Drawing on theory from behavioral ecology and political ecology, I explore the cultural, economic, evolutionary, and political dynamics of social-ecological systems, focusing on forces of continuity and change.
My research often takes a “mixed-method” approach, combining participant observation, interviews, and other qualitative methods with quantitative analysis of data from surveys and field experiments. This approach reflects my belief in the unique strengths of different methodologies and my commitment to seeing problems from multiple perspectives.
Please see the sections below for more details about specific research projects.
My research in Kamchatka began in 2005 and includes extended fieldwork trips in 2007-2009, 2011, 2018, and 2019. Working with Indigenous communities on the northern part of the peninsula, I focus on two ethnographic contexts. First, I study how people work together to sustain traditional subsistence (salmon fishing, reindeer herding), focusing on the role social relations, cultural values, and Indigenous knowledge play in the production and circulation of food within households and through social networks (Gerkey 2013; Howe et al 2016). Second, I study how social networks and post-Soviet collective institutions enable and constrain the ecological, economic, and political dynamics of natural resource use and environmental governance (Gerkey 2011; Gerkey 2016). These projects are informed by theory and methodology in behavioral ecology, social network analysis, behavioral economics, political ecology, and commons, among others.
Since 2012, I have collaborated on several research projects in Alaska that focus on subsistence, social networks, and natural resource management. In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, I worked with a team of economists and anthropologists at the University of Alaska-Anchorage to study how cultural practices and values related to the production and circulation of food and other forms of social support help people adapt to environmental change and uncertainty, synthesizing ethnographic methods with behavioral economics (Howe et al 2016). I extended this research to focus on the role of social networks in subsistence, using data from the Y-K Delta collected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Subsistence (Scaggs et al 2021). This led to two collaborative projects with the Division of Subsistence focused on social networks and subsistence salmon harvests in the Alaska Peninsula/Bristol Bay regions (Hutchinson-Scarbrough et al 2020) and on the Yukon River (Trainor et al 2021). These projects combined analysis of social networks within communities and networks that distribute salmon throughout Alaska.
Since 2017, I have been collaborating with a team led by Dr. Jeremy Spoon on the Nepal Critical Transitions Project. Our goal is to use qualitative and quantitative ethnographic methods and community outreach to understand natural disaster recovery, resilience, and transformation following the 2015 earthquakes. The project includes data on short-term recovery from 9 months to 1.5 years following the earthquakes, and we are currently working to collect data on long-term recovery 7-9 years later. My role in the project includes using quantitative methods to develop multi-dimensional indicators of recovery and identify associations with different domains of adaptive capacity (Spoon et al 2020). I also work with our team to identify connections between our quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research to support community outreach and policy (Spoon et al 2020; Spoon et al 2021).
I am fortunate to collaborate with a wide range of scholars working in other parts of the world and contribute to comparative projects that synthesize data at global scales.
Economic Network Dynamics and the Origin of Wealth Inequality: I am collaborating with a team of anthropologists and economists in a cross-cultural, comparative study of the links between social network structure and economic inequality, contributing data from my field site in Kamchatka. The project is led by Dr. Jeremy Koster and Dr. Eleanor Power with funding from the US National Science Foundation and support from the Santa Fe Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Local Indicators of Climate Change Impacts: Working with Dr. Victoria Sharakhmatova to contribute data from Kamchatka, I am a part of a global, cross-cultural comparative study led by Dr. Victoria Reyes-Garcia that seeks to document and understand local perceptions of climate change and their impacts on people’s livelihoods.
Evaluating Relationships among Human Health and Welfare, Ecological Condition, and Natural Resource Governance: I was part of an inter-disciplinary team of researchers led by Brenden Fisher and Taylor Ricketts (University of Vermont) and funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center that synthesized data from USAID demographic and health surveys with remote sensing and the IUCN database on protected areas to analyze effects of environmental conditions and protected areas on human wellbeing (Fisher et al 2019; Naidoo et al 2019).
Analyzing the Emergence of a Complex Swidden Management System in Belize: Working with Dr. Sean Downey (Ohio State University) and PhD student Shane Scaggs, we designed economic field experiments to understand common-pool resource management and swidden agricultural systems in Belize (Downey et al 2020).