My academic background is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, linking research and practice on the social, cultural, ecological and political aspects of community-scale action for sustainability and justice. My current focus is establishing the theoretical and empirical basis for Sacred Political Ecology, as reported on my blog The Earth Punk Chronicles. I also offer services in research training and as a research consultant, building on career-long efforts to blur the boundary between academic research and eco-social activism.
Following a first degree in Biological Sciences (with a year of Biochemistry and additional study in Biological Anthropology) at Oxford University, I completed post-graduate studies in the Centre for Biocultural Diversity in the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent between 1996 and 2002.
My PhD in Environmental Anthropology was, to my knowledge, the first to be awarded in that subject by any university in Europe. Funded within the EU’s APFT (Avenir des Peuples des Forêts Tropicales – Future of Tropical Forest Peoples) Research Programme, it explored the potential for existing use and knowledge of natural resources by indigenous forest dwellers to act as the basis for locally-determined strategies in sustainable development. Based on two years of intensive fieldwork among Wapishana and Lokono Arawak communities in Guyana, South America, my doctoral thesis was a landmark in the then-emerging field of ethnoecology and is regularly cited until the present day. I have more recently self-published the thesis under the title Wapishana Ethnoecology to ensure it is readily available in print. My PhD research was also the basis of the more theoretical monograph Edges, Fringes, Frontiers, product of a year-long postdoctoral fellowship from the Wenner Gren Foundation, along with papers in the academic journal Human Ecology journal and a recent anthology on Neotropical Primatology.
From 2008 to 2013 I held various teaching and research roles in the Anthropology Department at Durham University. I played a key role in establishment of the Durham Energy Institute and also collaborated closely with the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action, forming interdisciplinary linkages with colleagues in Geography, Sociology, Earth Sciences and Engineering. My work at the university linked closely with grassroots sustainability action through local, regional and national initiatives and networks in Transition, permaculture, community energy and local food, for which I was awarded the Social Sciences Faculty prize for Outreach in the Community in 2011. I coordinated the research project Connection, Participation and Empowerment in Community-Based Research, a national-level collaboration with Transition Network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council within their Connected Communities Research Programme that led, among other things, to development of a Transition Research Pattern Language and the Transition Research Primer. Over the same time, I was also part of the UK Permaculture Association’s Research Advisory Board.
Working as a Permaculture Para-Academic
Disillusioned by the cultural, political and intellectual constraints of institutionalised academia, since 2013 I have deliberately located myself in a marginal location at the interface of research and practical action for sustainability. This work was supported by research positions at the Schumacher Institute, an independent sustainability ‘Think and Do Tank’ in Bristol, UK, and the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Change at Lisbon University, where I was a collaborator in the EU-funded BASE Research Project on bottom-up adaptation to climate change. Methodological innovations in the application of permaculture in research design were published in the Para-Academic Handbook (full text download available from the publisher here) and Ecology and Society Journal. I was also a key member of the partnership that developed TREE, a proposal for EU funding that was unsuccessful but gave key impetus to the founding of ECOLISE, a new Europe-wide network for community-led sustainability initiatives, in 2014.
I have actively contributed to ECOLISE from the start, as founding signatory (representing the Schumacher Institute) an elected Council member from 2015 to 2017, and on the staff as Research Coordinator from the spring of 2017 until the summer of 2021. I led authorship of ECOLISE-themed books on Permaculture and Community Resilience, and co-led production of the first Status Report on Community-Led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change in 2019. I oversaw ECOLISE research input into two major EU-funded research projects in the H2020 programme, UrbanA (on urban sustainability and justice) and CoMETS (on collective action for energy transition), and coordinated development of the Knowledge Commons for Community-Led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change, a major knowledge co-creation and dissemination resource within the Communities for Future action programme. I also continue to publish in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal for Political Ecology and Business, Strategy and the Environment.
I am now developing a new research programme based on adapting the theoretical approach developed in Edges, Fringes, Frontiers to understanding the social and cultural bases of grassroots sustainability action in industrialised settings, as the scientific ground of the wider research-learning-action programme in Sacred Political Ecology. If you are interested in engaging with or collaborating on this work, you can do so via the Medium blog The Earth Punk Chronicles, or contact me to discuss your interest in research training or research consultancy.