Society Research Theme

The Geography, Society and Environment group is already well known in fields involving third world and community development, resource management, public policy, urban planning, and spatial data analysis. Significant opportunities now exist in fields addressing sustainability, global change, natural hazards, human impacts on natural environments, and environmental policy and resource management. Our research capacity is further strengthened by emerging partnerships within the College of Natural Sciences and across the UMass campus.

Geography is an increasingly relevant and growing discipline.  While we have lost geographers at UMass due to retirements and death, nationally, this field is on the rise, with membership in the Association of American Geographers, for example, growing by 40% (to 10,757) between 2000-2010.  Human geography includes, among others, a number of subfields of particular importance for understanding human-environmental systems and environmental change.  These include the subfields of urban geography, political ecology, political geography, economic/development/sustainability geography, natural hazards, human dimensions of global environmental change, and population/migration geography.


Critical Geographies of Environmental Change and Conservation Research Group

Faculty in the Geography, Society and Environment Research Theme

Being a combined geology and geography program offers a department the uncommon opportunity to interface more traditional geoscience research with study of how humans impact their world and vice versa. The Geography, Society and Environment research cluster involves four geographers (Piper Gaubatz, Stan Stevens, Eve Vogel, and Qian Yu) with research interests in deforestation, urban environmental transformations, international conservation policy and practice, water and energy policy and politics, environmental monitoring and modeling, and environmental justice.

Geography, Society and Environment

Professor Piper Gaubatz is an urban geographer specializing in the study of urban change, development and planning in East Asia and the U.S.  Trained as an urban morphologist, she is particularly interested in the processes which shape urban space, and especially in the historical and contemporary linkages between policy, practice and physical and social urban forms.   She is currently engaged in three separate research projects: (1) an ongoing analysis of the diffusion of urban planning practices and ideologies from eastern China to western China, which places urban transformation within the contexts of regional inequality and environmental change; (2) a joint project with geographer Stan Stevens which analyzes the environmental history of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia and its hinterlands; and (3) an analysis of the growing influence of environmental discourses in Chinese urban planning initiatives and the divide between those cities which have been designated as models for new sustainability initiatives, which are primarily located in eastern China, and those cities which suffer the worst environmental impacts, which are primarily located in western China.  She is actively engaged with the national and international communities of China geographers, and is just finishing a term as chair of the Association of American Geographer’s China Specialty Group. She also serves as an appointed standing review committee member for the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. In July 2012, her second book, The Chinese City (co-authored by Professor Weiping Wu, Tufts University), will be published by Routledge.  Beyond this China work, she is one of the core members of the International Seminar on Urban Form, an academic organization of geographers, planners and architects based in the UK. In this capacity, she serves on the editorial board of the journal Urban Morphology.

Over the past thirty years, Senior Lecturer Stan Stevens has carried out (post) colonially informed political ecological and cultural ecological research which integrates ethnographic, participatory-action, and discourse analysis-based methods to examine land tenure and use; natural resource management; conservation law, policies, planning, and practices; protected areas governance and management; Indigenous peoples’ conservation initiatives and contributions; and the status of rights recognition in national and international conservation interventions in Indigenous peoples’ customary territories (which worldwide constitute 85% of current internationally-identified high priority biodiversity conservation terrestrial ecoregions).  This work has generated three books and other publications which have contributed to the development of critical geographies of conservation and social justice and advanced international conservation reform efforts by IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the ICCA Consortium.  Stevens is most noted for his global work on protected areas, new paradigm protected areas, rights-based conservation, and Indigenous peoples and conservation, and for his 30 year longitudinal study of the political and cultural ecologies of the Mt. Everest region based on annual ethnographic and participatory action research with Indigenous Sharwa (Sherpa) communities and organizations.  He is one of the leaders of the ICCA Consortium, a major, Switzerland-based conservation and environmental justice organization and participates at the highest levels of policy-making in the IUCN, CBD, and GEF.  Since 2004, with the sponsorship of the Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group and the Political Ecology Specialty Group, he has organized and chaired numerous sessions at the Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers that provide a forum for discussion of the many issues generated by the establishment of protected areas in Indigenous peoples’ territories.  His current research includes ethnographic, participatory research on the international conservation and social justice movements and coordinating work by 22 Sharwa researchers to document and map Sharwa collective management of commons and sacred natural sites and their importance for conservation, cultural identity, social justice, livelihood security, and sustainable development.

Eve Vogel’s research examines the history, politics and policy of river basins and regional electric power systems. She approaches these as integrated systems of policy, institutions, infrastructure and practice that transform and organize discrete environmental resources to serve broad and spatially dispersed human needs. By examining these systems over the long term, she is able to illuminate complex and often unseen interactions among a) efforts to achieve particular goals like economic development, social equality, or environmental conservation; b) physical resource extraction, transformation and use; d) institutions, governance arrangements and policies; and d) social and environmental effects. Her research thus far has focused mainly on the Columbia River basin, and she recently published a culminating theoretical article deriving from this work in Water Alternatives, advancing a new theory about the long-term effects of organizing water management within river basin territories. Building on this work, she has been moving into three new fields of study, all of which have publications in progress that are due to be submitted in the next few weeks to months: 1) the political history of electrical system change in the Pacific Northwest; 2) an analysis of the long-term spatial effects of New Deal and post-World War II regional development in the Northwest; and 3) an environmental and political history of federal development plans in the Connecticut River basin. She won a Faculty Research Grant in 2009-2010.

Qian Yu’s research focuses on environmental monitoring and modeling using remote sensing, Geographic Information System/Science (GIS) and spatial modeling. She is interested in developing remote sensing tools and spatial modeling techniques to study carbon cycling from terrestrial ecosystem to coastal water. Her group has been developing hyperspectral remote sensing algorithm to map terrestrial vegetation as carbon source and to retrieve dissolved organic carbon in coastal water as carbon sink. She also investigates GIS-based watershed modeling to analyze and interpret land-ocean DOC transport processes through hydrological link. She manages the GIS Laboratory.


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Department of Geosciences
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233 Morrill Science Center
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-9297

Phone: (413) 545-2286
Fax: (413) 545-1200

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