Praxis in Resource Geography: Tensions between Engagement and Critique in the (Un)Making of Ecosystem Services


Navigating the complications and contradictions that often arise when critical scholars engage with the “subjects” of their research in ways meant to support social change is a messy business. This chapter explores the tensions involved in this mixing of theory and practice (praxis) through the lens of four cases drawn from our differing experiences as critical scholars but holding in common engagement with marginalized peoples involved in the making, or sometimes unmaking, of a novel resource through payments for ecosystem services initiatives. These cases highlight the tensions that we find are inherent in conducting engaged critical scholarship: in the dissonance that inevitably exists between social theory and grounded social processes and the perspectives of the people with whom we engage; in the costs of committing to go beyond coproduction of knowledge and to taking responsibility for coproduction of action; in accepting accountability to the relationships formed during the research processes and the potential hazards in doing so; and in confronting the structural obstacles imposed when attempting to be critical and to engage from within the academy. Our reflections present the tensions of engaged critical scholarship in resource geography as ever-evolving, complex, and above all requiring continuous reflexivity and accountability.






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Shapiro - Garza

Elizabeth Shapiro - Garza

Associate Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy and Management in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy and Management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She serves as the Faculty Director for Engaged Scholarship for Duke University, the Director for Community Engagement for the Duke University Superfund Research Center and the Director of the graduate Certificate in Community-Based Environmental Management. 

Shapiro-Garza is Human-Environment Geographer whose research explores the ways in which human communities interact with environmental initiatives and approaches meant to influence their management practices and behaviors and the role that broader economic, political or policy trends, as well as inequality in access to power and resources, play in those dynamics and outcomes. She is a broadly trained social scientist with a primary methodological specialization in qualitative methods and analysis. Depending on the questions raised, she collaborates with economists, ecologists, remote sensing specialists, and environmental and public health researchers. Applying the framing and methods from these multiple disciplines, she conducts research on the following topics:

  • Market-Based Environmental Policies and Programs
  • Payments for Ecosystem Services in Mexico                                                                       
  • Climate Change Mitigation through Forest-Based Carbon Offsetting in Peru and Mexico
  • Climate Change Adaptation by Smallholder Coffee Producers in Latin America
  • Environmental Health and Justice in North Carolina

In exploring these topics, she has partnered with agricultural cooperatives, indigenous communities, government agencies and community-based non-profits in Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and the southeastern United States. Her research is published in highly ranked, peer-reviewed journals in geography and in the fields of her collaborators, as well as in fora and formats relevant to the policy makers, practitioners and the communities with whom she partners. The most substantive funders of this scholarship are the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, the Tinker Foundation, and the International Institute for Impact Evaluation (3ie) Foundation.

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