Erin E. Collins

Assistant Professor Global Urban Studies, School of International StudiesAmerican University


Erin Collins is Assistant Professor of Global Urban Studies in the School of International Service at American University. Dr. Collins received her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of California, Berkeley in 2015 with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies. Her research centers on the political economy and cultural politics of transformation in Southeast Asian cities and through their diaspora. Her work is theoretically grounded in critical geography, transnational feminism, and global urban studies. Dr. Collins conducted primary research on and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Award Information

Transregional Research Junior Scholar Fellowship: InterAsian Contexts and Connections (2017-2018)

Assistant Professor of Global Urban Studies, School of International StudiesAmerican University

Tropical Design: French Empire, Colonial Intimacies, and the Invention of a Tropical World

Tropical by Design: French Empire and Afro-Asian Circulations across the Tropical World, 1880-1980  is a collaborative research project which aims to explicate tropicality as an epistemological assemblage and an empirical archive integral to colonial and post-colonial mappings of development and difference. Tropicality was a highly influential paradigm that motivated colonial interventions in epidemiology, population management, and agro-economy across the ‘tropical world’. As a theory of uneven development, tropicality asserted causal relations between climate, mode of production, population density, and levels of social and political civilization. Tropicality provided the grammar for comparative studies across disparate places -- inciting the circulation of experts, techniques, and discourses (i.e. the empire) while grounding a set of practices of improvement and taxonomies of difference integral to the reproduction of empire itself. ‘The tropical world,’ that Pierre Gourou wrote about from his childhood home in Tunisia in 1947 encompassed over eighty percent of what would come to be redefined as ‘the third world’ and then in the 1960’s ‘the developing world,’ and today, ‘the global south.’ The geography of this shifting nomenclature, we note, is extremely consistent. Meanwhile, tropical knowledge/ expertise remains a motivating frame of intervention today, evidenced in epistemic communities of tropical medicine and hygiene, tropical agriculture, tropical environment and resource management. This project will examine the transregional constitution of tropicality and its dynamic repurposing through diverse post-colonial and proto-national programs between the tropical latitudes of Indochina (Vietnam and Cambodia) and North Africa (Tunisia and Algeria) between 1880 and 1980.