My research contributes to on-going debates about human vulnerability to environmental change at multiple scales by investigating the interplay of environmental governance, state-making, and socio-economic development. This work uses international river governance as an entry point for examining the intertwined issues of resource access, socio-ecological change, asymmetrical power relations, and underdevelopment. I completed my dissertation on an historical and political analysis of development in the Ganges River delta and am now developing new projects on water governance in the Red River Delta (Vietnam) and the Columbia River Basin (USA/Canada).
My dissertation, The River-Border Complex: Governing Flows in South Asia (Rutgers University 2015), raises seemingly obvious questions about international rivers: where do international rivers and borders intersect? How do they interact? Most academic research and policy work treat international rivers as watercourses that cross national boundaries. My project argues instead that we need to reconceptualize international rivers as synergistic, multifaceted, and ongoing interactions between rivers and borders. Through an integrated environmental-political-historical analysis of the Ganges River, I advance a new theoretical concept, “the river-border complex,” as an alternative approach to addressing intractable transboundary river governance problems (Water International 2017). For example, by demonstrating how asymmetrical power dynamics between India and Bangladesh hinge on historical contingencies and discursive practices, this work reveals how such power dynamics may be contested and reconfigured to establish more equitable systems of transboundary resource access and use. The dissertation was awarded the J. Warren Nystrom Award by the American Association of Geographers in April 2016.
Popularly described since the time of French colonization as two rice baskets at opposing ends of a pole, Vietnam’s socio-ecology is strongly structured by the fertile deltas of the Mekong River in the south and the Red River in the north. Like Bangladesh, these deltaic landscapes are acutely vulnerable to climate change hazards such as floods, droughts, sea level rise, and tropical storms. A variety of government, foreign, and multilateral development agencies are therefore actively exploring investment opportunities to buttress Vietnam’s water infrastructure against climate change. However, my research in Bangladesh revealed that foreign climate finance for the country’s flood management infrastructure is destabilizing rather than protecting critical socio-ecological systems. In this project, I examine what lessons Vietnam may glean from Bangladesh’s experience with climate-compatible development aid. I recently (November 2016) presented this work at the 12th International Symposium on Southeast Asian Water Environment in Hanoi.
I am also elaborating the river-border complex concept through an examination of environmental governance in the Pacific Northwest. This project will center on a complex environmental governance case in the Columbia River Estuary, a site where I previously conducted seabird foraging research. This is a fascinating and topical situation where regional economies of cargo shipping and renewable energy production collide with conservation ethics regarding seabird extirpation and fishery viability. The case in question sits at the confluence of several streams of thought including political ecology, conservation biology, resource governance, and indigenous rights and I expect will reveal a a host of productive applications for the river-border complex.