New Appointment at Yale University

I am pleased to share that I have accepted a new position as Research Associate at the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) Advanced Research Centers at Yale University. My work at HRAF will utilize cross-cultural research methods to understand (1) how societies transform in relation to climate stresses and shocks and (2) identify the types of responses that promote and enhance resilience. This research is funded by the Minerva Research Initiative grant “Comprehensive Modeling of Cultural Transformations in Response to Shocks and Hazards Associated with Climate.”

Dissertation Abstract

Sustainable Transitions in Agricultural Livelihoods:
Global Change and Local Food Production in Dominica

Samantha King, PhD
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Defended December 2021, Published May 2022

This dissertation provides an ethnographic study of agricultural change in the Commonwealth of Dominica, a small island nation in the Eastern Caribbean. Utilizing a comparative and mixed methods approach, it investigates how smallholding, family farmers are adapting their livelihoods in response to adverse global changes that have (1) eliminated their traditional export markets and (2) produced new climate stresses and shocks, which include two successive national disasters in 2015 and 2017. Whereas most recent research on Caribbean agriculture has focused on general trends of increasing vulnerability and export sector decline, this study details how farmers in Dominica have reorganized their livelihoods toward diverse forms of local food production. It also assesses the varied possibilities of these livelihood transitions to achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability. To explore the process of rural transformation, the study integrates qualitative, quantitative, and geospatial data from long-term participant observation, a panel survey of households, and participatory GIS mapping in two rural villages. These primary data are combined with interviews of state officials and development practitioners, archival material, statistical data, and policy documents. Findings demonstrate how variation in sustainability outcomes articulates to state policy interventions and processes of economic and environmental change both over the shorter and longer terms. While farmers have devised a range of creative solutions and strategies to attempt to build sustainable livelihoods, institutional legacies of dependence have reproduced an inflexible model of development that both obscures and undermines these local innovations. In documenting the struggles and successes of rural people, this study presents an evidence base from which to build an alternative path for agricultural development in Dominica, one that is grounded in the place-based solutions and perspectives of the farmers themselves.

The full document will be accessible via Proquest after May 2024. In the interim, please contact me directly for requests to access data and results.

SfAA Panel on Sustainability and Rural Land Use Change

I will be organizing a panel discussion titled “Households and Landscapes: Exploring the Social and Ecological Dynamics of Agrarian Change” for the upcoming Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting 2021. As a part of the panel, I will present my paper “Plantations and Peasants: How Patterns of Colonial Land Use Structure Possibilities for Sustainable Agriculture in Dominica“. This event will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Date/Time: Friday March 26, 2021 | 12:00 PM – 1:45 PM

Panel Abstract: Over the last several decades, farmers have encountered increasingly unstable dynamics of global economic and environmental change. To understand the impacts of such global challenges on agrarian ecologies, anthropological analyses typically investigate the social and ecological dimensions of households. Yet broader spatial and temporal processes of landscapes are also significant. In an effort to integrate such concerns regarding scale, papers on this panel present innovative ethnographic research that utilizes interdisciplinary perspectives from landscape ecology and geo-computational techniques (such as remote sensing, GIS, and spatial analysis) to enhance our understanding of the complexity of agrarian change.

Paper Abstract: Agrarian change in the Caribbean is often associated with the boom and bust of plantation-based export economies, yet the ecological constraints of more mountainous islands enabled alternative configurations of farming to emerge and (under certain conditions) thrive. Drawing on mixed-methods research conducted in Dominica, this paper integrates geospatial analysis with archival and ethnographic data to explore how spatial and temporal dynamics of landscape change both impel and impede contemporary possibilities for sustainable agricultural livelihoods.

SfAA Roundtable on Methods for Studying Rural Households

I will be organizing a roundtable discussion titled “Inside the Black Box: Considerations and Concerns when Studying Rural Households” for the upcoming Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting 2021. This panel will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Date/Time: Friday March 26, 2021 | 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM

Rountable Abstract: Today, the household is widely considered the primary unit of analysis for understanding rural livelihoods, yet it remains a problematic concept in both social theory and empirical research. Intractable assumptions of households as cohesive units of (re)production and consumption often mask the diversity of intrahousehold practices and the social relations that structure rural life. Still, venturing inside this ‘black box’ presents its own set of challenges. This roundtable will offer a venue for discussing the methodological and analytical quandaries that arise when studying rural households. Panelists will raise key issues and discuss techniques they have utilized to address these concerns.

Participatory GIS Research Receives National Award

I am pleased to share that my participatory GIS research has been recognized by the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology with a  Student Achievement Award for best original research in an applied context.

While conducting dissertation research in Dominica (2018-19), I engaged in a collaborative project with stakeholders in my research communities to build local capacity in geospatial technologies. Participants in this project learned how to collect and record spatial data and make digital maps using GIS technology. This effort is detailed in my forthcoming Practicing Anthropology article “GIS as a bridge across the digital divide: Engaging participatory methods to build capacity in research communities“.

Berks Panel on Sustainability, Gender, and Climate Change

I will be presenting my paper “Historical Exclusions/Sustainable Futures/Enduring Invisibilities: The Gendered Politics of Development and Agrarian Change in Dominica” at the upcoming Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders and Sexualities 2020, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MA as part of the panel “Engendering the Anthropocene: Women, Futurity, and Ecological Change in Postcolonial Societies”.

Date/Time: This conference was ultimately canceled due to COVID19.

Paper Abstract: In recent decades, global economic and environmental changes have induced trends of agricultural decline throughout the rural Caribbean. Yet as conventional development prospects have diminished, many farming women have experienced glimmers agricultural success. This paper draws upon ethnographic and archival fieldwork conducted in Dominica since 2012 to examine this gendered process of agrarian change. It finds that women’s distinct position within rural households and their marginalization within mainstream development spheres have positioned them to pursue alternative production strategies that represent an innovative and sustainable pathway for rural development. However, the informal and gendered nature of women’s innovations has meant that their significance – as well as their potential for generating alternative agricultural futures in Dominica more broadly – often goes unrecognized.

Research Featured in Dominica Geographic

I’m thrilled to have my photographs and words featured on the cover of the latest issue of Dominica Geographic, Climate Edition. My article, “Seeds of Change: Farming Traditions and Climate Futures,” discusses the complex challenges farmers in Dominica face due to the combination of chronic economic problems and new climate variability.

Download the article as a PDF or visit the Dominica Geographic archives to access the complete magazine.