Sociology & Anthropology

Melissa Johnson

Professor of Anthropology

Areas of expertise

Topical: Nature, the non-human and the human; Environment; Conservation; Development; Race and Racism; Social Theory; Environmental History; Tourism; Gender. Area: Belize; Caribbean; U.S.-Mexico Borderlands; Central Texas

Dr. Johnson is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in environmental anthropology, race and gender.  She focuses her research on Belize's Afro-Caribbean populations. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript,  Creole SocioNatures: Nature, Community and Identity in Belize on nature, community and identity in rural Belizean Creole communities. She has also published on the intersections of race and environment in the history of Belize, and has projects underway on ecotourism; gender and development; garbage; and hunting and migration.  She has conducted an interdisciplinary faculty-student collaborative project on environmental justice in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, and a project with Southwestern student Kimberly Griffin (Env Studies '10) on a social and environmental history of the San Gabriel River in Central Texas.

She is especially interested in bringing critical analysis of systems of privilege and oppression to the examination of the intersections of the human with non-human--from analyses of the meanings of place and landscape to relationships between human and non-human animals. The contexts that attract her attention are those in which people and other things are moving--sites of tourism, international biodiversity conservation, toxicity, emigration, immigration, and transnational and trans-place networks, to name a few.

She is passionate about teaching, and regularly teaches Introduction to Anthropology, Theory in Anthropology, Global Environmental Justice, Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean and the Anthropology Senior Research Seminar. She currently co-chairs (with Dr. Emily Northrop) the Anthropocene Paideia Cluster (2014-2018) and regularly teaches a First Year Seminar "Race and Racism in a "Post-Racial" Age". She is committed to doing all that she can to promote social justice in her communities, and is a long term member of, and previously served for many years as Co-Chair of Southwestern's Diversity Enrichment Committee. She is also consistently involved with the Environmental Studies committee, serving as co-Chair (with Dr. Romi Burks) of that committee from Fall 2014-present.



Ph.D., University of Michigan 1998
B.A., Williams College 1984


Associate Professor of Anthropology
Southwestern University
August 01, 2004 - present

Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Southwestern University
August 01, 2005 - August 01, 2010

Assistant Professor of Anthropoogy
Southwestern University
August 01, 1998 - July 01, 2004

Teaching Philosophy

Previous Courses

Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean; Theory in Anthropology; Senior Seminar


Summer 2013. Four week research trip to Lemonal and Crooked Tree, Belize.

From 1990 to 2011--Long term ethnographic and historical research on the rural Belizean Creole communities of the Belize River Valley, and Crooked Tree Lagoon areas, including a residence in Crooked Tree and nearby communities between February 1993 and February 1996. Last visit, December 2009. Since 1996, ethnographic research conducted among the diaspora of these communities in the U.S. (primarily Texas and Chicago)

Summer 2009--Conducted historical research on the San Gabriel River in Williamson County, focusing on environmental and social changes as they manifest themselves in people's relationship to the River

2002 - 2003-- Conducted ethnographic research, supervised undergraduate anthropological research, and participated in an interdisciplinary team on questions of environmental justice and the meaning of landscapes on the U.S.-Mexico border at Matamoros, Mexico.


Creolized Conservation: A Belizean Creole Community Encounters a Wildlife Sanctuary. Anthropological Quarterly 88(1): 67-96.

Environment in James Carrier and Deborah Gewertz (eds.). Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology. London: Berg Publishers. 2013.

(with Emily Niemeyer) Ambivalent Landscapes: Environmental Justice in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands  Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal  36 (3): 371-382.  2008.

Racing Nature and Naturalizing Race: Rethinking the Nature of Creole and Garifuna Communities Belizean Studies, Special Issue: Colonialism and Nature in Belize (ed Joel Wainwright) 27(2/November): 43-56. 2005.

The Making of Race and Place in Nineteenth-Century British Honduras, Environmental History 8(4): 598-617. 2003

Seminars & Presentations

Invited and Sponsored Participant, Center for Race and Ethnicity conference Race, Place and Nature, part of Rutgers' Sawyer Seminar on Race, Place and Space in the Americas, Rutgers University. "Racing Nature in Belize" March 7-8, 2013

Co-organizer, Panel "Social Assemblages and the Pursuit of Nature in the Global Resource Economy," American Anthropological Association 112th Annual Meeting, November 14-18, 2012, San Francisco,

""Hunters, Ecotourists and Hicatee: Creolizing Socionature in Belize," for Panel "Social Assemblages and the Pursuit of Nature in the Global Resource Economy," American Anthropological Association 112th Annual Meeting, November 14-18, 2012, San Francisco.

"Creolized Natures in Belize" 37th Annual Caribbean Studies Association Conference, May 28-June 1, 2012, Le Gosier, Guadeloupe.

"Circulating Nature, Producing Belizean Creole Identity" for panel "Belize: Continuity and Change" American Anthropological Association 110th Meeting, November 17-21, 2010. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Honors & Awards

Joe S. Mundy Award for Exemplary Service, 2009

Southwestern University Senior Teaching Award, 2006.

Fulbright Grant for dissertation research in Belize, 1993-1994

Social Science Research Council/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Fellowship, for dissertation research in Belize, January 1993 - October 1994.

Inter-American Foundation Field Research Doctoral Fellowship, for dissertation research in Belize, January 1993 - October 1994.