field sites

Using a political ecology approach, my research investigates the sustainability of community-based development initiatives that focus on ecotourism, cultural heritage, conservation, and resource management in rural Yucatan, Mexico. The neoliberal economic policies of the past twenty years in Mexico have manifested in numerous changes, the most obvious of which is the end of agrarian reform and the push to privatize the historically collective system of land tenure. During the same time, the community-based approach gained favor among international, federal, and non-governmental agencies engaged in economic development and biodiversity conservation. My ongoing research is an examination of this nexus. The use of the household as the unit of analysis turns a critical eye to the political forces that shift human-environmental relationships by targeting only some families for inclusion in development initiatives. This raises questions about the sustainability of the community-based model and complicates its perceived role as a vehicle for social justice in local communities.

The extended engagement with my field site provides the foundation for an ongoing research agenda and active publication plan. This, coupled with my commitment to innovative methods to complement traditional ethnographic fieldwork, creates a dynamic potential for my long-term research trajectory. Among potential future projects are ethnobotanical research on traditional ecological knowledge, the development of a community museum in Ekā€™Balam, and a feature length ethnographic film. Questions of authenticity, indigeneity, and social cohesion are tied to the conceptual framework of what I call an ecosystem of authenticity. The ecosystems approach in political ecology recognizes both the organic and inorganic frameworks, within which organisms are in constant exchange. Through these exchanges, individuals are placed in the impossible position of being expected to be simultaneously peasant farmers, noble conservationists, traditional indigenes, and savvy purveyors of tourism amenities. My ongoing research agenda can be understood as an attempt to understand the strategies employed by individuals and households to successfully perform these roles and maintain this ecosystem of authenticity.