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. Lately I've been working on community asset mapping in my courses, and over the next year I hope to develop some GIS courses for the Sustainability Studies program.

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; and a constructive engagement with environmental governance and policy, specifically around the role of markets in driving socio-environmental change.  

I'm currently in the early stages of developing a research project that unpacks Chicago's role in the global fossil fuel economy. Inspired by William Cronon's seminal work on Chicago - Nature's Metropolis - the project examines the relations between city and hinterland in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, focusing specifically on the commodities and infrastructure that enable fossil fuel production, distribution, and consumption. Whereas Cronon described the ways in which capital, wheat, timber, livestock, and railroads intersected in Chicago to redefine the relationship between city and country, nature and society, this project focuses on pipelines, rail, refineries, and more obscure commodities like silica sand as constituting the socioecological relations that define Chicago’s role in the ‘hydrocarbon industrial complex’. Also shaping these commodity flows are social struggles for environmental justice, green jobs, and landscape conservation and restoration. My goal is to shape this new environmental history of Chicago into several articles and eventually a book. 

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. I recently 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.

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