Catherine Corson

Miller Worley Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment

Political ecology, global environmental governance, the politics of foreign aid; conservation and human rights in sub-Saharan Africa; multi-sited institutional ethnography

As a political ecologist, Catherine Corson uses ethnography to explore questions of power, knowledge, and justice in case studies from rural villages to international policy arenas. Her current research focuses on the rise of market-based environmentalism, popular resistance to it, and associated shifts in environmental governance.

Her new book, Corridors of Power: The Politics of Environmental Aid to Madagascar, published by Yale University Press, uses the history and politics of U.S. Agency for International Development’s environmental program in Madagascar as a case study of the forty-year transformation of environmental governance under neoliberalism and its relationship to shifting resource rights and access in the Global South.

Her new National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research uses a method called Collaborative Event Ethnography to adapt “traditional” ethnographic methods to study how environmental conferences precipitate paradigm shifts in global conservation. In 2012, she and Mount Holyoke students studied activist strategies during the preparatory process for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), and in 2016, she and a new group of students examined political strategies to protect indigenous and other marginalized peoples’ resource rights in conservation at the 2016 World Conservation Congress.

Her research has been supported through grants and fellowships from a number of organizations in addition to the NSF, including the American Association of University Women, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the U.S. Fulbright program. She has published in numerous journals such as Society and Natural Resources, the Journal of Peasant Studies, Human Geography, Global Environmental Politics, and Antipode.

At Mount Holyoke, Corson teaches courses such as Political Ecology; Environment and Development; Science, Power and Environmental Governance; and Research, Ethics and Policy. With an interdisciplinary academic training, which has spanned biology, public policy, economics and political ecology, she has a strong commitment to multidisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching. A decade of prior professional experience in environment and development policy, politics and consulting inspires her focus on teaching students how to translate their academic learning into professional policy skills. Finally, fieldwork on indigenous and local resource rights in both the Global North and South, combined with professional experience in international development, underpins a strong interest in environmental justice and development studies.

She has worked with a number of independent study and honors thesis students on topics such as food justice, indigenous rights, community conservation and forestry, carbon credit trading, foreign aid and community development, and global environmental politics.

She has also been actively involved in building Mount Holyoke’s international and domestic environment and community development programs and in helping students to build synergies between their academic learning and practical experiences in Mount Holyoke's dynamic community-based learning programs, study abroad, internships and social change programs. 

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