Research

My current research is divided into two primary areas.

The first involves an examination of the political economy and political ecology of extractive industries and energy access regimes, with a focus on environmental defenders, extractive industry frontiers, and on the expansion of coal-fired power, primarily in Bangladesh. Projects in this area include:

  • Atmospheres of Violence (A Collaboration between University of Sussex, ONCA, Not1More and Democracy Center, funded by the ESRC Festival of Social Science, 5-7 November 2019): Development projects, agribusiness and extraction of natural and mineral resources are portrayed as suitable, economically advantageous and inevitable. But many experiences of those directly impacted, some of which are portrayed here, show us the price of ‘progress’. What is being lost? A grandfather’s cashew, tamarind and resin trees; his hopes for his grandchildren’s independence. The languages and cultures of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, whose identity is threatened by their new President, and who face the invasions of miners, ranchers and loggers. Ways of seeing and valuing the world that puts us in the heart of it. And at least three times each week, we lose someone who dared to resist.This exhibition of work from Cambodia, Brazil and Bangladesh invites us to understand and explore these struggles.
  • ‘Sustainable’ development and atmospheres of violence: experiences of environmental defenders (British Academy Sustainable Development Programme, Sep 2018-Dec 2020, PI Dr Mary Menton): In 2014 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders identified environmental defenders as those most at risk of violence and death.  Global Witness reported that almost four environmental defenders were killed per week in 2017. This project aims to explore how environmental defenders experience violence in relation to projects designed to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and why they continue to fight despite the risks. It focuses on defenders working around natural resource extraction and agricultural developments in Africa (DRC, Guinea-Bissau), Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia), and Latin America (Brazil, Ecuador). In addition, it aims to identify the governance structures and socio-economic, political and historical conditions and processes that are at the root of atmospheres of violence around ’sustainable’ development projects. The project responds to an area of urgent policy and humanitarian concern by examining how and why environmental defenders experience violence in relation to sustainable development
  • Contested Energy Futures in Bangladesh: Coal, Gas, and Solar Power in the Transition to ‘High-Income Country’ Status (Sussex Research Opportunities Fund, Sep 2018-Feb 2019): This award will enable networking with international co-investigators in order to support a large ESRC Research Grant application that examines contested energy futures in Bangladesh, in the context of ambitions for Bangladesh to become a High-Income Country by 2041
  • SDGs, Global Commodity Chains and Environmental Justice (Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, April 2018-October 2019, PI Dr. Mika Peck): The globalised expansion of capitalism and industrial economy is resulting in increase and expansion of extractive activities, production of waste, and their related social and environmental impacts that have generated conflict with, and resistance from, communities, indigenous groups and activists globally. We aim to understand how environmental justice conflict, identified by the Environmental Justice Atlas (ejatlas.org), influences achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outcomes at local, regional, national and international scales. This project supports the key focus of the SSRP in understanding trade-offs and synergies among SDGs.

The second current research area is concerned with the role of private sector expertise, consultancy and outsourcing in development administration. Current and past projects in this area include:

  • DFID and the 'Big Four' (November 2018 - Present): I am involved in a new research collaboration, with Dr Emma Mawdsley (Cambridge), Dr Jo-Anna Russon (Nottingham) and Dr Jessica Sklair (Sussex), examining the relationship between the Big Four professional services firms, DFID, and development outsourcing/consultancy.
  • Evaluation Cultures in the Political Risk Industry (British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant, July 2017 - October 18): This project approaches the political risk industry as a particular form of ‘area studies’. It explores how the institutional context in which political risk analysis is carried out affects the form and content of ‘regional expertise’. In political geography, critical interest in how area studies knowledge is produced has recently been revived. However, the place of the political risk industry in the evolution of area studies has not yet been examined. In this project perspectives from political geography are integrated with approaches from science & technology studies to examine the ‘evaluation cultures’ of political risk analysis. It does so by asking 4 inter-related questions: 1) Who produces regional expertise in the political risk industry, and what kind of regional experience and linguistic competency is required? 2) What demands are placed on the form taken by regional expertise in the political risk industry, and how do these relate to the institutional context in which it is produced? 3) How do ‘regional units’ or ‘areas’ become stabilized or associated with political risk through the circulation of political risk analysts in global forums and summits? 4) What constitutes a political risk, and how do political risk analysts contribute to the propagation of particular models of geopolitics and ideal relationships between state, society and transnational corporations?