Post, Erik

Being a Public Scholar implies engaging in research with practical and direct non-academic consequences that are of tangible benefit to the research collaborators and other people affected by the research topic.

Faculty of Arts
Philippe le Billon
Research Description

My research brings scholarship on extractivism, climate justice, and decolonization into a grounded conversation to investigate how Indigenous opposition to extractivism relates to racial and climate justice in Latin America. To explore the challenges and opportunities for the realization of the decolonial futures premised on racial and climate justice proposed by Indigenous struggles against extractivism, I will engage in collaborative fieldwork with Nahua and Totonac Indigenous community organizations in the Sierra Norte de Puebla in Mexico. In this region, efforts by Chinese, Canadian, and Mexican corporations to develop open-pit mines and hydropower plants have resulted in dozens of conflicts involving Indigenous Nahua and Totonac communities over the past decade. Government officials and project developers characterize these projects as sustainable development that is crucial to combating climate change. Nahua and Totonac community organizations contest this, framing these projects as “Projects of Death” that lack consent and follow an “extractivist model” of unsustainable resource exploitation - “extractivism”- that threatens Indigenous lives, livelihoods, and territories. Beyond the immediate defense of Indigenous lives, livelihoods, and territory against extractivist projects, these organizations also develop “Projects of Life” that articulate Indigenous resurgence based on racial and climate justice.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

For me, being a Public Scholar implies engaging in research with practical and direct non-academic consequences that are of tangible benefit to the research collaborators and other people affected by the research topic. The goals and interests of collaborators are important motivations and guidance in the design and execution of the research project, which is why the research can take many forms. It can involve co-creating products, such as maps, reports, websites, or documentaries that can be employed by research collaborators or the broader public. It can also entail interventions in public discourses or policies to challenge the violent domination of peoples and ecologies and realize a more just world.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The PSI supports and encourages doctoral researchers to conduct engaged and innovative projects that seek to mobilize academic research to make the world more just in line with the interests and goals of research collaborators. The PSI’s support for public-facing research in collaboration with community organizations pushes the doctoral experience and the knowledge created through it beyond the circumscribed bounds of academia. By being a part of the PSI, I am supported to engage in this type of research and connect with peers who have similar goals and visions.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

Before the PhD, I worked in governmental, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental institutions where I learned a lot but was not always able to consider the systemic and structural dimensions of particular issues nor able to engage with a wide variety of interlocutors. The PhD offers the privileged and unparalleled opportunity to both explore in-depth some of the systemic and structural complexities presented by overlapping planetary social, ecological, and climate crises and to learn from persons who are generally excluded from participating in designing the political responses to these crises. After my research, I hope to continue working at the interface of politics, policymaking, and grassroots action in pursuit of a more just future.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

The research will be conducted in collaboration with the Regional Totonac Council, which coordinates the defense of Totonac territories and the development of Projects of Life in the Sierra Norte de Puebla as well as other Indigenous community organizations in the region. During the fieldwork, I will actively engage with the Council’s work and continuously reflect on ways that my research can contribute to their efforts, for example, by documenting the various Projects of Life and Death and the region, by facilitating workshops and studies on jointly-selected topics, and by deriving policy lessons that can be pushed in collaboration with allied non-governmental organizations to support Projects of Life in the region and beyond. To catalogue and publish a report and/or website detailing the Projects of Life and Death in the region that is comprehensive, accessible, and useful to Nahua and Totonac land defenders and to maximize the policy impact of the research outcomes, I will partner with the Latin American civil society organization PODER through its mentorship program.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope that the research will contribute to the public good by providing concrete and tangible benefits to research collaborators engaged in struggles for the defense of their lives, livelihoods, and territories as well as the realization of decolonial futures. Centering the voices and ideas of Indigenous actors in all their complexity is critical to avoid replicating colonial dynamics of knowledge production to the extent possible. This is especially important at a time of increased interest in Indigenous knowledges and knowledge systems in social and environmental movements around the world since this interest is not always accompanied with commitments to decolonization. Documenting and analyzing Projects of Life developed by Nahua and Totonac communities not only explores how local efforts can contribute to racial and climate justice but can also provide policy lessons to facilitate their development in the region and elsewhere.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I had long been hesitant to pursue a PhD because I worried that all the effort and work would simply disappear into a university’s thesis repository and not contribute much to the world. However, when I first visited the Sierra Norte de Puebla in 2018 for my master’s dissertation, I realized that collaborative research could contribute tangibly to the causes of my research participants. After receiving encouragement from colleagues and exploring work in intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, I decided that the PhD program would be the best way to grapple with some of the unresolved questions I had encountered during my master’s degree and deepen collaborations in Mexico.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

The UBC Department of Geography has great faculty that pursue and support exciting, engaged, and critical research. I also cherish the opportunity to work under the supervision of Professor Le Billon, whose work has long been an influence on how I think about the interplay of geopolitics, violent conflict, and the role of the non-human environment. The ongoing conversations at UBC over Indigenous sovereignty and resurgence, Canadian settler colonialism and extractivism, climate justice and just transitions, and the role of UBC as an institution based on unceded xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) Traditional Territory also affirmed that UBC was the best place to conduct the type of research that I am interested in.