Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Research Professor, Program in Medicine, Science, and the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Biofuel Atlantic: Brazilian Bioenergy Science and the Expanding Plantation Network

As petroleum becomes a less viable fuel source economically and ecologically, Brazil has developed the most robust biofuel economy in the world. Sugarcane has been central to the Brazilian economy since the sixteenth century. Now, Brazilian scientists are reengineering sugarcane, a colonial crop, at genetic, organismic, and economic scales to produce new forms of biofuel as internationally viable energy commodities. In this project, I track how the extraction of energy from the botanical life of the sugarcane plant might leverage Brazil's plantation past into a bioenergy future. I will conduct participant observation with geneticists, biochemists, and agronomic economists as they seek to engineer new bioenergy commodities for domestic and international use in Lusophone Mozambique. I ask how these scientists, using lab techniques to separate plants into productive sub-entities, contribute to the making of both "green" energy and the technopolitical knowledge that circulates with it. I hypothesize that the emergence of what I call the plantation network—which extends beyond the cane field into labs and across oceans—indicates a global geopolitical shift premised on "green" capitalist national-scientific control over bioenergy commodity production. I further suggest that new energy commodities stand to bolster global South nations' political leverage, energy security, and GDP, while restructuring the sources and labor practices of energy production. In three scientific sites in Brazil and Mozambique, I investigate the multiple spaces and scales at which scientists are producing "green" bioenergy commodities for an emerging international market—with Brazilian science at the center of innovation and influence. I thus bring energy studies to bear on the anthropology of biology to ask after the scientific practices that shape and inform the cultural, political, and geographic expansion of a biologically based energy commodity.