Research

My research integrates human geography and social theory with geographic information science and statistics to describe processes of social and environmental change. The pragmatic motivation for my research is concern for social and environmental inequity in the context of adaptation to climate change. The philosophical motivation for my research is to test and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of different theoretical frameworks and methodologies. For example, I ask what do concepts like “adaptive capacity” or “vulnerability” in society mean, how are they constructed and measured, and how do their meanings, measures and use influence social and environmental outcomes? How sensitive are theoretical frameworks and methods to spatial, temporal, and categorical scales?

Adaptation on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Southern View of Mount Kilimanjaro rendered in 3D with Landsat and SRTM data
View of Mount Kilimanjaro from the south. 3D image rendered with Landsat and SRTM data

My research has been focused on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and most intensely on Mweka Village. The village’s northern boundary joined the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve and National Park on the southern slopes of the mountain. I emphasized participation and feedback in the research process, in part by developing Swahili-language booklets to translate and disseminate knowledge about environmental change to the community. Booklets were given out at public village meetings, with stakeholders representing governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the environmental and development sectors present. Several colleagues affiliated with the Jane Goodall Institute assisted with translation and editing. Booklets were developed at the end of field work in 2009 and again in 2010. Links to English and Swahili pdf versions of the booklets are below:

Two peer-reviewed journal articles have developed out of this work, leading to success in the AAG Development Geographies Specialty Group student paper competition and the AAG J. Warren Nystrom award for a paper based upon a recent dissertation.

  • 2014. “Adaptation policy and adaptation realities: Local social organization and cross-scale networks for climate adaptation on Mount Kilimanjaro.” Geojournal. DOI: 10.1007/s10708-014-9549-7
  • 2014. “Is Sustainable Adaptation Possible? Determinants of Adaptation on Mount Kilimanjaro.” The Professional Geographer. DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2014.922015

Also see my Curriculum Vitae.

My Approach

I approached research in Tanzania with a similar approach and ethic as participatory community development in the Peace Corps, and I am convinced that this approach significantly improved the depth and quality of data. I spoke the language, worked with a low budget, and emphasized building trust and relationships both between myself and research subjects and between research subjects themselves (some would call this building social capital). In other words, I invested time and trust in research, and very little money. Knowing the language, I conducted the vast majority of data collection personally, providing ample opportunity to clarify misunderstandings, interpret non-verbal communication cues and discuss the meaning and significance of survey responses. I listened to hours of stories behind the coded survey responses. I also had the chance to perceive when “no” means “I don’t want to tell you”, when “yes” means “I’m not sure, but I’ll agree with you anyway”, and when a quantification of plot size, income, or expenses was fabricated because the respondent did not keep a budget or was uncomfortable with mathematics.

I traveled to and within the study site with public transportation (daladala), bicycles from the local market, and on foot (see slide show at left). Whereas a Land Cruiser calls attention to one’s status and raises suspicions, using public transport and bicycles helps break the ice and transform movement into a research activity. Research participants often recognized me even before had I introduced myself!