Gordon Lewis Ulmer, PhD

I am an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Humboldt State University. My scholarship and pedagogy as a whole is centered on engaged and applied work in cultural anthropology, and my most recent projects have focused on environmental and public health, precarious labor, and global development with geographic foci on Andes-Amazonia and Central America.

My current research interests include: environmental health, illicit economies of labor, polluted waterscapes, ecological embodiment, disposability and precarity, critical discard studies, infrastructures, migration and work, green economies, surfing and public health, the Anthropocene, and urban ecologies.

Andes-Amazonia Peru

I have been conducting anthropological research in the Peruvian Amazon for over a decade. Funded by a Fulbright- Hays DDRA, my dissertation “Extraction, Conservation, and Household Multiplicity in the Peruvian Amazon” is an ethnographic study of contingent, informal labor in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios. Driven by theories of household ecology and social reproduction, my research brings to light how Andean migrant households creatively shift between formal employment in wildlife conservation and illicit labor in the extractive industries of gold mining and logging.

Río Asís, Triple Border Region (Peru, Brazil, Bolivia)

Green business entrepreneurs, environmental NGOs, and other influential social actors in the region frame extraction and conservation as “contradictory forces” to promote ecotourism and other market-based green initiatives as the best responses to unbridled resource extraction, assuming that the option to engage in a legal labor network will curtail work in illicit sectors. However, my research demonstrates that these efforts often ignore the lived experience of families who view illicit labor as a necessary pressure valve to provide a stable livelihood in a space where precarity and risk (both environmental and social) is a reality of daily life. 


Costa Rica

At my field site in Costa Rica, I have been collaborating with multiple interdisciplinary scientists, including microbiologists, marine scientists, engineers, and colleagues in Anthropology to examine impacts of wastewater pollution on human health in a recreational coastal area, with the goal of improving beach management and public health. You can read more about this collaborative applied research on the MERA website.



Humboldt County/Pacific Northwest

The research programs I am conducting internationally are well suited for spin-off projects in and around the Humboldt coastal region. My future research in the Pacific Northwest will take a political ecology perspective to understand and help address local environmental and public health issues related to pollution and waste, climate change, and other human consequences of changes to Earth’s planetary systems.