I am an assistant Professor in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University. I completed my PhD at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. I also hold a Master’s degree in International Development at Wageningen University, and a Bachelor in Sociology, from the Universidad del Valle, Colombia.
My research focuses on the study of social and environmental impacts of new practices, technologies, and models of rural and territorial development and the role played by the state, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), social movements and agrarian organizations in the implementation of these initiatives. It seeks to advance the theoretical and empirical understandings of the interlinked global challenges of agrarian transformation, social justice, and environmental sustainability. I draw on critical agrarian studies and political ecology approaches to emphasize the interactions between local situations and wider economic and political processes in which power influences the (uneven) distribution of resources and shapes development discourses, interventions and institutions. I have thus far focused on Latin America, specifically Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, and in recent years I have initiated research efforts in Argentina, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
A key focal area of my research efforts includes the role of the state and models of collective action of different excluded sectors (peasants, indigenous and Afro-descendent communities), vis-à-vis neoliberal politics. My research in Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil investigate whether the ascendance to power of progressive governments supported by social movements create ‘post-neoliberal’ alternatives for implementing development approaches, or whether, on the contrary, they too continue with the reproduction of neoliberalism. In Mexico, a textbook example of successive neoliberal governments, I study the implementation of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes in the state of Veracruz. In contrast to the critical literature that portray PES schemes as neoliberal models, my work shows how these schemes merged, shaped and strengthened local institutions but also fostered new ways of water governance at the local level towards social transformation.
Another focus of my research is on the role of non-state actors in promoting and implementing non-state interventions, and their complex engagements with the state and rural organizations. Particularly, I have focused on social technologies —often adopted as managerial tool for project development efficiency in rural interventions— such as participatory approaches and methodologies used by agricultural and environmental NGOs in Bolivia and the deployment of Fair Trade certification schemes in Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, both intended to promote participation and empowerment of marginalized actors. My research demonstrates that these social technologies are not neutral mechanisms, but rather highly political tools used to govern resource sectors in particular ways. Furthermore, I show that participation and empowerment processes are not only about power but also about finding a balance with the material conditions and expertise fundamental for project implementation and success.