I completed my graduate studies at the University of Guelph, receiving my PhD in Development Geography (2013) and my MSc in Rural Extension Studies and International Development (2002). My undergraduate degree, a BES in Geography (1999), is from the University of Waterloo. Prior to joining Laurier, I was an Instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley where I taught eight to ten courses per year.
I am a development geographer broadly interested in the politics of socio-economic and environmental change, with thematic interests in political ecology, labour geography, and sustainable livelihoods. Regionally my research has primarily been in rural, low income areas, with a strong commitment to India, its professional research networks, and several rural communities in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Growing up in the rural outskirts of a Northwestern Ontario resource town fueled my passion to explore human-environment relations and processes of marginalisation. Early-on I recognized the injustices, barriers, and structural inequalities Indigenous and poor community members faced, community divisions (e.g. Non-Indigenous/Indigenous, rural/urban, European Settlers/South Asian Immigrants), and the relationship between the environment and people's identity and livelihoods. But I lacked the knowledge and language to effectively understand and articulate these issues. This lead me to gravitate toward mentors and scholarship within development geography.
The particular foci of my research and publications to date include sustainable livelihoods, agricultural and agrarian change, policy and development narratives, and labour geography. My PhD dissertation notably examined in-depth the impacts of agricultural policy liberalisation on India's important coconut economy and generated considerable empirical data. I conducted detailed ethnographic study (100+ in-depth interviews) and a quantitative survey (550+ household questionnaires) during my intensive 24 months of fieldwork, in two regions of the State of Kerala that offered a textured account of how liberalisation related to community development. These areas were selected for their regional differences, specifically their varying agrarian change, coconut production statistics, local ecologies, and social and political-economic histories. I argued how multiple ecological and political economy processes in Kerala informed its regional trajectory over 25 years.
My MSc research centred on community access and control over water supply and sanitation resources, community perceptions of sanitation and development, and evaluated the effectiveness of government policy and programs in rural Tamil Nadu, India. In particular I focused on the marginalisation of low caste communities (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled [Indigenous] Tribes) and the inherent inequality in service provision. I spent seven months living and working in a rural community, putting significant effort into forging strong relationships and navigating intercultural differences and language barriers. After completing my MSc I returned to the region under the auspices of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute/Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Youth Internship Program, dividing my time between research and community outreach on agro- forestry initiatives and extending my research on water supply and sanitation to two additional villages.
I am interested in expanding my work on the coconut economy of Kerala, embarking on a comparative study of Tamil Nadu. The long-term objective of my research is to establish a robust understanding of the politics of agrarian and livelihood change in South India, while developing mechanisms for tangible contributions within communities.
I am available to act as a committee member or co-advisor for Masters theses, and would be delighted to engage in various means of support throughout the process.
I am interested in supporting undergraduate honours thesis students. To date I have supervised the following:
Students, if you are curious to learn more about me and determine whether I would be a good fit to support your research please contact me. I would love to have a conversation about your ideas!
Blackman, T, Sportel, T.S. and Walton-Roberts, M. 2022. Placing Care Wrok in the Future of Work Discourse. Special Issue: New Technologies, Migration and the Future of Work. Glocalism: Journal of CUlture, Politics and Innovation. 3 (6): 1-31. doi: 10.12893/gjcpi.2022.3.
Sportel, T. and Véron, R. 2016. Coconut Crisis in Kerala? Mainstream Narrative and Alternative Perspectives. Development and Change. 47 (5): 1051-1077. doi: 10.1111/dech.12260.
Sportel, T. 2013. Agency within a Socially Regulated Labour Market: A Study of 'Unorganised' Agricultural Labour in Kerala. Geoforum. 47, 42-52. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.02.007.
Office location: Arts 3E17
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