ON SABBATICAL 2023-2024
Guntra Aistara is an environmental anthropologist whose research lies at the intersection of political ecology, food sovereignty, and environmental justice. Her research interests include organic agriculture movements, agrobiodiversity and seed sovereignty, agroecology, permaculture, culinary heritage revivals, multi-species ethnography, and socio-ecological resilience of local food systems.
Her book Organic Sovereignties: Struggles over Farming in an Age of Free Trade (University of Washington Press, 2018) explores how organic agriculture movements in Latvia and Costa Rica have negotiated entry into free trade regions, such as the European Union (EU), and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), respectively. Situated on the frontiers of the European Union and the United States, these geopolitically and economically in-between countries, usually considered to be worlds apart, illustrate ways that international treaties have created contradictory pressures for organic farmers. Organic farmers in both countries build multispecies networks of biological and social diversity on their farms and struggle to create spaces of organic sovereignty within state and suprastate governance bodies. Organic associations in Central America and Eastern Europe face parallel challenges in balancing multiple identities as social movements, market sectors, and NGOs, while finding their place in nations reshaped by free trade, regionalization, and globalization. Reviews of the book can be found in Conservation and Society, Food Anthropology, Anthropologica, European Rural History Organisation, Journal of Peasant Studies, and Slavic Review.
Guntra is also co-editor and contributing author in the book The Ecolaboratory: Environmental Governance and Economic Development in Costa Rica (Fletcher, Dowd-Uribe, and Aistara, University of Arizona Press, 2020) . The book explores how Costa Rica, renowned for its exceptionalism within Central America, has balanced the contradictory demands of conservation and development, and what this reveals about current and future trends for environmental governance and sustainable development.
Guntra has recently contributed chapters to several other edited volumes: Moveable Gardens: Itineraries and Sanctuaries of Memory (edited by Nazarea and Gagnon, University of Arizona Press, 2021) ; Food Values in Europe (edited by Siniscalchi and Harper, Bloomsbury 2019) ; Agrobiodiversity: Integrating Knowledge for a Sustainable Future (edited by Zimmerer and de Hahn, MIT Press, 2019); and Food Culture and Politics in the Baltic States (edited by Mincyte and Plath, Routledge 2017). Further information on publications here.
Since 2021 Guntra is working on a project on Relational Baltic Sea Foodscapes and Seascapes on the Western coast of Latvia. This project seeks to investigate how coastal residents’ knowledge, fishing and food production practices, social and ecological relations, and sense of place have been transformed over the last century in the context of profound changes in political regimes, fisheries management structures, and climactic and ecological change. It explores how fisher and farmer abilities to use their skills to produce and procure foods have been contingent upon socio-ecological, political, and cultural factors such as interactions with seals and other species, climate change, and their own social status (gender, class, and other elements of power dynamics). The project is supported by the Faculty Research Support Scheme and the Latvian Foundation, run in collaboration with the Riga Stradiņš University Anthropology department, the Oral History project of the University of Latvia Philosophy and Sociology department, the Interdisciplinary Art Center SERDE.
Guntra Aistara is Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy. She holds a PhD from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment. She is co-founder of the Environmental and Social Justice Action Research Group, and a core member of the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative.
Office Hours: By appointment via e-mail