My research and writing look at different aspects of nature-society relations in their political-economic and social contexts. Most fundamentally, I have been interested in empirically investigating and theoretically exploring the intersections between contemporary neoliberal or ‘late’ capitalism and the environment. I start from the assumption that neoliberal capitalism has deeply yet unevenly influenced the ways humans exploit, conserve or otherwise relate to nonhuman natures and that this process fundamentally influences broader dynamics of development and change. Methodologically, I combine multi-level, engaged ethnography with discourse analysis and ‘deep reading’ to capture how actors and their lived realities co-constitute and are co-constituted by structural power dynamics over time.
From this starting point, I have developed several research projects. My PhD research focused on transfrontier conservation in Southern Africa and explored the effects of emerging transnational governance structures on local and regional socio-ecological realities in the Maloti-Drakensberg between Lesotho and South Africa, as well as other ‘peace parks’ in the southern African region. This work culminated in my book ‘Transforming the Frontier‘, published in 2013 by Duke University Press. More recently, I developed a project, financed through a Dutch Research Foundation ‘VENI’ grant, under the title Nature 2.0. This research investigates how new online media and web 2.0 tools are changing global and local politics of conservation. I am currently working on a book manuscript on this topic, provisionally entitled ‘Nature on the Line‘.
Another project, which arose out of my postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Johannesburg, focused on the political economy of energy in relation to fossil and timber resource extraction. Its primary aim was to understand the local and regional socio-ecological impacts of increasing energy and resource investments by (emerging) global powers in Southern Africa. A recent paper on this research appeared in the European Journal of Development Research. A spin-off project, undertaken together with Dr. Veronika Davidov, looked at the nexus between resource extraction and ecotourism, which resulted in an edited volume with Routledge in 2013.
Through these various projects, I have further explored how both the conservation and the exploitation of nature relate to and function within broader structures of capitalist power, and how they relate to each other. This has resulted in various empirical and theoretical papers, including a recent piece in the open access journal New Proposals, entitled Nature on the Move. This paper is part of a triptych of papers that also include work by Jim Igoe and Sian Sullivan. Another outcome of this work is an edited volume that I co-edited with Wolfram Dressler and Robert Fletcher with the University of Arizona Press (2014).
Over the next couple of years, I will build on this work to investigate the violent impacts of recent surges in wildlife crime and resource extraction on ecosystems and wildlife. This research will be funded through a recently acquired Dutch Research Foundation VIDI grant, entitled ‘Crisis Conservation: Saving Nature in Times and Spaces of Exception‘. Together with others and in my new position at the Sociology of Development and Change group at Wageningen, I hope to contribute to building a larger research and knowledge platform dedicated to pushing the frontiers of political ecology, critical development studies and amplifying potentials for environmental and social justice.