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, and the UB Canadian-American Studies Committee. For the 2011-2012 academic year, I will be a UB Humanities Institute Fellow and will be pursuing my research on the construction of ethical spaces for the global diamond trade.
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).
- Gentrification, environmental activism, and the green city (with Winifred Curran, DePaul University):
Environmental cleanup efforts in Greenpoint, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York provide a unique case study of the intersections between gentrification and environmental cleanup. The Greenpoint neighborhood and Newtown Creek the industrial waterway on it’s northern border have gained national attention as the site of a decades old underground oil plume that is both larger than the Exxon Valdez spill and more difficult to attribute responsibility for, and hence clean up. Several lawsuits (by the New York Attorney General’s Office, Riverkeeper, and private citizens) against ExxonMobil and a 2010 Superfund designation for Newtown Creek preceded a multi-million dollar settlement and reinvigorated clean-up plan by ExxonMobil, and revived oversight by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One of the key issues in the Brooklyn dispute is that while dedicated resident activists have been agitating for clean-up for decades, the State’s stepped-up enforcement seems to be linked to the rapid gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods such as Williamsburg. Our research seeks to understand the impact of gentrification on activist strategies and their reception by government officials, as well as the role that gentrification may play in affecting what clean up looks like.
- Market fictions: Constructing ethical spaces for the global diamond trade:
Canada is now the third largest diamond producer in the world and has quickly cornered the ethical diamond market. Producers and retailers have traded on Canada’s reputation as an environmental and human rights leader and utopian visions of a pristine arctic landscape to market Canada as an ethical production space. These purity narratives are often contrasted with blood diamond portrayals of Africa. Ethical markets are subject to continuous contestation, however, and alternative narratives, including an African empowerment narrative backed by hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, are challenging Canada’s purported ethical monopoly. This project aims to identify the multiplicity and evolution of narratives used to market ethical production spaces, as well as the consumer desires and personal narratives that motivate ethical consumption and mediate the consumer-led governance of the global diamond trade. This diversity provides a market for both the more and less fictionalized representations of ethical spaces, with very real consequences for social and environmental standards at production sites.