By appointment (arranged via email)
I study the ways people use, govern, study and value landscapes: how environments are managed and mismanaged, exploited and conserved, enlisted to produce power, profit and knowledge, sometimes successfully and other times not. Working with and across multiple disciplines,I can be described using almost any non-redundant combination of historical, political, environmental, or ecological + anthropologist, geographer, ecologist, economist, or historian.
I am particularly interested in understanding how capital, the state, and science act and interact to alter natural and built environments. How do different kinds of lands, plants, animals, minerals, water, and scenic places become commodities? What sorts of property systems and territorial formations inform and enable political and economic projects? How are ideas about “nature” produced, and what sorts of purposes do they serve or obstruct? These are questions about the production of space, nature, and the state mode of production.
I specialize in rangelands—grasslands, prairies, savannas, shrublands, deserts, steppes and tundra—which collectively comprise about 45 percent of the world’s ice-free terrestrial surface. Most of my field work has taken place in Arizona and New Mexico, while I have done archival and historical research on rangelands of the western US, North America, and the world. Rangelands can teach us a great deal about the assumptions and limits of capital, the state and science, precisely because they are almost always marginal and marginalized vis-à-vis dominant political and economic forces.
My primary methods are archival and ethnographic, supplemented with interviews and questionnaires; I also collaborate with scholars who employ field experiments and sampling, remote sensing, aerial photography, GIS, and computational and statistical methods. While some of my work is applied and public-facing, and some is very theoretical and academic, most is somewhere in between.
I have contributed to several areas of research (see publications lists below):
- theoretical work on scale and political economy;
- the history of ideas of environmental limits such as carrying capacity and scarcity;
- studies of how scientific knowledge claims are produced, in the fashion of science and technology studies and critical physical geography;
- explanations of landscape change using place-specific case studies of historical-political ecology;
- efforts to improve how rangelands are understood and studied;
- applied research in natural resource management and conservation, and specifically community-based conservation.
In addition to rangelands, I have recently begun three new research projects:
- Cannabis legalization in California. Michael Polson, Ann Laudati and I are studying the effects of legalization on unlicensed growers. How are new regulations shaping production practices, markets, and communities? What are the costs and obstacles to participating in the legal market? Our efforts are part of the larger UC-Berkeley Cannabis Research Center (CRC).
- A textbook on food and the environment, with Sasha Gennet, which builds on my class of the same title (Geography 130: Food and the Environment). Food is a primary arena of human-environment relations with important ecological, cultural, political and economic dimensions. We aim to synthesize social, historical, and environmental information into a volume that will be useful across a wide range of communities, disciplines and professions.
- The California mega-flood and drought of 1861-65 as a case study in the role of climatic variability in political economy and ecology. Coming in the midst of the hydraulic gold mining boom and the consolidation of Anglo-American power over both Indigenous Californians and Spanish-Mexican communities, the mega-flood and subsequent drought had profound effects on lands and waterways throughout the state, as well as how subsequent development unfolded.
2017. The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Winner, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award from Choice Magazine.
Rangelands are embattled, imperiled, and poorly understood in the United States and around the world. Scientific claims are routinely invoked in these political and economic struggles, but the science of rangelands is a veritable black box for almost everyone. Based on extensive archival research, interviews and participant observation, this book opens up that box. Inside, we find a sort of looking glass that both reflects and disguises the conflicts that rangeland science is supposed to resolve. The significance of rangelands derives not just from their vast extent but also from the obstacles and resistance they have presented (and continue to present) to three major forces of the modern world: the nation-state, science, and capital. It is precisely their manifold marginality that enables rangelands to defy and disrupt social forces that elsewhere seem so powerful, and thereby to illuminate core tendencies, contradictions, and limitations in modern ways of knowing, using, and governing land and people.
2005. Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Press.
Located in the most biodiverse place in North America, the Malpai Borderlands Group has preserved and enhanced the ecological functioning of 1,250 square miles of unfragmented wildlands by reintroducing fire, obtaining conservation easements, and facilitating cooperation among ranchers and the various public agencies that control about half of the landscape. Working Wilderness presents the history, science and politics of one of the nation’s foremost community-based conservation initiatives.
2002. Ranching, Endangered Species, and Urbanization in the Southwest: Species of Capital. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
This is an ethnographic comparative study of cattle ranching and endangered species restoration in terms of economic, bureaucratic and symbolic capital. I found that the ranchers’ critique of the refuge was largely supported by the historical and scientific evidence—more so, at least, than the narrative propounded by the refuge and its supporters. Overgrazing by cattle had contributed to the disappearance of the masked bobwhite a century ago, but the area had always been marginal habitat and a century of subsequent changes—by natural processes as well as human interventions—had decisively rearranged the landscape. Removing cattle was in fact largely immaterial to the fate of the masked bobwhite. What the refuge produced, nevertheless, was symbolic capital among environmentalists and bureaucratic capital as a recreational destination for Arizona’s booming population of retirees and urbanites.
2001. The New Ranch Handbook: A Guide to Restoring Western Rangelands. Santa Fe: The Quivira Coalition.
As the title suggests, this book is intended as an accessible and practical tool for ranchers and other rangeland managers. The text includes short case studies of ranches where innovative management has resulted in demonstrable ecological benefits—such as improved cover and composition of grasses, reduced erosion, healthier streams and riparian areas, and better wildlife habitat—while also improving the performance of livestock operations. Between the case studies are longer chapters that review the then-current scientific literature related to these achievements, to demonstrate that new ranch management and the latest science are in fact compatible.
Peer-reviewed articles by topic
(* = student)
(1) Scale and Political Economy
How does capitalism work, and what are its specific dynamics with respect to land and natural resources? Nearly all of my work has been motivated by these questions, usually in direct engagement with empirical cases. These efforts soon ran into the question of scale, an unusually slippery but fundamental concept not only for geography but also for science. I have tried to theorize scale dialectically in such a way as to enable its use in both social and natural scientific inquiry, emphasizing non-linearities or thresholds of qualitative change within and across scales.
2019. Point versus non-point climate impacts and the profit potential of uneven geographical devaluation. New Geographies 10: 44-48.
2015. Scales and Polities. In Tom Perreault, Gavin Bridge and James McCarthy, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, pp. 504-515. London and New York: Routledge.
2011. Commentary: scale, rent, and symbolic capital: political economy and emerging rural landscapes. GeoJournal 76: 437-439.
2010. Climate Change, Scale, and Devaluation: The Challenge of our Built Environment. Journal of Energy, Climate, and Environment 1: 83-94.
2009. Land, labor, livestock and (Neo)Liberalism: Understanding the Geographies of Pastoralism and Ranching. Geoforum 40: 705-706.
2009. With Alan Di Vittorio.* Scale. Pp. 19-28 in Robert Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, eds. The International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, vol. 1. Oxford: Elsevier.
2009. Scale. Pp. 95-108 in Noel Castree, David Demeritt, Bruce Rhoads, and Diana Liverman, eds. A Companion to Environmental Geography. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
2008. Assessing the Effects of the Grundrisse in Anglophone Geography and Anthropology. Antipode 40(5): 898-920.
2006. Scott Prudham’s Knock on Wood: Nature as Commodity in Douglas-Fir Country. Antipode 38(5): 1073-1076.
2005. Ecological and geographical scale: parallels and potential for integration. Progress in Human Geography 29(3): 276-290.
(2) Ideas of Environmental Limits
It is a truism that the Earth’s resources are finite, and that human demands must therefore be kept within some bounds. But this idea has a history fraught with intellectual and political problems. My work on scarcity, carrying capacity, and related ideas explores how these terms and concepts emerged, traces their shifting meanings over time, and reveals their hidden assumptions and flaws.
2020. With Adam Romero. Carrying capacities paradigm. In Jean-Frederic Morin and Amandine Orsini, eds. Essential Concepts of Global Environmental Governance, 2nd Edition, pp. 30-33. Abingdon: Routledge/Earthscan.
2017. Scarcity. In Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey L. Kobayashi, Weidong Liu and Richard Marston, eds. The International Encyclopedia of Geography. John Wiley and Sons. DOI: 10.1002/9781118786352.wbieg0725.
2015. With Adam Romero.* Carrying capacities paradigm. In Jean-Frederic Morin and Amandine Orsini, eds. Essential Concepts of Global Environmental Governance, pp. 21-24. Abingdon: Routledge/Earthscan.
2012. Carrying Capacity. In Robin Kundis Craig, Bruce Pardy, John Copeland Nagle, Oswald Schmitz, & William Smith (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 5: Ecosystem Management and Sustainability, pp. 54-58. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
2012. The Politics of the Anthropogenic. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 57-70. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145846.
2010. Entry for “Carrying Capacity.” In Barney Warf, ed. Encyclopedia of Geography. Sage Publications.
2010. Climax and “Original Capacity”: The Science and Aesthetics of Ecological Restoration in the Southwestern USA. Ecological Restoration 28: 23-31.
2008. The Genesis, History, and Limits of Carrying Capacity. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98(1): 120-134.
(3) Science and Technology Studies/Critical Physical Geography
These papers explore the social dimensions of science: how political, economic, cultural and institutional factors have shaped the way scientists develop their questions and categories, design their experiments, and disseminate their results, and to what effect. I understand scientific knowledge as produced, and ask how that production is shaped and organized. I have done some of this work in collaboration with colleagues in both the social and biophysical sciences.
2018. Race, Nature, Nation and Property in the Origins of Range Science. In Rebecca Lave, Christine Biermann, and Stuart Lane, eds. The Handbook of Critical Physical Geography. Palgrave, pp. 339-356.
2015. The Coyote-Proof Pasture Experiment: How fences replaced predators and labor on US rangelands. Progress in Physical Geography 39: 576-593. DOI: 10.1177/0309133314567582.
Lave, Rebecca, Matthew W. Wilson, Elizabeth S. Barron, Christine Biermann, Mark A. Carey, Chris S. Duvall, Leigh Johnson, K. Maria Lane, Nathan McClintock, Darla Munroe, Rachel Pain, James Proctor, Bruce L. Rhoads, Morgan M. Robertson, Jairus Rossi, Nathan F. Sayre, Gregory Simon, Marc Tadaki, and Christopher Van Dyke. 2013. Intervention: Critical physical geography. The Canadian Geographer 58: 1-10. DOI: 10.1111/cag.12061.
2012. The Politics of the Anthropogenic. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 57-70. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145846.
Briske, David, Nathan F. Sayre, Lynn Huntsinger, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, Bob Budd, and Justin Derner. 2011. Origin, persistence, and resolution of the rotational grazing debate: Integrating human dimensions into rangeland research. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64: 325-334.
2003. With Maria Fernandez-Gimenez. The Genesis of Range Science, with Implications for Pastoral Development Policy. Pp. 1976-1985 in N. Allsopp, A.R. Palmer, S.J. Milton, K.P. Kirkman, G.I.H. Kerley, C.R. Hurt, and C.J. Brown, eds. Proceedings of the VIIth International Rangeland Congress. 26 July-1 August 2003, Durban, South Africa.
(4) Historical-Political Ecology
The science of ecology is usually taught in the present tense: the focus is the current state-of-the-knowledge, and the truth value of experimental findings is presented as independent of history. This can lead to mistakes, however, because landscapes and our ideas about them are products of historical events and processes. These histories also inevitably involve politics: who benefits, at whose expense, both materially and discursively. This body of work explores the historical-political ecology of landscapes big and small, from specific watersheds to the North American continent.
In review. Corn and the Range: Rethinking Ranching’s Relation to Agriculture. Journal of Peasant Studies.
In press. The History of North American Rangelands. Lance B. McNew, David K. Dahlgren, and Jeffrey L. Beck, eds. Rangeland Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Springer.
M. H. Nichols, C. Magiri, and N. F. Sayre. 2017. The Geomorphic legacy of water and sediment control structures in a semiarid rangeland watershed. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. DOI: 10.1002/esp.4287.
2011. A History of Land Use and Natural Resources in the Middle San Pedro Valley, Arizona. Journal of the Southwest 53: 87-137.
2007. The Ranching and Mining Period. Desert Plants 23(2): 12-17 (special issue on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, edited by J. Bezy, C.F. Hutchinson, and C.J. Bahre).
2005. Rangeland degradation and restoration in the “desert seas”: social and economic drivers of ecological change between the sky islands. Pp. 349-352 in Gerald J. Gotfried, Brooke S. Gebow, Lane G. Eskew and Carleton B. Edminster, compilers. Connecting mountain islands and desert seas: biodiversity and management of the Madrean Archipelago II. 2004 May 11-15; Tucson, AZ. Proceedings RMRS-P-36. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 631 p.
2003. Recognizing History in Range Ecology: 100 Years of Science and Management on the Santa Rita Experimental Range. Pp. 1-15 in Mitchel P. McClaran, Peter F. Ffolliott and Carleton B. Edminster, tech. coords. Santa Rita Experimental Range: 100 Years (1903-2003) of Accomplishments and Contributions; conference proceedings; 2003 October 30-November 1; Tucson, AZ. Proc. RMRS-P-30. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
1999. The Cattle Boom in Southern Arizona: Towards a Critical Political Ecology. Journal of the Southwest 41(2): 239-271.
(5) Rangelands (and how to study them)
Rangelands encompass 40-50 percent of Earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface, and that doesn’t include vast areas of former rangelands that have been converted to agriculture and other more intensive uses. Often treated as a reserve of “under-utilized” land for all manner of schemes and projects, rangelands are prone to misapprehension and often defy the wishes of outside interests. This body of work seeks to improve scholarly understanding of rangelands, rangeland users, and our own ideas about rangelands.
Mark W. Brunson, Lynn Huntsinger, Gwendwr R. Meredith, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2021. The future of social science integration in rangeland research. Rangelands. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rala.2021.08.007
2021. Comment on Nikolaus Schareika, Christopher Brown and Mark Moritz. “Critical Transitions from Pastoralism to Ranching in Central Africa.” Current Anthropology 62(1). DOI: 10.1086/713248.
2017. With Diana K. Davis, Brandon Bestelmeyer, and Jeb C. Williamson. 2017. Rangelands: Where Anthromes Meet Their Limits. Land 6, 31; doi:10.3390/land6020031.
Brandon T. Bestelmeyer, Gregory S. Okin, Michael C. Duniway, Steven R. Archer, Nathan F. Sayre, Jebediah C. Williamson and Jeffrey E. Herrick. 2015. Desertification, land use, and the transformation of global drylands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13: 28-36.
2013. With Ryan J. McAllister, Brandon T. Bestelmeyer, Mark Moritz, and Matthew D. Turner. Earth stewardship of rangelands: coping with ecological, economic, and political marginality. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11(7): 348-354.
2012. With William deBuys, Brandon Bestelmeyer, and Kris Havstad. 2012. ;‘The Range problem’ after a century of rangeland science: New research themes for altered landscapes. Rangeland Ecology and Management 65: 545-552.
2004. Viewpoint: The need for qualitative research to understand ranch management. Journal of Range Management 57: 668-674.
(6) Natural Resource Management and Community-Based Conservation
This body of work explores in concrete terms how land, water and wildlife can be managed more successfully. By collaborating with ecologists, hydrologists, wildlife biologists and other experts, I have tried to find ways of bridging between the biophysical and the social sciences to find practical solutions to natural resource issues. I am particularly interested in local ecological knowledge (LEK) and community-based conservation (CBC), which has gained widespread interest in the last quarter-century as an alternative to top-down, “fortress” models. In the western US, community-based conservation initiatives have arisen in the context of mixed public and private landownership and contentious debates about extractive versus recreational or amenity-based economies.
In review. Ansel Olive Klein,* Liz Carlisle, Margaret G. Lloyd, Nathan F. Sayre, and Tim Bowles. From theory to practice: Understanding farmer knowledge of soil management on organic farms in Yolo County, California, USA. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
2023. Stewardship of Rangelands in the 21st Century: Managing Complexity from the Margins. Rachel Carnell and Chris Mounsey, eds. Stewardship and the Future of the Planet: Promise and Paradoxes. Routledge series on Advances in the History of Bioethics. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 175-191. DOI: 10.4324/9781003219064-13
Lisa B. Clark,* Annie L. Henry, Rebecca Lave, Nathan F. Sayre, Eduardo González, and Anna A. Sher. 2019. Successful information exchange between restoration science and practice. Restoration Ecology 27: 1241-1250. DOI: 10.1111/rec.12979.
Lynn Huntsinger and Nathan F. Sayre. 2017. Landscape Stewardship for Rangelands. In Claudia Bieling and Tobias Plieninger, eds. The Science and Practice of Landscape Stewardship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 284-305.
Huntsinger, Lynn, Nathan F. Sayre, and Luke Macaulay. 2014. ;Ranchers, land tenure, and grass-roots governance: maintaining pastoralist use of rangelands in the U.S. in three different settings. In Pedro M. Herrera, Jonathan Davies and Pablo Manzano Baena, eds. The Governance of Rangelands: Collective Action for Sustainable Pastoralism. London: Routledge, pp. 62-93.
Thomas E. Sheridan and Nathan F. Sayre. 2014. ;A Brief history of people and policy in the West. In Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Gary P. Nabhan, eds. Stitching the West Back Together: Conservation of Working Landscapes. University of Chicago Press, pp. 3-11.
Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2014. Status and trends of Western working landscapes. In Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Gary P. Nabhan, eds. Stitching the West Back Together: Conservation of Working Landscapes. University of Chicago Press, pp. 13-32.
Thomas E. Sheridan, Nathan F. Sayre, and David Seibert. 2014. Beyond “stakeholders” and the zero-sum game: Toward community-based collaborative conservation in the American West. In Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Gary P. Nabhan, eds. Stitching the West Back Together: Conservation of Working Landscapes. University of Chicago Press, pp. 53-75.
Booker, Kayje,* Lynn Huntsinger, James Bartolome, Nathan F. Sayre, and Bill Stewart. 2013. What can ecological science tell us about opportunities for carbon sequestration on rangelands? Global Environmental Change 23: 240-251. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.10.001.
2013. With Eric Biber and Greta Marchesi.* 2013. Social and legal effects on monitoring and adaptive management: a case study of National Forest grazing allotments, 1927-2007. Society and Natural Resources 26: 86-94. DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2012.694579.
Knapp, Corrine Noel,* James Cochran, F. S. Chapin III, Gary Kofinas, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2013. Putting local knowledge and context to work for Gunnison Sage-grouse conservation. Human-Wildlife Interactions 7: 195-213.
Huntsinger, Lynn, Nathan F. Sayre, and J. D. Wolfhorst. 2012. Birds, beasts and bovines: Three cases of pastoralism and wildlife in the USA. Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2:12. DOI: 10.1186/2041-7136-2-12. URL: http://www.pastoralismjournal.com/content/2/1/12.
Rissman, Adena, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2012. Conservation outcomes and social relations: a comparative study of private ranchland conservation easements. Society and Natural Resources 25: 523-538.DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2011.580419
2012. With Liz Carlisle,* Gareth Fisher,* Lynn Huntsinger, and Annie Shattuck.* The Role of rangelands in diversified farming systems: innovations, obstacles, and opportunities in the USA. Ecology and Society 17(4): 43. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04790-170443.
2010. With Richard L. Knight. Potential effects of United States-Mexico border hardening on ecological and human communities in the Malpai Borderlands. Conservation Biology 24: 345-348.
2009. Bad Abstractions: Response to Sullivan. Conservation Biology 23(4): 1050-1052.
2007. A History of Working Landscapes: The Altar Valley, Arizona, USA. Rangelands (June): 41-45.
Huntsinger, Lynn, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2007. Introduction: The Working Landscapes Special Issue. Rangelands (June): 3-4.
2007. The Western Range: A Leaking Lifeboat for Conservation in the New West. In Laura Pritchett, Richard L. Knight, and Jeff Lee, eds. Home Land: Ranching and a West That Works. Denver: Johnson Books.
2007. Entries for “Carrying Capacity,” “US Fish and Wildlife Service,” “Endangered Species Act (1973),” “Natural Resource Conservation Service,” “Frederic Clements,” “Grazing,” and “Ranchers.” In Paul Robbins, ed. Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Sage Publications.
2005. Interacting effects of landownership, land use, and endangered species on conservation of Southwestern U.S. rangelands. Conservation Biology 19(3): 783-792
Curtin, Charles, Nathan F. Sayre, and Benjamin Lane. 2002. .Transformations of the Chihuahua Borderlands: Grazing, Fragmentation, and Biodiversity Conservation in Desert Grasslands. Environmental Science and Policy 5: 55-68.
Cannabis became legal in California under a 2016 ballot measure, and regulations governing its production and distribution rolled out in 2018. Even before legalization, California’s cannabis market was estimated to be larger (in dollar terms) than all of the rest of the state’s agriculture. With colleagues from across the Berkeley campus, I helped form the Cannabis Research Center to convene interdisciplinary studies and information sharing about the social and environmental effects of cannabis as it undergoes an unprecedented transformation. I am particularly interested in the impacts on rural landscapes and communities, some of which have relied heavily on illicit cannabis for decades.
Christopher Dillis, Michael Polson, Hekia Bodwitch, Jennifer Carah, Mary Power, and Nathan F. Sayre. 2022. Industrializing Cannabis? Socio-Ecological Implications of Legalization and Regulation in California. In Dominic Corva and Joshua S. Meisel, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Post-Prohibition Cannabis Research. Routledge, pp. 221-230.
GEOG 24: Flood, Drought, Fire: Understanding California’s Weather Extremes
This Freshman Seminar explores the floods, droughts and wildfires that result from California’s highly variable climate. We start with the biophysical and meteorological factors that drive this variability and the paleo-ecological evidence of extreme events in the deep past. Then we look at how Native Americans understand California’s weather and manage their lands in relation to it; how Euro-Americans have altered California’s land- and water-scapes to contend with weather extremes, and how these interventions affect the patterns and impacts of extreme events today.
L&S 70B: Global Warming
Co-taught with Professor John Chiang
This course examines global warming as both a geophysical and social issue. We introduce the physical science that explains the problem, from basic concepts of climate (carbon cycle, greenhouse effect, climate feedbacks) through to models that project future climate changes and their impacts. Social scientific perspectives cover the history of climate science, the geographical and political-economic implications of fossil fuels for industrial production, and the regulatory and ethical challenges posed by the current and prospective impacts of global warming. Because this is a fast-evolving subject, we invite experts to give in-depth reviews of specific topical issues such as climate communication, climate change and cities, impacts on ecosystems, renewable energy, local efforts to combat climate change, reinsurance and finance, and regulation of greenhouse gases. We aim to provide students with a solid understanding and information base with which to analyze and evaluate ongoing developments and debates surrounding climate change. This course may be used to satisfy the Physical Science or Social and Behavioral Sciences breadth requirement in Letters and Science.
GEOG 130: Food and the Environment
It is widely agreed that the world’s food systems are in crisis. Hundreds of millions of people are malnourished; farmers around the world are impoverished; workers and animals are suffering; land and water are degrading; habitat loss and pollution are eroding biodiversity. Climate change and inequality magnify all of these problems, and agriculture magnifies climate change and inequality. This class explores these overlapping, intersecting issues.
We study how food is produced and consumed and with what effects, and why different people think about food and agriculture in the ways that they do. When, where and why did these food systems come into being? Whose values and interests do they reflect and serve? We consider the social and environmental implications for different peoples and places, and we ask whose stories have gained traction and defined public debates, and whose have been overlooked or erased.
GEOG 203: Nature and Culture: Social Theory, Social Practice, and the Environment
Nature and Culture are big, slippery concepts: taken-for-granted in everyday practice, elusive when put to work in social science, and potentially dangerous when wedded to statecraft. Are they useful abstractions, or empty ones? How do they relate or compare to other big abstractions such as capital, the state, science, knowledge, action, and the environment? This graduate seminar begins from several premises: that society and environment are internally related, not dualistically opposed; that the physical sciences are necessary but not sufficient to understand “environmental” issues; and that politics and economics strongly determine both the environment and our understanding thereof. We read a handful of classic works and then devote the bulk of the semester to more recent monographs and articles in geography, political ecology, anthropology, environmental history, and science and technology studies.
GEOG 220: Capital, Value, and Scale
This graduate seminar explores three key concepts in the social and environmental sciences. The term “capital” has proliferated in recent decades to include political capital, social capital, symbolic capital, natural capital, and cultural capital as well as economic capital. What they mean and how to used them hinges on the meaning of value and its genealogy in political economy, anthropology, geography, and ecological economics. We examine the possibility that a third key concept—scale—provides a coherent theoretical and methodological basis for research into the intersection of political economy, social theory and ecology. The course is built around close readings of David Harvey’s The Limits to Capital and Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction
I was born and raised in Iowa, where my father was an English professor and my mother was a bookbinder. I dropped out of high school at the start of my senior year and briefly attended the University of Michigan. Then I went to Deep Springs College, a two-year school in far eastern California. I finished my BA as a philosophy major at Yale, where I participated regularly in the Agrarian Studies Workshop.
I moved to Arizona after graduation, worked briefly in construction and then landed a job with the Arizona Conservation Corps building fences and trails on public lands throughout the southern half of the state. Two years later I returned to school in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. I planned to study popular music in post-independence West Africa—my favorite music to this day—but found that ethnomusicology was incompatible with enjoying the music. I explored a project with the late Terence Turner working with the Kayapó in the Brazilian Amazon, but changed my mind when it became clear it would take a decade or more to complete. The one constant through my two years in Chicago was the Social Theory Workshop, led by Bill Sewell and the late Moishe Postone.
Changing projects again, I returned to Arizona for dissertation research on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where I had built many miles of barbed wire fence to keep neighboring cattle off the newly-created reserve. I had learned at a nearby bar-café that the local ranchers were bitterly opposed to the refuge, which had been a major ranch until its purchase by the federal government to restore the masked bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi), a listed endangered species. The ranchers saw it as a waste of good grass and taxpayer dollars. The environmental community saw things the other way around: ranching was a waste, and the refuge was invaluable precisely because cattle were gone.
The project was published as my second book, Ranching, Endangered Species, and Urbanization in the Southwest: Species of Capital. (The publisher made me flip the title and subtitle, unfortunately.) It required reconstructing the history of the Altar Valley, where the Buenos Aires is located, and the history, in turn, required understanding the science that had informed land management: range science for the ranch, ecology and conservation biology for the refuge. It was this combination—political economy + anthropology + history + ecology—that turned me into a Geographer.
Post-dissertation, I worked for two years as a consultant in the non-profit sector. Explosive suburban and exurban development in Arizona and New Mexico was starting to catalyze coalitions of ranchers and environmentalists under the banner of “cows not condos”—the political antithesis of the Buenos Aires story. I assisted these efforts by writing land use histories and watershed assessments that explained environmental change in relation to ranch management practices. This work included projects with the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, the Sonoran Institute, and the Redington Natural Resources Conservation District in the San Pedro Valley.
Another project was my first book, The New Ranch Handbook: A Guide to Restoring Western Rangelands, which I wrote for the Quivira Coalition of Santa Fe. It profiled ranchers who had improved the ecological functioning of their lands through innovative management, alongside a synthesis of the latest scientific ecology of arid and semi-arid rangelands. Dr. Kris Havstad at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-Jornada Experimental Range (JER) helped me learn the ecology, and in 2001 I started a post-doctoral research position with the JER to study community-based rangeland conservation.
The primary focus of my post-doctoral research was the Malpai Borderlands Group (MBG), a rancher-led non-profit in extreme southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. I gained a detailed understanding of the laws and regulations that govern US rangelands and the dynamics of effective collaborative conservation. This experience—a mix of history, ecology and politics—became my third book, Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range.
In 2004, I joined the Department of Geography at UC-Berkeley. Since then, my geographical focus has expanded to rangelands in the western US, North America, and globally. I have also pursued more theoretical topics that grew out of my investigations of rangelands, such as scale and the concept of carrying capacity. My fourth book, The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science, is both an empirical treatment of a discipline whose history had not previously been assembled, and an investigation of the scalar limits of science, capital and the state.
1999, Ph.D., University of Chicago