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Research trajectory

My research trajectory isn’t linear, but it’s cohesive. This narrative provides an overview of how I have moved from chemical engineering and wastewater treatment to the economics of technical change and technology transfer, to the comparative politics of environmental public policy from a spatial viewpoint. This story is also told in this blog post.

Research trajectory

A mind map of my research interests and trajectory

I was interested in cooperation and collaboration since I was a child. This is not something that has come to me anew. I’ve ALWAYS believed in cooperation, my entire life. Even before I met Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom. Even before I ever did any social science.As a chemical engineer, I trained bacteria to biodegrade tannery wastewaters (using activated sludge). This is a form of cooperative behaviour. For my Masters, I did a game-theoretic analysis of biotech-big pharma strategic alliances. For my PhD I wrote a doctoral dissertation on a comparative policy analysis of industrial restructuring of leather and footwear clusters. Clusters (by definition) are highly concentrated groups of firms. Contra traditional economic theory, geographical proximity BENEFITS these firms. Cooperation between firms within clusters is what strengthens industrial districts. But when cooperation fades, many firms close/are forced to shutdown, so I wanted to understand what happened both to the clusters and the cities where they were embedded. Hence the comparison.

When I met Dr. Elinor Ostrom and Dr. Vincent Ostrom in the early 2000s, I was already interested in collaborative behaviour. As you can see from my mind-map, partnerships and alliances remain at the core of my research agenda. I’ve studied cooperation in river basin councils (using ethnographic approaches), cross-national coalition building for transnational environmental activism, etc. Around 2013, I began doing work on intractable urban and periurban water conflicts because I became interested in what happens when cooperative behaviour does NOT exist. I am about to finish a large collaborative, government-grant-funded project on this (2016-2019).

I am also interested in the governance of commons, both traditional and unorthodox. My mind-map shows the many ways in which my research topics and methods intersect with each other. I study bottled water because it’s an unorthodox commons. I study publicness theory because water AND waste AND wastewater are all public services. I use multiple methods from automated text analysis and geographical information systems to multisited ethnographies. And since my work is comparative, so is my fieldwork.

My goal for the remainder of 2019, 2020 and 2021 is to publish my work on French environmental politics and policy. I’ve done fieldwork in Paris, I’ve studied their water/wastewater/solid waste systems, I now want to get publications out of these projects. Over the course of the next 3-5 years I foresee that I will continue to study the governance of unorthodox commons, as well as the comparative politics of public service delivery.

One thing I have very clear in my mind is that I want to continue doing work on water insecurity, toilet insecurity and informal waste picking, and publishing on research methods that are cognizant/mindful/protective of marginalized communities. THAT is very clear to me right now. I also want to give some closure to my collaborative work on electronic waste and informal waste picking, and on transnational environmental activism. Once some publications come out of those two research strands, my collaborators and I can think of where we are going.

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