I study food and agriculture using methods that produce situated and actionable knowledge. Specifically, I investigate: (1) rural livelihoods, capacities, and identities; (2) sustainability standards and certifications; and (3) stakeholder participation in research and practice.
My work informs scholarship in three key ways. First, I address the nexus of certification and livelihood diversification by examining the rise of multiple certifications within specific commodities, their impacts on farming communities, and prospects for streamlining regulatory systems to improve access. Second, I reunite social theory with empirical inquiry by engaging multi-paradigmatic frameworks for research and analysis. This strategy enables me to differentiate between sources of conflict and cohesion, and more broadly to unpack the relationship between structure and agency. Third, I employ the principles of feminist praxis to uncover ethical issues related to epistemology and power and improve methods for engagement.
In 2010, I worked with small-scale rooibos tea farmers in South Africa's Western Cape Province to co-develop a participatory research, training, and networking initiative. At that time, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork with a team of community-based farmer leaders, generating in-depth understanding of the issues facing producers in rural coloured (mixed race) areas, including challenges with Fairtrade and organic market access. Our engagement resulted in a ‘participatory commodity networking’ approach to Fairtrade producer support.
I have worked in a variety of development contexts and retain an interest in post-authoritarian societies. Apart from my research in post-apartheid South Africa, I have spent significant time in post-Soviet Latvia where I developed a nationally accredited teacher training program as a Peace Corps Volunteer then returned under a Fulbright grant to examine the impacts of European integration on Latvia's local food movement.
More broadly, I have consulted on Fairtrade charcoal standards in Namibia, evaluated rural income generation activities in Northern Ghana, and helped launch UNESCO's global EDUCAIDS initiative to coordinate educational responses to HIV and AIDS. My most recent work focuses on the ethics of development research, with dual focus on empirical challenges to ethical practice and the construction of shared values for multi-disciplinary collaboration and assessment.