I am Associate Professor and former Director in the School of Environmental Studies, and a member of the Cultural, Social and Political Thought Graduate Program and the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria. Prior to coming to UVic in 2003, I was a teaching fellow at Keele University in the UK. All of my degrees are in Politics: I received both my MA and PhD from The Johns Hopkins University, and my BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
What do I do?
I am a political ecologist, which means that I study environmental problems with a political lens, exploring their social and political dynamics. Drawing on my background and training as a political theorist, I focus especially on how our ideas about how the world (or politics, or nature) work to either constrain or enable solutions to environmental problems. In this context I am especially interested in how strategies for change employed by environmental or social justice movements are reconfiguring our understandings and practices of politics, sometimes in ways that create openings for wider-ranging progressive change, and other times in ways that might constrain this possibility.
Why do I do this?
Many people assume that we need more science to solve environmental problems, that studying nature from a natural science perspective will unearth solutions. I start from the assumption that solutions are rarely constrained by a lack of science, but rather by a failure to understand our social and political systems. Take climate change for example: we know pretty much all the science we need to—there is virtually unanimous agreement that a dramatic reduction in GHG emissions is needed to stabilize the climate. What we don’t know is how to change our social, economic and political institutions so that they don’t place excessive demands on the ecosystems that we require to thrive. Solving this problem requires robust social and political analysis. A failure to do this kind of analysis can cause us to misdirect our efforts and fail to support transformative potential inherent in current movements and processes. In my own research and the research I supervise, I seek to understand what is at stake in contemporary environmental challenges, and how to best focus our efforts to address them.
I have applied this general approach in a variety of ways in the past, focusing on how political ideas and institutions both constrain and enable Indigenous politics in Indigeneity and Political Theory: Sovereignty and the Limits of the Political (Routledge Press, 2008); feminist politics in “Feminist Futures: Contesting the Political,”, and the study of transnational activism in “Whose Knowledge for What Politics?” and “Knowledge, Foundations, Politics.” My co-edited (with Warren Magnusson) book A Political Space: Reading the Global Through Clayoquot Sound (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003) explored how environmental struggles are reshaping political space, a theme that I continued to run with in a couple of articles on the politics of the Great Bear Rainforest (“The Global/Local Politics of the Great Bear Rainforest” and “Indigenous Rights and Environmental Governance: Lessons from the Great Bear Rainforest” [co-authored with Maggie Low]). More recently, I have turned my attention to the challenges—and possibilities—inherent in the process of reshaping energy systems to respond to climate change. See here for more information about current research.