Melissa Johnson

Notable Achievements

Professor of Anthropology Melissa Johnson’s book Becoming Creole: Nature and Race in Belize was published by Rutgers University Press on Nov. 1 in their Critical Caribbean Studiesseries. Use code 02AAAA17 for a 30% discount here. You can also find it on Amazon.

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Expertise

Topical: Nature, the non-human and the human; Race and Racism; Environment; Conservation; Development; 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 issues (most currently framed as the human and the more-than-human), race and gender, and the Caribbean and Latin America. She focuses most of her research on Belize’s Afro-Caribbean Creole population. Her book, Becoming Creole: Nature and Race in Belize, is coming out in November 2018 with Rutgers University Press (2018). The book explores how people become who they are in relationship to the natural worlds in which they live; and how these relationships in turn are always entangled in processes of racialization. Her analysis focuses on Creole communities in northern and central Belize. She has also published on the intersections of race and environment in the history of Belize, conservation as a process of creolization in Belize, and a recently accepted article on gender, race and ecotourism. Future projects include a multi-species analysis of jaguar-human becomings in Belize, a project on rural Belizean entanglements with climate change, theorizing race as simultaneously materially present and socially constructed, rethinking the human through the human-cashew relationship in Belize, and critically considering swamps as a site of relational living. She also has plans to work with students on Southwestern University’s historical roots in slavery, indigenous genocide and other processes of racial exclusion. 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 Cultural Anthropology, Theory in Anthropology, Global Environmental Justice, Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean and the Anthropology Senior Research Seminar. She regularly teaches a First Year Seminar “Understanding Race and Racism,” and often teaches May Term classes in her research areas (Race, Nature, and more!)  She is committed to doing all that she can to promote social justice in her communities. She chairs the Race and Ethnicity Studies program, and has served as a member and leader of Southwestern’s Diversity Enrichment Committee for many years. She has also been consistently involved with the Environmental Studies committee, and is a program committee member this academic year.

She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (Anthropology) in 1998 and her B.A. from Williams College (Biology with concentration in Environmental Studies) in 1984.

Johnson has also received multiple awards including the Joe S. Mundy Award for Exemplary Service in 2009 and the Southwestern University Senior Teaching Award in 2006.

  • Dr. Johnson is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in environmental issues (most currently framed as the human and the more-than-human), race and gender, and the Caribbean and Latin America. She focuses most of her research on Belize’s Afro-Caribbean Creole population. Her book, Becoming Creole: Nature and Race in Belize, is coming out in November 2018 with Rutgers University Press (2018). The book explores how people become who they are in relationship to the natural worlds in which they live; and how these relationships in turn are always entangled in processes of racialization. Her analysis focuses on Creole communities in northern and central Belize. She has also published on the intersections of race and environment in the history of Belize, conservation as a process of creolization in Belize, and a recently accepted article on gender, race and ecotourism. Future projects include a multi-species analysis of jaguar-human becomings in Belize, a project on rural Belizean entanglements with climate change, theorizing race as simultaneously materially present and socially constructed, rethinking the human through the human-cashew relationship in Belize, and critically considering swamps as a site of relational living. She also has plans to work with students on Southwestern University’s historical roots in slavery, indigenous genocide and other processes of racial exclusion. 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 Cultural Anthropology, Theory in Anthropology, Global Environmental Justice, Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean and the Anthropology Senior Research Seminar. She regularly teaches a First Year Seminar “Understanding Race and Racism,” and often teaches May Term classes in her research areas (Race, Nature, and more!)  She is committed to doing all that she can to promote social justice in her communities. She chairs the Race and Ethnicity Studies program, and has served as a member and leader of Southwestern’s Diversity Enrichment Committee for many years. She has also been consistently involved with the Environmental Studies committee, and is a program committee member this academic year.

    She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (Anthropology) in 1998 and her B.A. from Williams College (Biology with concentration in Environmental Studies) in 1984.

    Johnson has also received multiple awards including the Joe S. Mundy Award for Exemplary Service in 2009 and the Southwestern University Senior Teaching Award in 2006.

  • 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 to 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.

    Grants Awarded for Research

    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.

  • Gender, Race and Ecotourism Assemblages in Rural Creole Belize. Bulletin of Latin American Research (forthcoming)

    Becoming Creole: Nature and Race in Belize. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2018

    Creolized Conservation: A Belizean Creole Community Encounters a Wildlife Sanctuary. Anthropological Quarterly 88(1): 67-96. 2015.

    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

  • 2018  “Becoming Creole: Human being otherwise in the midst of Racial Capitalism” for session “In and Against Racial Capitalism and Environmental Injustice: Spaces of Resistance and Collective Being” American Anthropological Association 118th Meeting, San Jose, California, November 2018. (awaiting acceptance).

     2018  “Human Being otherwise: Commoning, Blackness and Freedom in Belize” for panel series “The Commons, Commoning and Co-Becoming”  American Association of Geographers.  New Orleans, April 10-14, 2018.

     2017 “The Everyday Politics of Whiteness in Belize,” for Session “Everyday Calculations of Whiteness in Latin America” American Anthropological Association 117th Meeting, Washington, D.C, November 2017.

     2016 “Belizean Becomings: Nature, Race and Rural Creole Worlds” for Session, “More-than-Human, Part II: Intersections Theoretical and Otherwise,Political Ecology Society/Society for Applied Anthropology 76th Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC, March 29-April 2, 2016.

    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.