Department of Anthropology and the School of Public Policy
MA/PhD, Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
BA, Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
I use ethnographic, qualitative, and participatory action research methods to study mobilizations around the environment, urban infrastructure, food justice, and placemaking, carrying out ethnographic research in Hungary, Portugal, and the United States. At UMass Amherst, I’ve led student teams in conducting participatory design ethnography research on higher education libraries, campus planning, and carbon mitigation efforts. My latest project, “Elevating Equity Values in the Transition of the Energy System” (ELEVATE, NSF #2020888), investigates how urban residents and other stakeholders understand the transition to renewable energy technologies and decarbonization policies, with a focus on issues of equity and environmental justice in marginalized communities.
Across projects and fieldsites, I’m interested in understanding the intersecting cultural, economic, and political objectives that different groups pursue through their engagement in change work, whether it’s students seeking to change school lunch, neighborhood residents demanding municipal land for an urban garden, or environmental activists challenging transnational development projects. How do people articulate social values in response to challenges in their daily lives and livelihoods? How they mobilize these values in practice, from household consumption to protests and policy debates? Anthropologists, with our commitment to understanding embedded practices and meaning-making, take us beyond formal economic concepts of value. I’ve explored these ideas with other scholars in two edited volumes, Food Values in Europe (Siniscalchi and Harper, 2019) and The Anthropology of Postindustrialism: Ethnographies of Disconnection (Vaccaro, Harper, and Murray, 2016).
In past projects, I used the Photovoice participatory action research method to investigate urban gardening in Lisbon, school food systems activism in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and environmental justice concerns in a Hungarian Roma (Gypsy) community. I have published two related books, Participatory Visual and Digital Methods (with Prof. Aline Gubrium, Routledge, 2013) and edited volume Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Action (with co-editors Aline Gubrium and Marty Otañez, Routledge, 2015).
For 2010-2018 I was the PI (with Prof. Jacqueline Urla) of a National Science Foundation international research and training program, “Culture and Heritage in European Societies and Spaces (CHESS)” (NSF IIA-1261172 and OISE-0968575). Our team partnered with students and colleagues at University of Barcelona in Spain and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)–Centre Norbert Élias in France for international graduate student workshops.
In my 2006 book, Wild Capitalism: Environmental Activists and Post-socialist Political Ecology in Hungary , I examined how the meanings of “civil society” and “environment” have changed as environmentalists encounter the political and ecological realities of life after state socialism.