Research

My core research area focuses on debates over the potential for Genetically Modified (GM) crops to improve yields and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Over the past fifteen years Africa has emerged as one of the most contentious sites for debates over the potential for GM crops to transform agricultural production for poor farmers.

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I am interested in challenging and re-examining our understandings of development across a range of 19th and 20th century contexts. This interest in how the past makes itself felt in the present emerged out of my doctoral dissertation, which investigates efforts by settlers and scientists to impose cotton as a commodity crop in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and analyzes the environmental, economic, and racial dimensions of its repeated failure. My goal is to critically interrogate what counts as development, by exposing the continuities between ideologies and practices articulated by colonial management paradigms and newly emergent development ones. I believe that development experts who ignore the history of agricultural development in Africa run the risk of repeating the mistakes made by their colonial predecessors.

Another area of interest focuses on understanding the relationship between natural resources and political upheaval. In 2010 I organized a conference around these themes, and subsequently collaborated with Dr. Larry Swatuk of the University of Waterloo in transforming these proceedings into an edited monograph entitled Natural Resources and Social Conflict: Towards Critical Environmental Security, published by Palgrave MacMillan. This research challenges prevailing claims about environmental security by privileging alternative conceptions and understandings that focus on rights, justice and access. Through this lens the analytical focus shifts from environmental security to environmental insecurity, as we move towards evaluating how individuals, groups and communities becomes disadvantaged in terms of their environmental entitlements.

This area of research stems from my interest in innovative pedagogical approaches. Over the past few years I have worked with my colleague Dr. Elizabeth De Santo to create a full-scale simulated negotiation for our second-year course on global environmental politics. We relied on e-learning technologies to create a highly interactive online component designed to replicate the dynamism that characterizes the real-world negotiation of Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements. We then used pre- and post- surveys to measure the specific knowledge, experience, and skills that are enhanced through the simulation. These surveys have generated rigorous empirical evidence that isolates the specific mechanisms through which simulations influence learning, critical thinking, and skill development. Our results provide insight into the effectiveness of integrating online technologies into the delivery of the simulation, as well as best practices for using e-learning tools effectively.