I study the interactions between people and their environment, particularly in the context of urban and rural land-use development and resource use in arid to semi-arid climates. I focus on the following two levels of analysis for studying human-environmental (or social-ecological) interactions:
1) the underlying drivers of human behavior, including policy mechanisms, that lead to the types of use of a natural resource, and;
2) how human use or modification of a given resource affects the quality or conditions of that resource.
Current Research Motivation
I am especially interested in developing a theory on the process for establishing new institutions for governing natural resources (i.e., institutions being the informal and formal rules-in-use in a governing system). Remarkable research efforts, largely stemming from the contributions of Elinor Ostrom, have identified specific institutional principles that contribute to sustainable resource management amongst long-enduring institutions (i.e., institutional configurations lasting over 100 years).
The idea of being able to craft and develop new institutions that embody principles of long-enduring sustainable institutions have led to initiatives across the globe to allocate natural resource management responsibilities to local communities of resource users, especially in post-socialist and decentralizing countries. While new institutions have been formally established,there have been mixed outcomes in the uptake of these new institutions by resource users.
Overall, the process for attaining sustainable, long-enduring institutions out of newly established institutions is not well understood. For example, at after how long and at what point do newly established institutions begin to represent sustainable long-enduring institutions? What principles and/or processes are necessary and sufficient for institutional change to take place?
More importantly, the study of new institutions is crucial for the 21st century, since we are seeing a global need and agenda with the most recent UNDP's Sustainable Development Goals to develop new institutions to meet the resource demands of a growing human population while still preserving our planet’s environmental conditions.
Dissertation Research & BeYOND
In my dissertation, I have scratched the surface of these questions by focusing on the development of new Water User Association (WUA) institutions for governing irrigation systems in Tajikistan. The establishment of new WUAs in Tajikistan aim to increase water user participation in the governance of irrigation systems and ideally improve resource conditions.
I have found that the process of establishing new WUA institutions hinged on the cooperation of multiple actors, not only water users. Also, even if local water users have successfully adopted new WUA institutions, irrigation infrastructures were still in poor condition. In this case, when do newly established institutions start to affect resource conditions?
Beyond my dissertation, the following are additional research topics I have become more aware of and would consider pursuing as a result of my doctoral studies at Duke University:
-How theories derived from different disciplines that concern the study of environmental topics come into agreement and/or contention with each other, and how they inform international policy narratives and policy development
-How resource user narratives of land conditions can inform applications of remote sensing and land degradation assessment for irrigated agricultural systems
-Use of social network analysis to evaluate the interactions among stakeholders involved in the development of new institutions
Due to my background in international studies, my own research agenda has always had a global focus. For example, with my regional expertise in Central Asia, I have contributed to the synthesis of information regarding the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Central Asia, as well as the development of Water User Associations in Tajikistan. Beyond Central Asia, I also co-led a study about the role of citizen scientists in promoting environmental advocacy in India, and assisted with land use/land cover data collection in Nicaragua for a remote sensing analysis of habitat connectivity and conservation opportunities for spider monkeys.
My domestic research experience has mainly taken place in the southwestern United States. For example, I have been involved in data collection, database management, and data analysis for the following research topics:
· NSF-funded project with Duke University and the University of Colorado about policy learning from Colorado’s extreme floods of 2013
· USDA-funded study conducted at the University of Arizona to increase physical activity and nutritional knowledge among youth, ages 12-18, through the use of popular technologies
· Projects pursued at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University that use remote-sensing and spatial modeling to map and manage non-native grass species in the southwest USA to reduce fire risk and preserve wildlife habitat