My work addresses issues within and between the political economy of development, agrarian studies, social mobilization, land reform, and political ecologies of conservation.
My work draws upon and contributes to political economies of development, social movements and resistance, agrarian societies, political ecology, land use, land reform, and critical ethnography, all with a regional concentration in Latin America, particularly Brazil. For over fifteen years, I have worked with one of the most exciting and important grassroots social movements in Latin American history, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (the Movement of Rural Landless Workers, or the MST). From my work with the movement, I have developed the following projects: 1) an analysis of the historical relationships between land and labor that shape movement formation and maintenance in two distinct regions of Brazil: the relatively more developed South and the impoverished sugarcane region of the Northeast; 2) an ethnographic analysis of institutional culture, governance and land distribution in Brazil with a focus on the ways in which the politics of nostalgia, regret, solidarity and opposition shape the speed, nature and feasibility of land reform; 3) a critical evaluation of "participatory democracy " in the increasing articulations between the state and social movements in Latin America; and 4) an analysis of the shifting paradigms of farmer-led conservation and development in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. For more information, please see: Wendy Wolford`s Research Projects and Information.
Outreach and Extension Focus
In collaboration with a grade school teacher in Chapel Hill, NC, I have developed a two-week curriculum unit for the sixth grade on "rural development and citizenship in Brazil.` The unit covers the historical roots of landlessness and rural inequality in Brazil as well as the relationship between movements like the MST, property rights, and effective versus formal citizenship. Please see my research page to download this curriculum and use it in your own classroom.
One of my main inspirations is in teaching and working with undergraduate and graduate students. I am particularly interested in bringing research together with teaching, and to that end I encourage students to think critically about everything they read, write and experience. I teach courses in Development Theory at the undergraduate level and Development Theory, Qualitative Methods, Political Ecology, and Social Movements at the graduate level.