Academic Publications

Forthcoming. Lots of Smoke, but Where's the Fire? Contested Causality and Shifting Blame in Southeast Asia’s Smoke-Haze Crisis. Book chapter in The Quotidian Anthropocene: Reconfiguring Environments in Urbanizing Asia (T. Vaughn, E. Elinoff, eds), Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Abstract Subterranean peat fires have become a peculiar feature of Southeast Asia’s socio-ecological landscape in the Anthropocene: they occur only if a peat swamp is drained for development, yet they spread uncontrollably and can go undetected for months. While forest fire smoke was once largely confined to rural areas, noxious haze from Indonesia’s peat fires now frequently reaches Singapore, the Malaysian peninsula, and beyond. Originating in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the fires’ haze is associated with unhealthy air particulate matter across the region and massive greenhouse gas emissions. The smoke-haze has also sparked international tension over the risks and responsibilities of managing these fires. Though ASEAN has called for legislation to mitigate the smoke-haze, the origins, causes, and trajectories of Indonesia’s peat fires remain murky. Historically, forest fires in Indonesia were blamed on quotidian practices of smallholder farmers such as small-scale land clearing, cooking over open fires, and tossing cigarette butts. Yet as the peat fires have become more frequent and and their consequences farther reaching, these localized causal explanations no longer seem adequate. Most recently, agricultural plantation companies have shouldered much of the blame; however, some scientific data has shown that the majority of peat fires are not occurring on land owned by the largest companies. Using Central Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo as a case study, this article draws on interviews with Indonesian and foreign scientists as well as household surveys in several villages to discuss the shifts in understanding and causes of, as well as adaptations to, Indonesia’s peat fires over the past two decades. 

2017. Rendering Land Investable: Introduction to Special Theme Issue (with Julian S. Yates). Geoforum. 82: 209-211.

2016. Knowing the Subterranean: Producing Oil Palm, Carbon Emissions, and Divergent Expertise in Indonesia’s Peatlands. Environment and Planning A 48 (4): 754-770

Abstract  So-called global land grabbing is not only a response to socio-ecological shifts but can also generate substantial subterranean and atmospheric biogeochemical changes. As land acquisitions for agricultural development play out in Indonesia, the country’s peatlands have been key to rapid and expansive oil palm development. Oil palm production in tropical peatlands, however, requires soil drainage through hydrological engineering, which stimulates carbon dioxide emissions. Research on the quantities and mechanisms of those carbon emissions has been central to generating scientific consensus stipulating peatland conservation and rehabilitation, rather than agricultural development. Yet alternate scientific knowledge networks have generated what I call divergent expertise, which supports a peatland management strategy of continued development despite ecological risk. This divergent expertise raises questions of how land is made suitable for large-scale acquisition and investment for agricultural development, and how to manage the biogeochemical crises that can ensue when land is incorporated into land grab regimes.

2014. The Afterlives of Degraded Tropical Forests: New Value for Conservation and Development. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 5: 124-140

Abstract  An extensive body of research in the natural and social sciences has assessed the social, economic, and ecological causes of tropical forest degradation and forests' subsequent reduction in value. This article, however, takes the afterlives of degraded forests as its point of departure to ask how they are being reconsidered as valuable through conservation and development potential. Through a critical review of recent biophysical and social science literature on tropical forest degradation, this article first assesses the definitional and methodological foundations of tropical forest degradation. It then suggests that recent scholarship on the reincorporation of waste and wasteland into capitalist circuits of production offers one route to consider the value of degraded forests. Finally, this article reviews some of the ways in which these tropical forests are being considered economically and/or ecologically valuable through current conservation and developmental trajectories.

2011. The “Coffee Doctors”: The Language of Taste and the Rise of Rwanda’s Specialty Bean Value. Food and Foodways 19 (1-2): 135-159

Abstract  The emergence of Rwanda's specialty coffee sector during the early twenty-first century has brought high-end Rwandan coffee to the shelves of coffee retailers across the United States, Europe, and Japan. While a variety of factors have influenced the rapid development of Rwanda's specialty coffee industry, one of the most significant has been the training of domestic coffee tasters. Known as cuppers, these taste professionals act as a unique link in this global foodway and help enable perception of locally based flavors through marketplace mechanisms. The Rwandan cupper is not simply another middleman in a very long commodity chain. Rather, she or he plays a new role in transforming a generic cash-crop commodity into locality-based luxury item. This new role highlights the language and standards used to differentiate coffees in producing countries for international niche markets.

Encyclopedia Entries

2012    Farm Bills, Fruit Trade, Thomas Keller. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 2nd edition (A. Smith, B Kraig, eds). New York: Oxford University Press