I began working in the Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (SGPIA) in 2010 when I was brought on board to work on the “practice” component of the SGPIA mission. I had spent the previous 15 years as a peripatetic working in a variety of organizations in a variety of capacities but I’ll highlight just three. At the turn of the millenium I was the Coffee Program Director at the Consumer’s Choice Council where I promoted third party certification and labeling of social and environmentally responsible coffees. This primarily this consisted improving collaboration between Fair Trade, organic and conservation organizations while also meeting with bilateral, multilateral and private sector agencies to encourage their adoption of certified, labeled coffees as a central element in their coffee related endeavors. Later I was Executive Director of Educate the Children (ETC), an NGO dedicated to carrying out a comprehensive and very effective Integrated Community Development model in rural Nepal. ETC is grassroots development work at its finest and I am proud to have led the organization for 5 years. Finally, I was the Interim Director of The North American Congress on Latin America which publishes the NACLA Report on the Americas. This put me into the media and publishing world.
To summarize: before joining SGPIA I worked in policy design and promotion, grassroots rural development, and media production and distribution.
My eclectic set of experiences, when combined with my doctorate in Development Sociology from Cornell University, proved to be the perfect training for working on and teaching practices of international affairs at The New School. My courses focus on two broad areas. The first is research methods and project design and evaluation. The second is the interface between policy and practice in the effort to enact social change initiatives (aka “development”). Cookie cutter approaches (and so many policies are cookie cutter) do not work. So, my argument is that to better engage in social change we need to think and act at two levels: on the one hand, how we do what we do as practitioners, and on the other, the cultural and historical contexts of our practices.
In other words, an overarching theme in all my courses is the dialectics of practice and structure. For example, effective research requires reflexive attention to how research shapes its object, but also how researchers are themselves shaped by and through the research process. Similarly, assessing the histories and practices of development, such as the invention and diffusion of agricultural technologies, is not effectively pursued as a technical endeavor. Instead these must be approached as processes of cultural formation, the actors within the process being at the same time products and progenitors of change.
Paying attention to the histories and pragmatics of practice is essential to my creative practice.
My work leading the Colombia International Field Program (IFP) is not merely supervising students. Rather we work together as teams to design and implement projects that are culturally sensitive, fully engaged with civil society and have the potential to have reverberating consequences for the communities we collaborate with. While the Colombia IFP is on hiatus for 2017, we are currently in an evaluation phase so that we can redesign and re-engage on an even better footing in 2018.
In the meantime I am working on a film project with Ethan Steinman about the Colombian coffee industry. That industry functions as a kind of synecdoche for the globalization of food and agriculture in the post World War II period.
The globalization of food and agriculture is the theme of another project I recently completed called Corporate Vortex. As part of a team I worked on combining art history, information design and sociological analysis to create a learning experience this is itself an aesthetic experience. I am working on an essay describing and analyzing this project.
Finally I have several writing projects underway that focus on tourism, agro-ecology and visions for a more sustainable agro-food system.