I am a Development Sociologist, with specialization in global food politics, agro-food complexes and regimes, political ecology, and historical sociology.
I am currently working on three linked areas of research. First, since 2007, my work has focused on the social and ecological transformations that accompany the industrialization and capitalization of China’s agro-food system, particularly the pork sector. I argue that these relations are key for understanding development imaginaries and trajectories both in China and in the world today. With Alexander Day, I am working on a project entitled ‘Feeding China: The Project on China’s Food Histories, Geographies, and Ecologies’ (https://feedingchina.wordpress.com/). Using a combination of archival and ethnographic methods, we investigate shifting rural-urban and human-nature relations in China from the 19th century to the contemporary moment, asking how these processes of change interact with global capitalist development and relate to widespread environmental crises.
The second area of research brings my work on contemporary processes of industrialization and capitalization into conversation with global history. I am one of four leaders of the Commodity Frontiers Initiative (https://wigh.wcfia.harvard.edu/commodity-frontiers-initiative), an interdisciplinary network of researchers examining the role of rural natures and peoples in the history of capitalist development.
Third, I’m developing a project around questions of waste and wasting and death and dying. By bringing critical food and agrarian studies (‘the belly’) into conversation with discard studies and political ecologies of waste (‘the excremental’), my goal is to examine the production and circulation of ‘waste,’ especially as it relates to ‘value’ in food and farming systems.
In addition to academic work, I have served as a consultant for a number of NGOs, including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Oxfam Hong Kong. My work on China’s pork industry has been covered in The Economist, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and other popular press outlets, including the 2018 documentary film, Soyalism (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9638582/). I am also a founding member of the Monsanto Tribunal.
Before receiving my PhD in Development Sociology from Cornell University in 2013, I studied and worked in food and farming systems, with previous degrees in Horticulture Production (BS) and Agronomy (MS), both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2013, I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Arrighi Center for Global Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, and in 2018, I was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam.