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Nature and Society

“Nature and Society Geography” is a field of geography concerned with the relationships between people and the environment. The field is broad and includes geography’s two centuries of emphasis on humankind’s interaction with and modifications of natural systems, as well as newer interests in conflicts over natural resources and environmental change, assessments of the sustainability and equity of primary production systems, and critical analyses of the meanings of taken-for-granted concepts like “nature,” “natural resources,” and “degradation.”

The Nature and Society Geography subfield in geography and the UC Davis geography program occupies a middle ground between human and physical geography. Nature and society geographers rely on both qualitative and quantitative methods, including GIS and cartographic design. In this way, overlap among the subfields is intentional, and our faculty work across fields (e.g., teach courses in human geography and nature and society geography).

The subfields of Nature and Society Geography at UC Davis that are particularly strong include: agricultural geography; cultural and political ecology; environmental hazards; environmental justice and conflict; and historical nature and society geography.

Agricultural geography
UC Davis, as one of the nation’s leading research universities focused on agriculture, offers great potential for Nature and Society Geography students interested in the intersection of agriculture, environment, and society. The areas of sustainable agriculture, agricultural development, and agricultural policy and models are particularly strong in UC Davis geography. The new Agricultural Sustainability Institute offers Nature and Society Geography students engagement with cutting-edge work on organic, transitional, and local food and farming systems.

Cultural and political ecology
Central to Nature and Society Geography is the subfield of cultural ecology and political ecology. Cultural ecology, a subfield in geography and anthropology, has a long history at UC Davis with current faculty members including David Boyd, Stephen Brush, Benjamin Orlove, and emeritus faculty Jack Ives. Cultural ecologists use ethnographic and other methods to understand indigenous resource management and the iterative relationship between culture and environment. In the late 1970s, cultural ecology was expanded to political ecology, which emphasizes extra-local political and economic forces that cause environmental change and degradation. UC Davis has one of the top ranked ecology graduate programs in the country, giving Nature and Society Geography graduate students ample opportunity to engage and collaborate with ecologists.

Environmental hazards
Floods, extreme weather events, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes have important ramifications for society. Dating back to the work of Gilbert White in the mid-20th century, Nature and Society Geography has a tradition of informing policy by emphasizing that environmental hazards are invariably strongly influenced by social relationships.

Environmental justice and conflict
Environmental justice is the principle that all people and communities have a right to live in a healthy environment and to have equitable access to sufficient resources to maintain a good quality of life. Geographers and others from allied disciplines highlight uneven distribution of costs and benefits of environmental modifications along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Additionally, environmental justice examines conflicts over the lived environment and the successes of the environmental justice movements. UC Davis houses the Environmental Justice Project through the John Muir Institute for the Environment, the lead faculty of which often collaborate interdisciplinarily with faculty and researchers associated with the Center for the Study of Regional Change, as well as faculty in Environmental Science and Policy, Plant Ecology, and other departments and disciplines.

Historical nature and society geography
Key to elucidating nature and society relations is an understanding of the processes that have shaped those interactions over time. An historical perspective offers multiple temporal scales of analysis, allows an examination of the ways different nature-society relations are constructed over time, and reminds researchers that environmental change is multidirectional and multifaceted.

Faculty for this Area of Depth

Fullname Summary Academic Interest Department
Javier Arbona

Race, space, and memory; histories of colonialism and imperialism, particularly with relationship to urbanization and cities; critical military, security, and policing studies; experimental geography and art practices; urban, architectural, and spatial theories.

American Studies
Gwen Arnold

Environmental policy; common-pool resource theory and management; bureaucratic decision-making in resource management; hydraulic fracturing (fracking); institutional analysis; social networks

Environmental Science and Policy
Tom Beamish

Research interests and expertise includes a focus on Risks, Hazards, & Environment; Community Politics and Social Movements; Institutions, Organizations, & Economy; and Science, Technology, & Innovation Studies

Catherine Brinkley

Dr. Brinkley's research is focused on public health outcomes around the food-energy-waste nexus. She uses qualitative methods along with social network mapping and spatial analytics to understand farm-to-city services such as food supply and waste-to-energy. She is particularly interested in how these networks impact neighborhood socio-economics and greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to support sustainable land-use planning around environmental justice.

Spatial statistics and land-use planning
Mary Cadenasso

Investigating the effect of urbanization on plant community and nutrient dynamics and integrating ecological and social theories and urban design to enhance understanding and development of cities as sustainable coupled human-natural systems. Study exchanges of nutrients, pollutants, and organisms across landscape boundaries such as forest edges and riparian zones. Work across scales in metropolitan, semi-arid savanna and forest systems.

Urban ecosystem ecology
Diana K. Davis

Environmental history, political ecology, colonialism, political economy, Middle East and North Africa, indigenous veterinary knowledge, pastoral societies and arid lands

David de la Peña

Participatory design, autonomous communities, architecture, urban design, sustainable site-planning, urban agriculture

Human Ecology
Adela de la Torre

Adela de la Torre, an agricultural economist, is the director and Professor of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Davis. Dr. de la Torre's publications and research primarily focus on health care access and finance issues that affect the Latino community as well as Border health issues. In addition, she has completed studies on the impact of education on occupational location of Hispanics

Ryan E. Galt

Cultural and political ecology, agricultural and environmental governance, political economy of sustainable agriculture, cartographic design, the Americas

Human Ecology
Susan Handy

Relationships between transportation and land use, including the impact of land use on travel behavior and the impact of transportation investments on land development patterns

Environmental Science and Policy
Rebecca Hernandez

arid and semiarid ecosystems; biogeochemistry; biogeography; carbon cycling; climate change; data mining; deserts; drones; earth system science; environmental sensors; geography of energy; geospatial data and technologies; global ecology; invasion ecology; land-use and land-cover change; mycorrhizal fungi; plant-soil interactions; soil ecology; solar energy; sustainability; and wind energy

Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/theHernandezLab

Land Air and Water Resources
Carl Keen

Teratology and birth defects; North America, southeast Asia

Frank Loge

Design and function of sustainable urban systems; landscape ecology related to fisheries management; ecology of infectious diseases; interconnection between water and energy systems.

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Mark Lubell

Environmental policy; community-based management; social networks, human cooperation; quantitative analysis

Environmental Science and Policy
Jay R. Lund

Resource management and planning, water resources, urban geography

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Travis Lybbert

Economic Development, Poverty Dynamics, Risk & Uncertainty, Technology Transfer & Adoption, Intellectual Property

Agricultural and Resource Economics
Brett Milligan

Infrastructural studies and socio-technical systems; scenario planning; industrial ecology and radically altered environments; Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; rewilding; dredge landscapes and maritime infrastructure; spatial modeling and geomatics, including the application of drones (UAVs) and photogrammetry; theory of landscape change

Human Ecology
Frances Moore

Social and economic impacts of climate change; adaptation; climate policy; impacts on agriculture; risk management

Environmental Science and Policy
Patsy Eubanks Owens

Environments of children and adolescents, community participation

Human Ecology
Michael Rios

human geography, architecture, urban planning

Human Ecology
Arthur Shapiro

Evolution, population dynamics; North-South America

Evolution and Ecology
Edward Spang

Food-water-energy nexus; environmental indicators; systems analysis; water and energy resource management; environmental policy; clean technology

Food Science and Technology
Julie Sze

Environmental Studies (environmental justice, urban environments, environmental activism, gender and the environment, garbage, transportation and energy); urban planning.

American Studies
Stephen M. Wheeler

Sustainable development; urban design; city and regional planning; land use; climate change

Human Ecology
Diane Wolf

Women in development; Southeast Asia