Research

I have developed three main research areas, each offering a distinct context for exploring the nature of governance in global production systems: 1) marine resource access, property and control; 2) value in global value chains; and, 3) the ‘rules’ of sustainability governance.

Marine Resource Access, Property and Control

My work in this area focuses on the changing conditions of access to and control over resources in global marine industries. My entry point has been my decade long project on the global tuna industry. The tuna sector is often described as being in economic and environmental “crisis”. That is, as the size and value of the sector grows, coastal and island resource owners have captured only small “rents” while expanding catch volumes and fishing capacity jeopardize the health of tuna resources and ocean ecosystems. Analyses of the cause of these problems most commonly assert that resource owning states have failed to effectively govern resources. I offer alternatives to this logic by drawing out global political-economic dynamics that shape the conditions of resource access in the sector.

During the course of my work on tuna fisheries, it became clear that fisheries systems have generally been marginal to political economy and ecology debates. In an effort to draw fisheries systems more explicitly into these debates, in 2012, I co-guest edited with Liam Campling and Penny Howard a 12 article special issue of Journal of Agrarian Change (issue 12, vol 2&3) on the political economy and ecology of capture fisheries, outlining three key areas in which fisheries systems are in conversation with classic research themes in political economy and political ecology: market dynamics, resource access, and relations of exploitation and resistance. I am advancing this research by examining how resource extraction and management are related to national sovereignty over ocean resources in the context of changing environmental and geopolitical considerations.

In addition, I am the PI of a National Science Foundation and National Geographic Conservation Trust (co-PIs Andre Boustany and Lisa Campbell, Duke University) funded project. Our project examines how scientific studies that yield spatiotemporal data and visual representations of mobile species interact with policy debates over control over highly migratory oceanic resources. Tracking projects involve inserting satellite tags into or onto species to generate geospatial data that make species’ locations in the oceans “visible”. Scientists and policy makers assert that tracking data should provide managers with information necessary to enact meaningful conservation measures, and tracking data are routinely used in marine resource policy bodies, but this claim has never been explicitly tested. This project will illuminate what the production, visualization and interpretation of tracking data reveal about the co-production of science-policy relations and debates over who “owns” and is responsible for managing mobile marine species. We meld the political economy of resource control with science and technology studies to inform renewed interest in using science to address questions of oceans governance.

Value in Global Value Chains

Building on core insights on inter-firm relations, power and development opportunities in the global value chains/global production networks literature (from here, GVCs, for the sake of parsimony), I study the role of the state and of resources in GVC governance. My findings draw out the surprising finding that small states can assert power over value chains, despite that they are generally considered subject to the whims of an increasingly competitive global economic system and sophisticated transnational firms. I have found that small states use geographical and legal advantages, resource rights and south-south regional cooperation to capture benefits from tuna value chains. In doing so, they exert power over multinational firms. However, weighing in on debates over the relationship between GVCs and development, I highlight that socio-ecological challenges associated with resource-based development complicate policy prescriptions for “upgrading” that read these kinds of successes as akin to a linear trajectory of development. These include: the fragility of regional alliances, poor labor conditions in highly competitive chains, the temporal nature of investments in a dynamic sector and resource decline. My work also situates resources as a central component of GVC governance and the political possibilities associated with GVCs.

The Rules of Sustainability Governance

My third research area focuses on how the rules that define sustainability in resource-based systems (re)structure governance authority. Many analyses elaborate the consequences of the array of rules that aim to promote sustainability (e.g. REDD+ or ecolabels), however, little attention has been paid to the origins of such rules. I conceptualize the rule-making process itself as a site of struggle for power in production systems. In this project I have studied efforts to create trade-environment-development gains — a ‘triple win’ — through World Trade organization rules, the development of new “sustainable” aquaculture certification schemes, the recent emergence of state-level eco-labels in capture fisheries and a recent turn towards labor standards in marine resource sectors.