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Heather Anne Swanson


Heather Anne Swanson


Sub-fields of specialization: Environmental anthropology, cultural geography, environmental history, animal studies, science and technology studies, American West, modern Japan, as well as waters in other places, such as London canals and the Venetian Lagoon.

Specific areas of interest: Multispecies anthropology; human-nonhuman “globalizations”; projects of modernity in Japan, the United States, and Denmark; natural resource claims; concepts of sustainability; theoretical approaches to frontiers, borderlands, and contact zones; practices of comparison; experimental methodologies; the “Pacific Rim”; gender studies.

Center leadership:

Director, Aarhus University Centre for Environmental Humanities

Current research interests:

I am committed to describing entangled human and nonhuman lives in times of anthropogenic disturbance and environmental damage.

One of my long-term research projects focuses on tracing changes in salmon worlds in the North Pacific region. As part of this project, I have conducted fieldwork in Hokkaido, Japan, with shorter stints in Chile and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. My work has largely focused on the making of salmon populations in Hokkaido, a region cast as “Japan’s frontier” and widely compared to the American West. Bringing together environmental history, political ecology, and evolutionary biology, I have asked how Japanese desires for legibly “modern” landscapes literally make their way into the bodies of fish. In short, I have explored how Japanese approaches to fisheries management and salmon populations have co-evolved. At the same time, I have also tracked how globally circulating discourses of “wildness,” indigenous rights claims made by Japan’s Ainu people, and international trade in farmed salmon affect the evolutionary trajectories of Japanese salmon and the watersheds they inhabit. Lastly, this project has also probed how practices of cross-cultural comparison shape salmon lives and landscapes. You can learn more about this research via my book, Spawning Modern Fish: Transnational Comparison in the Making of Japanese Salmon, which is forthcoming from University of Washington Press in Summer 2022. 

I am fortunate to be the PI or co-PI of several ongoing environmental research projects, including:

- Ecological Globalization, a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Associate Professor Fellowship project

- Global Trout, funded by the Norwegian Research Council via the University of Oslo (with Knut Nustad)

- BLUE: Multispecies Ethnographies of Oceans in Crisis, funded by the Independent Research Council of Denmark (with Nils Bubandt)

- Strengthening Environmental Anthropology Research and Education Through Interdisciplinary Methods and Collaborations, funded by the Norwegian Research Council via the University of Oslo (with Knut Nustad)

I also engage in art-research collaborations with artist Sonia Levy, including work on London's canals (with the support of the arts organization Radar Loughborough) and the Venetian Lagoon (with the support of TBA21 and the EU STARTS for Water program). See more at http://www.sonialevy.net

I was also a part of Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA), a transdisciplinary research project headed by anthropologist Anna Tsing. As a member of AURA, I conducted collective fieldwork at a former brown coal mining site in central Denmark, that explored humans-nonhuman relations in damaged landscapes. Our team, predominately anthropologists and biologists, learned how to allow insights from significantly different disciplines to shape how we ask questions, design research projects, and craft articles. (For more details, see the project website here: http://anthropocene.au.dk; see also my publications on Anthropocene-related topics).

I am deeply committed to transdisciplinary methods, including collaboration with natural scientists, and I aim develop them within my own work. I have also experimented with laboratory research on otoliths, or fish ear bones, in an attempt to develop approaches for more-than-human fieldwork in cultural anthropology.

Rethinking domestication has also been a central part of my work. My reseach on salmon as well as on Danish coal mining shows the need to think about landscapes, not species as the objects of domestication. It also asks about intersections and tensions between narratives about domestication and the Anthropocene. From late August 2015 to June 2016, I was a part of a research project called “Arctic Domestication in the Era of the Anthropocene” (headed by Marianne Lien, Anthropology, University of Oslo) at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo, Norway. As part of this work, I co-edited a book with Lien and Gro Ween (University of Oslo) titled Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations (Duke University Press).

While much of my work links to environmental concerns, one of the joys of being an anthropologist is about being able to explore a wide range of topics. If you are a student who works on something outside of my focus area, but are still interested in my overall approach, you are very welcome to contact me.

Teaching and supervising:

I have taught bachelor’s and master’s courses on environmental anthropology/ Anthropocene studies, Japan, gender/feminist theory, and research methods. I supervise master’s students at Aarhus University in the Anthropology and Human Security programs.

Prior to my Ph.D. studies, I worked at a nonprofit organization focused on environmental science research and education, and I am passionate about sharing my experiences both within and outside of academia.


University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California. Ph.D. in Anthropology (Cultural) awarded June 2013. 

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. Bachelor of Arts Summa Cum Laude in Anthropology awarded June 2001. Phi Beta Kappa. Anthropology Departmental Prize. Princeton Environmental Institute Thesis Prize.

Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan, October 2009-September 2010. Research Student, Cultural Anthropology and History Faculty, Graduate School of Letters. 

Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama, Japan, September 2008-June 2009.

Other positions:

Part-time Researcher, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo

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