home  |  education  |  grants  |  research  |  publications
public presentations  |  teaching  |  affiliations  |  cv (printable)

thin line

amity a. doolittle

Borneo (antique)

East Indies

Asia (antique)

research interests

research and teaching interests
current research
(link to specific projects)

Amity Doolittle, Research Statement, September 2006

My research focuses on how control over and access to natural resources is defined, negotiated and contested by civil society and state. I am interested in understanding the social and political processes that have resulted in centuries of social inequities and unequal distribution of the benefits and burdens of natural resources. My research approach is interdisciplinary, combining perspectives from anthropology, political science, environmental history, and political ecology to explore environmental histories, property relations, and conflicts over resources use. Specific interests include:

The critical role of social and environmental histories in effective policy-making

In my monograph, Property and Politics in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo): A Century of Native Struggles over Land Rights, 1881-1996, I provide an analysis of changing property rights that explores a sweep of history, spanning more than one hundred years, and analyzes data from both the state and local level. My research conclusively demonstrates with empirical data from Malaysia that without detailed historical and social analyses that focuses on human values, discourses, and practices, polices aimed at environmental conservation and sustainable development are sure to fail.

Content and Discourse Analysis of Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina

I have identified 5 major newspapers and over 8000 articles to focus on for a content and discourse analysis focusing on how race and class are defined and reproduced in print media. In order to overcome our history of racism it is critical to understand the role of the media in reproducing the political, social and economic dominance of specific groups. Hurricane Katrina highlighted racial and class inequalities that have a deep structural roots in American. Future policies can be better formulated if we understand how “everyday racism” is written about and characterized in our society.

Socio Economic Costs and Benefits of Oil Palm Plantations in Kalimantan (with PI Lisa Curran)

I am working with Lisa Curran on data analysis of 220 socio-economic surveys from 4 villages in Kalimantan, Indonesia. The aim of this research is to provide relevant data on:

  • potential land use conflicts with rural indigenous Dayak communities who have no recognized land claims with the Government of Indonesia;
  • potential loss of livelihoods from forest products, wild game and swidden/agroforestry systems as well as the cash income benefits of working for oil palm plantations;
  • document conflicts and negotiations by village communities with plantation company managers and local staff.

Socio-Economic Factors influencing Restoration of Native Species in Panama (PRORENA)
(with PI Mark Ashton and Post-Doctoral Fellow Eva Garen)

PRORENA, a research project based in Panama, focuses on the development of native species reforestation of degraded tropical landscapes. The socio-economic component seeks to find answer to the questions such as: How do different groups of landholders mange their land? What are the primary socio-economic and cultural factors influencing land use practices? What are promising strategies for enhancing the likelihood that land users will incorporate native trees in their land management plans?

Colonial and postcolonial discourses of rule and resource control

My research explores the discourses and practices of British colonial rule over native people in North Borneo, with particular attention on native property rights and the imposition colonial land laws. This work demonstrates that there are remarkable parallels between colonial notions of progress (law and “rational” resource commercialization) and postcolonial notions of modernity, development and nationalism (ideas of “productive,” commercial agriculture and governable citizens). Both the colonial and postcolonial states in Malaysia have encouraged years of forest mining and monoculture development by private industry, discursively promoted as in the “nation common interest.” At the same time the blame for biodiversity loss is placed on rural smallholders. This trend in state-society relations over natural resource management is one that needs to be redirected in order to achieve more equitable policies of natural resource management.

Legal pluralism and the transformation of property relations

Changes in property rights rarely follow an evolutionary trajectory from open access to common property to private and state property. Instead people are motivated to alter property regimes and increase their opportunities through their struggles for wealth, power, and identity. The resulting changes in property regimes can be unexpected and can have unanticipated impacts on natural resources. Understanding both the formal and informal property relations, and the social institutions that are linked to particular property regimes, is critical in for resource management, particularly in countries where land rights are still contested.

click on gallery thumbnail for larger illustration