Restoration, Race, and Disappearing Geographies of Southeastern Louisiana

My current research project, Restoration, Race, and the Disappearing Geographies of Southeastern Louisiana, examines the impacts of land loss and coastal restoration science on the diverse racial and cultural communities of coastal Louisiana. This project looks at the social life of coastal restoration and land loss, asking how scientific research and the movement of land and water impacts coastal communities, particularly historical marginalized communities of color. I rely on participant observation as my primary method alongside semi-structured interviews and historical research. My field sites include the offices of coastal scientists, the coastal parishes and homes of residents in southeastern Louisiana, and the public meetings where scientists and residents meet.

Participant observation: Ethnography, literally the ‘writing of culture,’ is a qualitative research method that most cultural anthropologists use, and is done by conducting participant observation. This means spending time with participants on a regular basis so as to understand their world as an ‘insider.’ Participant observation is a long term process, often unfolding over several years, as it often takes time to get to know people, gain their trust, and become a regular part of their lives. Fieldnotes are written by the researcher about her interactions with informants and is the primary data she creates and uses. More about ethnography and participant observation methods can be found here.

Anthropology of race in the US south: The anthropology of race and racial difference has a long and checkered history within anthropology. In the US, Franz Boas and his students were some of the first anthropologists to study racial difference with the goal of trying to dismantle racism and popular beliefs about innate racial hierarchies in the US through anthropological science. Research and critical scholarship by Black anthropologists and sociologists such as WEB DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Allison Davis built upon this research with a particular focus on African American communities in the US south through writing about their unique culture, history, and the meaning of racial (Black/white) and class difference. The anthropology of race in the US also extends to indigenous/Native American communities as well as Latino(a) and other minority groups. More on this research can be found here.

Anthropology of science: As an emerging field in the social sciences, critical science studies concerns itself with understanding the culture of scientists and the production of scientific facts. In lieu of taking technical or natural scientific facts at face value, this research seeks to understand the ‘social life’ of science – that is, the historical and political conditions within which scientific facts are produced inside the laboratory, as well as science’s impact on social life outside the laboratory. Much of this work emerges from the research of French sociologist/anthropologist Bruno Latour as well as feminist and science studies scholars like Donna Haraway. Topics and subject matters in this field currently extend beyond researching only scientists, including research on digital technologies,  multi-species ethnography, and anthropology of infrastructures. Commentary on anthropology of science can be found here and here.

Mississippi River Commission, Plate 5, Drainage Basin Mississippi River, Precipitation in EXCESS of Normal January to April, 1927. US Army Corps of Engineers.
Mississippi River Commission, Plate 5, Drainage Basin Mississippi River, Precipitation in EXCESS of Normal January to April, 1927. US Army Corps of Engineers.