Jennifer Cardinal is an applied anthropologist who studies grassroots sustainable development. Her ethnographic research extends a political ecology approach to questions about the precarious relationships, practices, and discourse at the intersection of community and environmental, economic and sociocultural sustainability. She teaches methodological and conceptual tools to understand local meanings and practices in the context of global systems. This attention to the local within the global frame includes a commitment to support inclusive sustainability initiatives.
Jennifer’s upcoming publications and current book project examine the relationship between consumption-driven migration, environmental conservation, agriculture, nonprofit organizations, and community development in small town on the southern Jalisco, Mexico coast. This stretch of coast is experiencing a transition as much of the beach-front land is being privatized for luxury resort development with claims of environmental sustainability. In the community Jennifer worked with, on the other hand, the concept of sustainability is materializing in an alternative locally-directed community development. This research explores how different environmental ideologies converge and produce frictions in divergent sustainable development practices.
Jennifer’s current research explores the ways Troy, NY residents are navigating, initiating, and challenging change- including intersections of local development initiatives and global climate change. She is studying viable, equitable alternatives and possibilities for maneuvering precarity with a focus on water and food. This local ethnographic research will build on a larger comparative project integrating research on grassroots sustainable development in sites in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States (including drinking water access and resources such as geothermal hot springs, urban and rural farming, and sustainable tourism initiatives).
The local and international collaborative research projects Jennifer has designed in the US, Iceland, and the UK bring a commitment to inclusive community engagement that integrates teaching with research on human/environment relationships. At Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, Jennifer’s multidisciplinary student/faculty collaborative research team assessed local needs and assets, and designed an interactive resource guide in a project funded through the Earlham Center for Social Justice. Student researchers took the leading role in directing the project to ensure that it would be inclusive, accessible, and useful to community residents. This project built on research into local sustainability initiatives in the UK and using a model team members explored in London, resulted in a proposal to open a free Library of Things in collaboration with the municipal library in Richmond.