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Heather Anne Swanson

Associate Professor

Heather Anne Swanson


Sub-fields of specialization: Environmental anthropology, cultural geography, environmental history, animal studies, science and technology studies, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, American West, modern Japan.

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


Current research interests:

I am committed to describing entangled human and nonhuman lives in times of anthropogenic disturbance and environmental damage. One of my current research projects focuses on tracing changes in salmon worlds in the North Pacific region. As part of this project, I have conducted long-term 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 ask how Japanese desires for legibly “modern” landscapes literally make their way into the bodies of fish. In short, I explore how Japanese approaches to fisheries management and salmon populations have co-evolved. At the same time, I also track 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 also probes how practices of cross-cultural comparison shape salmon lives and landscapes. I am currently finishing a book manuscript based on this research.

I am 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 conduct collective fieldwork at a former brown coal mining site in central Denmark, that explores humans-nonhuman relations in damaged landscapes. Our team, predominately anthropologists and biologists, has been learning 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 recently experimented with laboratory research on otoliths, or fish ear bones, in an attempt to develop approaches for more-than-human fieldwork in cultural anthropology (see forthcoming article).

Lately, 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 will be 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. In addition, I am currently co-editing a book with Lien and Gro Ween (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo) on “provincializing” notions of domestication that have been central to Euro-American “progress” stories.

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. My side projects are diverse, and include such themes as: friendship, non-biological kin formations, critical pedagogy, and issues of race, class, and gender in the United States.


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 also supervise master’s students at Aarhus University. I enjoy advising students in the Anthropology and Human Security programs who are working on diverse topics linked to any of the interests described above.

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.


Education and prior affiliations:

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.

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