work on climate change adaptation, as I intend to show the importance of community forestry work in ensuring local fresh water in a changing climate.

I am also committed to new forms of community-oriented academic work. I am a member of the Superstorm Research Lab (SRL), an interdisciplinary social science lab focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. SRL deliberately sought out community voices which are not often incorporated into decision-making, such as Occupy Sandy and other spontaneous mutual aid groups, the Red Hook Initiative which works with public housing tenants, and Make the Road New York, an organization which primarily serves undocumented and low-wage workers on Staten Island. While we benefited from the access and data they shared with us, we also helped them analyze the data they had collected, develop more robust data gathering procedures, assemble legal and informal claims, and requested their input as we developed our research and conclusions. The bulk of our data, as well as a collection of data from other sources, was made available online through a creative commons license.

I am on the editorial board for the journal Case Studies in the Environment, and a member of the Morton Arboretum Education Advisory Council.

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