My work explores the politics of value in environmental conservation. I am interested in how negotiations over the measurement and valuation of environmental resources become generative sites for the creation of new forms of knowledge and strategies of government. I utilize a multi-sited methodology combining historical research and ethnographic methods.
My doctoral research traced the social history of ‘the environment’ as an object of politics from the late 1960s to the 1990s, exploring how our current understanding of the environment – as a complex system whose functions underpin our lives in ways that can (and should) be accounted for in economic terms – has come to be. Through a series of historical case-studies, I showed how contestations over the definition and management of ‘environmental’ problems have been key sites through which notions of the economy, the market, and their relation to the state are reworked and contested, while new ways of understanding and managing ecological dynamics have given rise to new arts of government. My current research focuses on the political ecologies of ‘green infrastructure’ – or the ways that investment in environmental conservation is increasingly geared toward cultivating particular environmental functions, such as water quality improvements, flood management, or fire risk mitigation. My recent work has focused on a watershed investment project in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, where I have collaborated with researchers at the Natural Capital Project and the University of Minnesota to understand how diverse political rationalities and notions of development interact through efforts to produce green infrastructure.
My postdoctoral research investigates the financialization of forest restoration for watershed and fire risk management in California. Focusing on new financial products aiming to attract return-seeking capital into forest restoration, I am interested in the new policy experiments emerging around efforts to live differently with fire in the context of climate change. I am conducting this research as part of the 5-year, SSHRC-funded study Tracing Biodiversity Capital, led by Prof. Jessica Dempsey. I am honored to be a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow.
Nelson S. (2017) Afterlives of disaster: rationalizing environmental values in the wake of the Exxon Valdez. Capitalism Nature Socialism 28(1).
Nelson S and B Braun (2017) Autonomia in the Anthropocene: New challenges for radical politics. Introduction to the special issue, “Autonomia in the Anthropocene.” South Atlantic Quarterly 116(2):223-235.
Rosol, C, S Nelson and J Renn. (2017) In the Machine Room of the Anthropocene. Introduction to the special issue, “Perspectives on the Technosphere.” The Anthropocene Review 4(1):2-8.
Nelson S. (2015) Beyond The Limits to Growth: Ecology and the neoliberal counterrevolution. Antipode 47(2):461-80.
Nelson S. (2014) Resilience and the neoliberal counterrevolution: From ecologies of control to production of the common. Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses 2(1):1-17.
Johnson E., H. Morehouse, S. Dalby, J. Lehman, S. Nelson, R. Rowan, S. Wakefield and K. Yusoff (2014) After the Anthropocene: Politics and geographic inquiry for a new epoch. Progress in Human Geography 38(3):439-456.