Graham Pickren

Graham Pickren
Assistant Professor of Sustainability Studies
College of Arts and Sciences
» Sustainability Studies
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About Me

I am a broadly trained human geographer with a variety of academic interests. I have taught on topics ranging from neoliberal urbanization to climate change to the cultural geographies of hip hop, and my teaching incorporates both theory and more 'practical' applied exercises. I recently developed a GIS courses for the Sustainability Studies program and hope to expand our offerings in this area over the next few years.

In terms of research, my areas of expertise converge around three interrelated themes:  an urban political ecology approach to the study of cities and nature; an interest in green political economy and debates about sustainability, particularly a Green New Deal; and the development of renewable energy infrastructure that is publicly-owned.

I'm currently working on a research project that unpacks Chicago’s place in the global movement of fossil fuels, highlighting the conflicting relationship between the growth of pipelines and refineries in the region and contemporary efforts to restore ecologically sensitive prairies, wetlands, and forests in so called ‘deindustrialized’ zones of Chicago’s far south side. The newest phase of this research analyzes the impact of the Future Energy Jobs Act, a new Illinois law that mandates the development of renewable energy in the state. In particular, my interest is in the possibilities of community-based, decentralized renewable energy systems and the promise they hold for delivering energy justice to vulnerable communities.

Prior to this new project, over the past three years I have written papers on computing infrastructure and the physical, material conditions necessary to support a data-driven society. I find the 'Smart City' to be a fascinating construct, and much of my recent work has looked at the growth of data centers, particularly the way that the development of data centers tends to involve the repurposing of older, 'analog' infrastructure (buildings, roads, and rail) to suit the needs of new digital practices. 

I also hope to work more with community groups around environmental justice and leadership training. Since 2017, I have served as Program Coordinator for the Urban Ecology Field Lab at the Field Museum of Natural History. The 8-week Field Lab provides a space for participants (so far exclusively students attending four-year universities) to learn about urban ecology, train in social and ecological methods, and design and execute their own research projects in collaboration with institutions and community-based partners in Chicago, like the Chicago Park District, a major land manager in the city. The Urban Ecology Field Lab is a great example of experiential learning where student work goes beyond just being an exercise and actually helps contribute to social and ecological goals. 

I'm open to collaboration, so please contact me if you'd like.

Education
  • PhDGeography — University of Georgia
  • MAGeography — University of Georgia
  • BASociology — Virginia Commonwealth University
Degree Program Affiliations