Roderick P. Neumann
Professor of Geography
Global and Sociocultural Studies
Office: SIPA 301
I had the privilege of growing up with direct access to open, unregulated spaces of woods and fields, where I wandered free of adult supervision. I also grew up witnessing firsthand the worst social and environmental crimes of industrial capitalism. An early childhood memory is of sweeping our front porch free of toxic aldrin dust, residue from an aerial spraying of agricultural ‘pests’ in our neighborhood, an event that Rachel Carson chronicled in her landmark book, Silent Spring. We did not see a living bird in the woods and fields for the next two years. I have no doubt my childhood experiences influenced my choice to pursue studies in ecology and natural resources management. In the course of these studies I came to understand that industrial capitalism’s destructive attempts to dominate nature were inseparable from its oppressive attempts to dominate people. This realization led me to pursue a doctorate in geography at the University of California at Berkeley, where student and faculty research was giving shape to an interdisciplinary field that would come to be called political ecology.
My research has been centrally concerned with the study of culture and nature in Western thought and practice. In framing my inquiries, I draw from a wide range of critical social theory, including feminism, anti-racism, poststructuralism, posthumanism and postcolonialism, and from biophysical ecology. My methods are predominantly ethnographic and historical. I have conducted fieldwork primarily at rural sites in and around national parks and protected areas. I have completed studies in Tanzania, Western Europe, and California. My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science Research Council and Fulbright and published in scholarly journals such as The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Antipode, Cultural Geographies, Political Geography, Environmental History, and Development and Change. Much of this work falls under political ecology's big, interdisciplinary tent. In my 2005 book, Making Political Ecology, I illustrated how the field links biophysical ecology and critical social theory to explain the relationships of environmental degradation and social conflict and oppression.
I have structured much of my work around three intersecting themes; the tensions between social justice and biodiversity conservation, the political economy of natural resources, and the co-constitution of identity, nature, and landscape. My earliest research in Tanzania, documented in my book, Imposing Wilderness, examines the cultural politics of biodiversity conservation, focusing on conflict and violence surrounding the creation of conservation territories in colonial and postcolonial Africa. This and related research in Africa, examines how international conservation discourse and practice are inflected by unexamined racial hierarchies and stereotypes (e.g. Moral and Discursive Geographies in the War for Biodiversity in Africa). In another study, published in my 2000 book, Research in NTFP Commercialisation, I conducted a critical analysis of the so-called "Rainforest Crunch hypothesis"—that non-timber forest product commodification can simultaneously promote tropical forest conservation and economic development for rural communities. I have conducted and continue to conduct extensive historical work on the co-construction of nature and racial and national identities within British and American imperialism and colonialism (e.g. Churchill and Roosevelt in Africa: Performing and Writing Landscapes of Race, Empire, and Nation).
My current research agenda incorporates insights from science and technology studies, behavioral ecology, and the so-called animal turn in the humanities and social sciences. My central goal is to adopt posthumanist and biophysical ecology perspectives to produce a fresh conceptualization of human-wildlife interactions in and around protected areas. Specifically, I am engaging with behavioral ecologists’ recent documentation of animal cultures in a wide range of taxa to understand how wild animal agency shapes human-wildlife conflicts. This inquiry intersects with much of the multispecies world-making research in cultural geography and sociocultural anthropology.
Selected Articles & Chapters
- Dongol, Y. and Neumann, R.P. 2021. State Making through Conservation: The Case of Post-Conflict Nepal. Political Geography 85.
- Neumann, R.P. 2017. Life Zones: The Rise and Decline of a Theory of the Geographic Distribution of Species. In de Bont, Raf and Jens Lachmund (eds) Spatializing the History of Ecology: Sites, Journeys, Mappings. New York: Routledge, pp. 37-55.
- Neumann, R.P. 2017. Commoditization, Primitive Accumulation, and the Spaces of Biodiversity Conservation. In Chari, Sharad et al. (eds) Other Geographies: The Influences of Michael Watts. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 111-125.
- Neumann, R.P. 2014. Stories of Nature's Hybridity in Europe: Implications for Forest Science and Policy in the Global South. In Padoch, C., S. Hecht, and K. Morrison (eds) The Social Lives of Forests: The Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence. Chicago: University of Chicago, 31-44.
- Neumann, R.P. 2013. Churchill and Roosevelt in Africa: Performing and Writing Landscapes of Race, Empire and Nation. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103(6): 1371-1388.
- Neumann, R.P. 2010. Political Ecology II: Theorizing Regions. Progress in Human Geography 34(3): 368–374.
- Neumann, R.P. 2009. Political Ecology: Theorizing Scale. Progress in Human Geography 33(3): 398-406.
- Neumann, R.P. 2004. Moral and Discursive Geographies in the War for Biodiversity in Africa. Political Geography 23(7): 813-837.