Assistant Professor of Geography
BA, University of Cincinnati (International Affairs), 2003
MA, The Ohio State University (Geography), 2005
PhD, The Ohio State University (Geography), 2011
My research works across political geography, security studies, and nature-society theory to study the biopolitics of disaster management and climate change adaptation. Biopolitics is a technical term developed by the French historian Michel Foucault that points to the ways that life and power intertwine in modern societies. It offers an unconventional but provocative slant on the study of human-environment relations that enables me to explore the connections between disaster resilience programming and the ongoing neoliberalization of socio-ecological relations.
My research is thus broadly concerned with two interconnected movements: on the one hand, powers over life: the continual efforts of governmental interventions to regulate and control how people can understand and adapt to environmental change and surprise. On the other hand, powers of life: the ways that individuals’ and communities’ everyday practice continually exceeds this governmental reach. To study powers over life, I explore how disaster management and climate change adaptation initiatives attempt to govern populations through social and ecological uncertainty and surprise. Peer-reviewed articles I’ve published in outlets such as the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Security Dialogue, Geopolitics and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space demonstrate how techniques such as community-based disaster management and catastrophe insurance attempt to regulate individuals’ and communities’ inherent creativity and adaptability. For example, my research in Jamaica draws on Foucauldian understandings of biopolitics and Deleuzian understandings of assemblage to show how community-based programming enables governmental interventions to visualize, target, and work on affective relations between humans and their environment. Community-based resilience attempts to engineer how people relate to their environment – for instance, as a source of fear, threat and insecurity that can only be protected against by participating in disaster resilience programming. Similarly, catastrophe insurance enables states to transfer the risk of infrastructure breakdown to financial markets and access new sources of post-event capital to finance their response and recovery efforts, maintain solvency, and avoid post-disaster disorder.
To study powers of life, I explore how resilience-building initiatives constantly run up against the limits of target populations’ adaptability and creativity. My ethnographic research in Jamaica draws on Caribbean subaltern studies literature to show how the implementation of resilience programming is often a fractured and disjointed process in which project managers constantly adjust their delivery as they interact with people in the field. In Jamaica and other post-colonial contexts, marginalized peoples have been adapting to (and resisting) a variety of forms of insecurity, violence and abandonment for four hundred years. Their ways of life and forms of association with each other, their environments, and various state and non-state agencies may not adhere to ‘proper’ norms, beliefs, and ‘best practices’ promoted by international disaster management and development organizations. As I’ve argued in peer-reviewed articles in Antipode, Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourse and Geography Compass, in these cases, resilience programming is less about increasing adaptive capacity than de-potentializing, constraining, and controlling adaptive capacities that already exist.
By drawing attention to the ways that life exceeds power, my research strives to re-contextualize adaptive capacity. At stake here is the ability to approach resilience as what Felix Guattari calls an ethico-aesthetic practice: a creative style of experimentation over how to live within, and possibly against, the socio-ecological insecurities of contemporary neoliberal order. Recognizing this partiality is the first step towards developing new kinds of collaborative interventions between academics and research subjects that creatively address the myriad social, political economic, and environmental insecurities marginalized peoples face in their everyday lives.