Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Geography, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, University of California / Berkeley
Forests for the English to See?

My dissertation focuses on the paradox of environmental laws that have been instrumental to the geographic spread of agriculture in Brazil. My approach is informed by research in the fields of Ecology and Environmental History as well as recent political debates around deforestation. Environmental historians have tended to consider Brazil's environmental legislation as a negative response to a plantation economy and part of a liberal transition beginning in the 19th century. Ecologists however, observe contradictory relationships between Brazil's agricultural economy and its diverse forest ecologies: namely that continually high rates of conversion of forestland to agriculture have recently been accompanied by forest regrowth in formerly agricultural areas; and, that the temporal and spatial scale of prior ecological disturbances has conditioned these emergent ecologies. Meanwhile, international organizations have suggested environmental legislation was responsible for slowing deforestation in Brazil in the early 2000s, while critics of such policies argue that environmental laws merely appease foreign interests at the expense of local economies. My preliminary archival and field research in Brazil suggests that the relationship between environmental legislation and agriculture is neither as its critics nor as its champions have supposed. Brazil's forest laws, I argue, like other liberal policies and practices, grew out of a political economy shaped by production of agricultural commodities and concerns germane to a planter class. Furthermore, recent forest regrowth is not necessarily a product of environmental legislation or scientific preservation practices. In the absence of a clear empirical correlation between forest regrowth and environmental laws, I ask why forests are growing in some areas and not in others, and attempt to establish a spatial correlation between contemporary ecologies and different historic land uses.