I am an interdisciplinary scientist broadly interested in human-environment interactions. I combine collaborative, place-based research with global-scale studies of cross-cultural variation in human subsistence, settlement and governance systems. My recent work has emphasized participatory methodologies (e.g., community-led documentation and mapping of culturally important plant species, landscapes and knowledge); the digitization, linking and open-access publication of historic cross-cultural, linguistic and environmental datasets (e.g., d-place.org); and the application of analytical approaches from macroecology and evolutionary biology to these datasets, with the ultimate goal of gaining insights into human history, behaviour, and cultural change.
Current research interests
Cross-cultural research: How can we best reconcile some of the problematic aspects of past cross-cultural research (essentialism, determinism) with its potential positive contributions to our understanding of human diversity, history, and societal change?
Cultural regime shifts: Could a better understanding of historic regime shifts and ‘tipping points’ in societal attitudes and behaviours inform our approaches to contemporary challenges, from climate change to social inequality?
Socio-ecological systems: What explains global variation in the ways human societies interact with and shape the landscapes in which they are embedded? Can generalizations be made regarding the relative influence of culturally transmitted norms, values, institutions, and practices; regional interaction networks and power imbalances; experiences of past socio-ecological shocks; or natural resource availability and reliability?
Boundaries among social groups over time and space: How can we best model the establishment, permeability and breakdown of boundaries among human social groups? Might more mechanistic boundary models provide new insights into broad-scale patterns of human linguistic and cultural diversity?
Place, language and well-being: In an increasingly urban and globalized world, how might greater attention to peoples’ linguistic, cultural, and emotional connections to nature contribute to sustainability efforts?
I am currently a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. I also hold a position as a research associate with the Human Relation Area Files based at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. When in Canada, I am based at the University of Toronto. I received my PhD from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and my MSc from McGill University in Montreal.
Much of my field-based research has been carried out in collaboration with shifting cultivators in the lowland rainforests of Panama’s Darien region. I have also carried out ecological and ethnoecological field research in the Xingu basin of Brazil, northwestern Costa Rica, and in a number of subarctic, boreal, and west coast landscapes of Canada.
My research has been funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Science Foundation, Killam Trusts, Organization of American States, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the International Development Research Centre of Canada, among others.