I joined WPI in 2011 as a scholar and teacher with training in public health, environmental policy, and international development studies. My research and teaching interests focused on the environment-development nexus, where tensions between sustainability and livelihoods often lead to contentious policy debates. My work on soy production and land inequality, expert roundtables and certification, and sustainability rating systems for cities, advanced ideas around how global discourses about sustainable agriculture and sustainability indicators take shape, are mobilized, and have influence at the local level, impacting social, political, and environmental systems.
My recent work addresses how broad policy frameworks and approaches, even those intended to redress inequality, can exacerbate disadvantage and systemic inequalities. How, for example, can technologies that are developed and deployed in the service of the ‘public interest’ ultimately serve to reinforce conscious and unconscious bias and embed bias in social institutions? How might ‘Rights of Nature’, an emergent environmental ideal advanced by international advocacy networks, re-create neo-colonial modes of disenfranchisement? How can scientists and policymakers understand and help people manage the risks associated with climate change and build support for equitable energy transitions and a just and greener economy?
In 2020, I expanded my interest in the politics of expertise (2012, 2018) by collaborating with Yunus Telliel and other colleagues to leverage WPI’s membership in the national-level Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN). We identified PIT as an effective and meaningful way to engage social justice issues within the context of WPI’s engineering and technical mission. With a PIT-UN grant, we have helped to shape the interdisciplinary conversation at WPI and beyond about the complex ways in which technology in the so-called ‘public interest’ can produce socially just and unjust outcomes, and then bring that conversation back to the national level through the University Network. We are further institutionalizing PIT at WPI by convening the ‘Just-T Collab’ – a collaborative of students, scholars, and activists concerned with, and engaged in issues the technology-justice interface.
Drawing on my work on environmental politics in Paraguay again in 2021, I joined Charmain Levy (Université du Québec en Outaouais) and Valerie L’Heureux (Concordia University) - esteemed scholars of Paraguayan society and politics - to propose and develop an edited volume on social movements in Paraguay. Paraguay is an underexamined, yet remarkably interesting country, where war, dictatorship, and lack of state accountability and transparency have produced cycles of mobilization and repression. Under such conditions, people rely on social movements for political voice. This volume brings together scholars, activists, and practitioners, many of whom are Paraguayan and have decades of experience in social critique and community organizing. They reflect on movements in the areas of peasant and agrarian rights to land and livelihoods, LGBTQ+ and feminist struggles for recognition, the struggles of labor unions to win workers’ rights, and student movements for access to quality education. The proposal has been accepted by Palgrave (contract forthcoming), with a deadline of September 2022.
Visit Digital WPI to view student projects advised by Professor Elgert.