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.

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Graduate Program Director
Professor of Postcolonial Literatures

Alero Akporiaye

Alero Akporiaye

Assistant Professor of Political Economy

Namita Vijay Dharia

Namita Vijay Dharia

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Xiangli Ding

Xiangli Ding

Assistant Professor of East Asian History

Thomas Doran

Thomas Doran

Assistant Professor-in-Residence of Environmental Literatures and Cultures

Nicole M. Merola

Nicole M. Merola

Professor of Environmental Humanities and American Literatures

Ijlal Muzaffar

Ijlal Muzaffar

Associate Professor of Modern Architectural History

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Sean Nesselrode Moncada

Assistant Professor of Art History

Lauren Richter

Lauren Richter

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Andrew Robarts

Andrew Robarts

Associate Professor of History

Damian White

Damian White

Dean of Liberal Arts

Jonathan Bishop Highfield

Graduate Program Director
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.

Alero Akporiaye

Assistant Professor of Political Economy

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

Alero Akporiaye teaches courses on international politics and international political economy, including political economy of global supply chains, international human rights and law, and gendered political economy. Her courses examine how international political forces affect socioeconomic processes, events and outcomes.

Akporiaye's research interests are broadly centered on the politics of foreign direct investment: political risk and multinational corporations, political economy of energy extraction, corporate social responsibility and experimental methods in international political economy.

Namita Vijay Dharia

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

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

Namita Dharia teaches issues related to postcolonial urbanism, labor, architecture and aesthetics. She offers courses on comparative urbanisms in the Global South, design anthropology, anthropology of innovation, and materiality and materialisms, among other topics.

Dharia's book manuscript—entitled the Industrial Ephemeral—studies the role of aesthetics in construction industries and comments on the politics of design and labor in the urban development of India’s National Capital Region. She is interested in non-elite design cultures and everyday art and aesthetics, as well as environmental ecologies and material cultures.

Xiangli Ding

Assistant Professor of East Asian History

PHD, The State University of New York at Buffalo
MA, Nanjing University
BA, Henan Normal University

Xiangli Ding is a historian of modern China and environmental history, he offers courses on global environmental history, East Asian history, and Chinese history. In the past two decades, he witnessed and experienced the environmental degradation and social changes in China. Therefore, his research interests focus on the confluence of nature, technologies, economy, and political forces in modern China, and how that confluence has changed Chinese people’s lives and their relationship with the natural environment. His dissertation, entitled “Transforming Waters: Hydroelectricity, State Making, and Social Changes in Twentieth-Century China”, examines the rise of hydroelectricity in modern China. It argues that political powers, aided by hydro-technologies, consumed natural resources at an unprecedented pace and scale and marginalized local communities in the making of an environ-technical regime in twentieth-century China.

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

Thomas Doran teaches courses on comics art, natural history, environmental theory, early American literature, the history of science and ecology, transnational and multiethnic American Studies, and the cultural intersections of environmental justice and animal rights. His courses often include hands-on projects meant to expand the conceptual, material, methodological, and historical scope of literary inquiry.

His current research includes a book project on animal protectionist rhetoric and the emerging science of animal behavior in the indigenous and Euro-colonial natural histories of the early Americas, as well as a literary-visual history of environmental comics and cartoons.

Nicole M. Merola

Professor of Environmental Humanities and American Literatures

PhD, MA, University of Washington
BA, Swarthmore College

Nicole M. Merola 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.

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 and writes about Latin American and Latinx art and visual culture. His research focuses on visual and material modernisms, their uneven implementation across the hemisphere and their contested social and ecological dimensions. In his courses, he invites students to consider how images proliferate and behave in the world, encouraging an expanded view of what constitutes artistic production and who merits inclusion in our received histories.

He has published on subjects including the politics of geometric abstraction in South America, the relationship between graphic design and the oil industry at midcentury and the rise and fall of informalist aesthetics as part of the leftist counterculture of 1960s Venezuela. His current book project examines the material, spatial and theoretical development of Venezuelan modernism(s) through the lens of petroleum extraction and refinement. His writings appear in such journals as Architectural Theory Review, Caiana: Revista de Historia del Arte y Cultura Visual del Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte and Hemisphere: Visual Cultures of the Americas.

Lauren Richter

Assistant Professor of Sociology

PHD, Northeastern University
MA, Washington State University
BA, Connecticut College

Lauren Richter is a sociologist who studies social inequality and the environment. She uses qualitative interviews, ethnography and archival approaches to broadly examine responses to adverse environmental health impacts. She focuses on US regulatory frameworks and landscapes of scientific knowledge/ignorance production to understand how inequality shapes pollution exposure and possibilities for recourse. Her research and teaching are inspired by critical race theory, environmental justice, science and technology studies and environmental sociology.

Andrew Robarts

Associate Professor of History

PhD, MS, Georgetown University
BA, Bowdoin College

Andrew Robarts teaches courses on Islam and the Islamic World, Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, and Russia, focusing on questions of identity in the imperial context, migration and mobility, regionalism, and international relations.

Robarts' first book investigated migration and the spread of epidemic diseases in the maritime space of the Black Sea region. This analysis was undertaken within the context of Ottoman/Turkish-Russian relations in the modern period. His current manuscript project will, from a world historical perspective, survey Russian influence in, interaction with and impact on the Middle East across the early modern and modern periods.

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.