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A Political Ecology of Value: A Cohort-Based Ethnography of Urban Social Policy


<p>Research in the social sciences has shown that effective urban policy must strike a delicate balance between social, economic, and environmental considerations. In a world where over half of the world's population now lives in cities, finding this balance is crucial because poor urban planning and management may have costly consequences in economic growth, public health, general well-being, and environmental quality. In recent years, a number of American cities have exhibited the effects of infrastructural failures: flagging economic investment, social unrest, and disease outbreaks. But while the effects are clear, the solutions are not. In the research supported by this award, anthropologists Dr. Joshua B. Fisher (High Point University) and Dr. Alex Nading (University of Edinburgh) will address the problem through innovative research in an urban context whose history of experimentation with policy alternatives and relatively small size, will be particularly revealing of what works, what does not, for whom, and why.</p>

<p>The researchers will travel to Ciudad Sandino, a section of peri-urban Managua, Nicaragua. Recently, in response to increased income inequality, urban environmental degradation, and declining revenues from tourism and foreign investment, the city has undertaken a new, cross-sector, integrated urban development campaign, "Live Clean, Live Healthy, Live Beautiful, Live Well." The researchers will examine the complex impacts of this program upon matters of waste management, environmental education, food safety, and public health. They will collect data with a suite of ethnographic research methods including ethnographic interviews, participant observation, photo documentation, and archival analysis. In addition to these more traditional research methods, the researchers will also collect data interactively and dynamically by creating and following a longitudinal ethnographic cohort. Through a series of workshops over three years, a diverse array of citizens including policy-makers, teachers, and informal economy food producers and garbage pickers will be asked to provide feedback to each other and to the researchers on how the programs are affecting them and their worlds. Findings from this research will provide insight into the factors that shape the development of effective urban social policy and successful cities, given their many entangled social, economic, and environmental dimensions.</p>

Fisher, Joshua
Western Washington University
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