I am a broadly trained human geographer who teaches and publishes on corporate social and environmental responsibility, global governance networks, international trade, and diverse economies. I am particularly interested in new forms of politics, including corporate campaigns and the overlapping of marketplace and traditional political spheres, and the impact of new governance mechanisms on trade and economic development patterns. I have also recently engaged debates on environmental gentrification, specifically focusing on Greenpoint, Brooklyn and how gentrification is affecting environmental activism and the neighborhood’s economic and ecological re-visioning. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, the UB Humanities Institute, and the UB Canadian-American Studies Committee.
My current research projects include:
- Corporate campaigns and the corporate responsibility industry:
My dissertation work focused on multi-stakeholder corporate campaigns that target corporations directly over their social and/or environmental performance using a wide range of tactics, from public protests and consumer boycotts to shareholder resolutions and direct dialogue with corporate executives. The goals of this on-going project are to evaluate the opportunities for, and barriers to, social and environmental standard-setting in the informal regulatory sphere, and to better understand the uneven development of corporate responsibilities that results from these new governance processes. One particular area of interest is how activist campaigns intersect with elements of the corporate responsibility industry (such as proxy voting and investment consultants).
- Just Green Enough: Contesting environmental gentrification in Brooklyn and beyond (with Winifred Curran, DePaul University):
While global urban development increasingly takes on the mantle of sustainability and green urbanism, both the ecological and equity impacts of these developments are often overlooked. This has led to a flurry of developments that have been sold as green with questionable social and environmental outcomes, often resulting in what has been called environmental gentrification. Environmental cleanup efforts in Greenpoint, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York provide a unique case study of the intersections between gentrification and environmental cleanup. Greenpoint is home to a massive, decades old underground oil plume that was the subject of a recent settlement between the New York State Attorney General and Exxon Mobil, and Newtown Creek, one of the most polluted industrial waterways in the United States and a recently-declared Superfund site. Decades of environmental activism by long-term residents and collaboration with more recent in-movers, many of whom are gentrifiers, has resulted in a cleanup process that actively contests the assumed outcome of environmental gentrification. This case study serves as an alternative narrative to the assumed inevitable pariring of environmental cleanup and accelerated gentrification in urban areas. Even when gentrification is under way, it is a process that is continually contested and remade.
In this context, we coined the term "just green enough" to describe a plan for remediation and development that uncouples environmental cleanup from high-end residential and commercial development. A just green enough strategy focuses explicitly on social justice and environmental goals as defined by local communities, those people who have been most negatively affected by environmental disamenities, with the goal of keeping those people in place to enjoy any environmental improvements. It is not about shortchanging communities but about challenging the veneer of green that accompanies many projects with questionable ecological and social justice impacts.
- Ethical havens: Constructing and contesting ethical spaces for the global diamond trade:
Canada is now the third largest diamond producer in the world, and appears to have quickly cornered the ethical diamond market. Canada has become an "ethical haven" of sorts, a production space favored for its ethical credentials in end markets, to the relative exclusion of other production sites. Canada benefited from a confluence of events that surrounded the entry of Canadian diamonds into the marketplace starting in the late 1990s, including significant concern about blood (a.k.a. conflict) diamonds from countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola. Canadian diamond producers and retailers have traded on Canada's reputation as an environmental and human rights leader, as well as utopian visions of a pristine arctic landscape to position Canadian diamonds as the most ethical choice. Yet, the ethical diamond market has evolved since Canada first entered the marketplace in the late 1990s, with a range of new product offerings from other "ethical" production spaces. Yet, the question remains, to what extent has the contestation over Canada's ethical monopoly actually changed the ethical diamond market? Specifically, how much market share have different ethical alternatives, including Canadian diamonds, gained and lost over time? How have the discursive constructions and governance structures of different ethical offerings changed over time? And, what factors explain these market shifts?
In order to answer these questions, this project focuses on retailer and consumer decision-making, specifically focusing on the influence of: (1) the discursive construction of production sites; (2) the governance devices and stakeholder networks backing different ethical product offerings; (3) consumer demographics and social networks; and (4) retail firm characteristics. Moreover, since we know that consumer and corporate cultures vary geographically, the study adopts a comparative approach, focusing on potential national and sub-national differences among major ethical diamond markets (the United States, Canada, and the UK). When paired with on-the-ground impact studies of different production sites, it can provide communities, firms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national governments, and others with insights about how to assess the market viability of different projects, and, hopefully, how to actively intervene to increase the viability of those projects with the most benefits on the ground, or, more fundamentally, whether or not to pursue ethical markets in the first place.