Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies

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Faculty

The scholars who teach in NCSS actively engage with the critical environmental challenges defining our times. In their research and teaching, they embody a shared commitment to discovering and developing new models for understanding the interconnections of nature, culture and sustainability.

Nicole M. Merola

Nicole M. Merola

Graduate Program Director
Professor of Environmental Humanities and American Literatures

Alero Akporiaye

Alero Akporiaye

Assistant Professor of Political Economy

Namita Vijay Dharia

Namita Vijay Dharia

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Thomas Doran

Thomas Doran

Assistant Professor-in-Residence of Environmental Literatures and Cultures

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Professor of Postcolonial Literatures

Ursula Lang

Ursula Lang

Assistant Professor-in-Residence in Political Ecology

Ijlal Muzaffar

Ijlal Muzaffar

Associate Professor of Modern Architectural History

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Assistant Professor of Art History

Andrew Robarts

Andrew Robarts

Assistant Professor of History

Damian White

Damian White

Dean of Liberal Arts

Nicole M. Merola

Graduate Program Director
Professor of Environmental Humanities and American Literatures

PhD, MA, University of Washington
BA, Swarthmore College

Nicole M. Merola is the Graduate Program Director of the Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies MA program and head of the Literary Arts + Studies department. She came to RISD in fall of 2005 after receiving a PhD in English Literature from the University of Washington, Seattle. Her teaching and research interests encompass several fields in the interdisciplinary environmental humanities, including Anthropocene studies; literary, visual and performance-based approaches to climate change; biodiversity and extinction studies; green film studies; intersections of science, literature and art; the sociological pasts and presents of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay; and theories of natureculture.

Among Merola’s recent courses are Contemporary Ecological Fictions, Ecopoems/Ecopoetics, Representing “Unrepresentable” Environments: Climate Change and Exploring the Art and Science of Biodiversity in Guyana, a travel course co-taught with biologist Lucy Spelman. Her current research projects focus on the roles literature, film and visual and performance art play in conceptualizing the Anthropocene.

Alero Akporiaye

Assistant Professor of Political Economy

PhD, MPP, University of Texas, Dallas
BSBA, University of Arizona

Alero Akporiaye joined the RISD faculty in 2016, after earning her PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2014. Prior to RISD, she spent two years as a visiting assistant professor and lecturer in the Politics Department at Bates College. She offers courses in international and comparative political economy and international politics, including Political Economy of Global Supply Chains, Political Economy of Natural Resources, Women in the International Political Economy and International Politics. Valuing the importance of embodied diversity in her curricular and extracurricular work, Akporiaye is particularly interested in supporting and highlighting issues affecting women, students of color and first-generation college students.

Namita Vijay Dharia

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

PhD, AM, Harvard University
MArch, Cornell University
BArch, Sir J.J. College of Architecture

Namita Dharia is a socio-cultural anthropologist and architect whose research focuses on urban South Asia. In 2016 she came to RISD, where she teaches courses on design anthropology and cities of the Global South. Her interest in urban areas developed during her studies and career as an architect and urban designer in India in the late 1990s, before moving to study the broader social dynamics of construction worlds for her PhD research in anthropology. She conducts research through a scalar methodology, from the single individual in the city to that of objects and architectures, to urban infrastructures and regions.

An interdisciplinary scholar, Dharia is interested in bridging design, planning and social science methodologies and theories. Recent collaborations include a study of large-scale temporary cities and architectures such as the Kumbh Mela festival city that assembles and dissembles within the span of three months and ethnographic design projects in Detroit.

Thomas Doran

Assistant Professor-in-Residence of Environmental Literatures and Cultures

PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara
MA, BA, State University of New York at New Paltz

In both his teaching and research, Thomas Doran focuses on the literatures of the early Americas, the history of science and ecology, animal studies, the visual-literary arts (especially natural history and comics), transnational and multiethnic American Studies and the cultural intersections of environmental justice and animal rights. His courses often incorporate hands-on projects (digital or analogue) that encourage students to expand their conceptual, material and historical understanding of the literary arts.

Doran’s current book project explores how emerging methods of studying animal behavior in early America—practiced by Native Americans and Euro-colonial naturalists—influenced animal protectionist rhetoric before the 19th-century humane movement. He also writes fiction and poetry. His academic and creative writing have appeared in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (forthcoming), the Journal of Florida Studies, the Journal of Ecocriticism, Fence and Volt.

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Professor of Postcolonial Literatures

PhD, MA, University of Iowa
BA, Transylvania University

Jonathan Bishop Highfield is the author of Food and Foodways in African Narratives: Community, Culture, and Heritage and Imagined Topographies: From Colonial Resource to Postcolonial Homeland. His essays have been published in several books and journals, including Antipodes; Atlantic Studies; Canadian Journal of Irish Studies; The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability; The Jonestown Report; Kunapipi; Passages; and Rupkatha.

In his research and teaching, Highfield explores the intersection between postcolonial studies and ecocriticism, focusing on the nexus of social justice, colony and ecology, and the role of food and foodways in novels, films and art. His courses taught include Design in Words, Suffera No More: Caribbean Literature and Politics and Dialogue Across the Diaspora: Haiti, South Africa, Art, and Narratives of Resistance, a travel course in association with the Centre for Curating the Archive, University of Cape Town, and the Slave Lodge Museum in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ursula Lang

Assistant Professor-in-Residence in Political Ecology

PhD, University of Minnesota
MARC, University of California, Berkeley
BA, Swarthmore College

Ursula Lang is a geographer with specialties in urban and cultural geography. Her teaching and research interests include: urban environmental politics and planning; theories of nature-society relations; politics of property, land, commons and commoning; and geographies of skill, practice and experience. In addition to a professional background in architecture, she has experience teaching in geography, American studies and environmental studies. Most recently, she was a postdoctoral research fellow in geography at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Lang is currently researching green urbanisms and everyday life through green infrastructure for storm water in Glasgow. Part of this project includes a collaboration with artists Minty Donald and Nick Millar to understand perceptions of urban water, environmental memory and various urban ecological futures. She is also developing Living with Yards, a book that explores what can be learned from the diverse ways front and back yards are understood in urban environmental policies and projects, as well as how they are experienced and shaped in everyday life.

Ijlal Muzaffar

Associate Professor of Modern Architectural History

PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MARC, Princeton University
BSD, Arizona State University
BS, University of Punjab, Quaid-I-Azam Campus

Ijlal Muzaffar teaches and pursues research on humanitarian design and the history and theory of modern architecture. Before joining the Liberal Arts faculty at RISD, he taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, as Visiting Faculty in the Department of Art History and the Center for the Study of Global Change. He has also taught in the Program in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art at MIT, from where he also received his PhD in 2007.

Muzaffar’s scholarly interests include the history of globalization and Third World development, political ecology and environmentalism, cultural studies, feminist and Marxist criticism, and postcolonial criticism. He is working on a book that looks at how modern architects and planners played a critical role in shaping the discourse on Third World development and its associated structures of power and intervention in the postwar era.

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Assistant Professor of Art History

PhD, MA, New York University
BA, Swarthmore College

Sean Nesselrode Moncada teaches Latin American art and visual culture. His research examines the contested development of modernism in the Americas and its uneven reception and implementation across the hemisphere. He has written on subjects including urban planning and the industrialization of the landscape in Venezuela, the politics of concrete and kinetic art in South America and interdisciplinary public intervention as mode of resistance or critique. His current book project focuses on the artistic, architectural and theoretical development of Venezuelan modernism(s) at the height of the 20th-century oil boom, looking to the relationship between industry and patronage as well as the broader ideological stakes of visuality under an emergent petrostate. Nesselrode Moncada is also coordinator of the Providence and Rhode Island–area ACRAH Reading Group.

Andrew Robarts

Assistant Professor of History

PhD, MS, Georgetown University
BA, Bowdoin College

Before joining RISD to teach modern Middle Eastern history, Andrew Robarts taught at the University of California, Riverside and Central Connecticut State University. His teaching and research interests combine the traditional geography-based and chronology-dissected approach to history with thematic, transnational and world-historical approaches. As a historian of the Ottoman Empire, he is particularly sensitive to the ways in which nationalist historiography, the area studies canon of US universities and international political regimes have carved up post-imperial spaces. He is currently developing a project on environment, space and human mobility in the Ottoman Empire.

Robarts was born and raised in the Middle East (Beirut, Lebanon and Cairo, Egypt) and worked for seven years in the refugee and humanitarian relief field for the International Rescue Committee (in New York, east Africa, Azerbaijan and Baltimore) and for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (in Washington, DC).

Damian White

Dean of Liberal Arts

PhD, University of Essex
MSc, Birbeck College
BA, Keele University

Damian White is a sociologist and political theorist with teaching and research interests in the sociology of design, architecture, and adaptive reuse; speculative futures; urban and environmental sociology with a particular interest in urban political ecology; historical and political sociology; critical theory, urban studies and photography. He has published four books to date, including a comprehensive appraisal of the work of the social theorist and political ecologist Murray Bookchin. He is presently working on a book called Climate Futures and the Just Transition.

White is on the editorial board of Design Philosophy Papers and has been a guest editor of Science as Culture and InTAR:Journal of Adaptive Reuse. He has lectured widely throughout North and South America, Europe and South East Asia. As Dean of Liberal Arts at RISD, he provides general oversight for the departments of History of Art + Visual Culture; History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences; and Literary Arts + Studies.