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Bullard Spotlight: Social-Ecological Frameworks with Rinku Roy Chowdhury

October 17, 2023
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Photograph shows Dr. Rinu Roy Chowdhury

Forests, across a wide range of geographic, ecological, and social contexts, are common pool resource systems characterized by distinct forms of governance, with diverse implications for sustainability and resilience. Rinku Roy Chowdhury has been researching aspects of land use and socio-ecological resilience for several decades. Her work uses geospatial as well as qualitative approaches to help illuminate how individual agencies (e.g., in land management) interact with collective action (e.g., community-based management) and/or broader policy structures (e.g., market incentives or conservation restrictions) to shape landscape patterns and forest ecology at local and regional scales. She draws theoretical and empirical inspiration for this work from the fields of Institutional theory (Collective Action theory), Land System Science, and political ecology.

Rinku, who is a Professor of Geography at Clark University, and former co-chair of the Global Land Programme, has worked in locations as diverse as urban forests in the United States, the lowland Maya forest of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, and coastal mangroves in Latin America and South Asia. During her time as Bullard Fellow, she has turned her attention closer to home, to the forests of central Massachusetts, and by extension, New England. These forests represent impressively diverse assemblages of property regimes, management, land history, and ecological conditions. This is exciting terrain for Rinku, who long has loved hiking these lands, but is now working to apply powerful social-ecological explanatory frameworks to shed new light on their history, management, and resilience.

Rinku was drawn to Harvard Forest because of its scientists’ deep knowledge of New England forests and environmental history, and collaborative networks on forest stewardship (e.g., the Wildlands and Woodlands program, work with the USDA Forest Service Family Forest Research Center at UMass-Amherst). Her overarching hope is to develop a long-term partnership with Harvard Forest and relevant stewardship networks to advance a systematic, robust understanding of New England’s forested landscapes as complex socio-ecological systems produced under varying governance regimes and land use histories, with distinct implications for resilience to future climate or policy/economic stressors.

By Rinku Roy Chowdhury

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