Geography, Society, and Environment 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 a highly diverse academic discipline that bridges the social sciences, physical sciences, and humanities and whose concerns with spatial dynamics and society/nature relationships are at the core and the cutting edge of intellectual and public engagement with environmental issues, sustainability, social justice, and the interface of science and society.  

Each of the UMass geography faculty engages with one or more different sub-disciplinary specializations within geography.  We have in common that all of us carry out research and teaching on environmental issues.  Our faculty have national or international reputations in political ecology, urban geography, environmental history, GIST, rivers and river-basin management, protected areas, and conservation policy.

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.

Stan Stevens: As a human geographer my research and teaching explore society/”nature” relations by integrating conceptual and methodological approaches from political ecology, cultural ecology, environmental history, indigenous studies, and post-colonial studies. I am particularly concerned with documenting and supporting indigenous peoples’ socio-ecological systems, land use, commons governance and management, conservation values and practices, and struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and defense of territory against expropriation and extractive industries. This has involved me in advocacy and policy work promoting Indigenous rights, rights-based conservation, conservation by Indigenous peoples and local communities, and protected area reform includes engagement with indigenous peoples’ organizations in Nepal, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global ICCA Consortium.  I serve as  a steering committee member and officer of the ICCA Consortium, an association of more than eighty Indigenous peoples organizations, community organizations, and supportive NGOs that works worldwide to support appropriate recognition of territories and areas conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities.  My three books on these themes are Indigenous Peoples, National Parks, and Protected Areas: a New Paradigm Linking Conservation, Culture, and Rights (University of Arizona Press, 2014), Conservation through Cultural Survival: Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas (Island Press 1997), and Claiming the High Ground: Sherpas, Subsistence, and Environmental Change in the Highest Himalaya (University of California Press, 1993).  I teach courses on political ecology, Indigenous peoples and conservation, protected areas, the political ecology of climate change, and world environmental issues.

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.