Another Way of Saying ‘Enough’: Exploring Environmental Protest Politics, Conflicts, and Discourses about Nature in Kyrgyzstan
My main research project since 2009 has been about the surprising case of environmental activism and regular nature-based disputes in Kyrgyzstan. This high level of political activism about environmental issues runs contrary to some dominant scholarly assumptions of low public environmental concerns given poverty, economic development demands and limited environmental activism in the post-Soviet context. Through a five-stage research process, I am investigating this contradiction and the shifting shape of environmental disputes at the national and sub-national levels over time. To do so I conducted a public opinion survey, 168 interviews, news content and case study analyses in Kyrgyzstan. This mixed methods approach allows me to address larger theoretical questions about collective action and conflict occurrence. I use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map my survey and event data in relation to environmental “hotspots”(communities where residents have protested industrial activities or waste sites, or places with significant hazards or harm but which have not been contested), working with a team of students and the Bucknell University GIS Coordinator, Janine Glather to develop this spatial approach to interpretation.
Nature and Nationalism Narratives
My second project engages critically with discourses about nature which multiple actors use in Kyrgyzstan, and the effect of rhetoric and myth making on collective action and environmental policy making. In this project I have moved into interdisciplinary study of identity politics and politics of place. In particular, for the first part of this project, I am working on coding and evaluating nationalistic and environmentalist narratives – using thematic coding and political discourse analysis – from the interviews I previously conducted and narratives I have collected regarding gold mining politics, hydroelectricity, and regional watercourse disputes cases. Additionally, I am analyzing the content of environmental protest event reporting, and comparing individual attitudes and narratives with both press coverage in Kyrgyzstan and internationally. For the second part of this project, I am in the process of extending this study to the broader Central Asian region, and apply the theoretical model to shale gas drilling debates in the US and internationally. In this project, I engage in a theoretical discussion of the relationship between nationalism and environmental attitudes and discourses, and present cases across multiple contexts to reveal spatial dynamics of national identity discussions over time, shaped by perceived likely futures and mythologized pasts.
Refracting Environmentalism: A View of ‘Fractivism’ through an Anti-Incinerator Campaign in Central Pennsylvania
In summer 2014, I assembled a team of four students to work with me cataloging activism and public attitudes about the proposed, permitted and subsequently cancelled White Deer Township tire incinerator (in Union County, Pennsylvania, US) and the complicated relationship between this campaign and “fractivism” (anti-shale gas drilling activism). We collected and mapped various data including from social media using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), conducted 20 qualitative interviews, participant observation research, and a public opinion survey. In October 2014, students at the Lycoming College Center for the Study of Community and Economy administered the public opinion survey of 752 residents we designed. Janine Glather and two of my research assistants – students Jaclyn Tules and Nicole Bakeman — presented our preliminary results and the teaching-research process at AAG (Association of American Geographers, April 2015). We are working on a paper about the process of student engagement in faculty research and in-class learning from faculty-student research projects, with a particular focus on GIS and survey research skills. We worked closely with Janine Glather, Bucknell GIS coordinator, to develop an online GIS map of our quantitative and qualitative data, which will be public once we complete the analysis. This project connects with and builds off of my community engagement and teaching (see more on the “teaching” page of this site).