Anthony James Bebbington

Anthony James Bebbington

Winner of the 2010 Robert McC. Netting Award

Anthony (Tony) Bebbington defended his dissertation in 1990 in the presences of a number of new graduate students who had just joined the Clark program and most of whom would subsequently become CAPE members.  His dissertation research had moved from the Peruvian Andes to Chimborazo Province, Ecuadorbecause the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) had made research too dangerous.  Well into his Peruvian research, both a Sendero column and subsequently counter-insurgency troops had become active in the area in which he worked.  Tony realized that his presence might threaten the people with whom he was working, as well as himself.  Such circumstances would be daunting for most; Tony picked up and started again with minimal complaints, at least directed to those at this home institution.  His defense of that “second” research effort set high standards for the group of graduate students observing, demonstrating a set of attributes that many of them would aspire to achieve: a deep appreciation for multiple ways problem framing and knowing, in-depth understanding of indigenous institutions relevant for environment-development themes, and clear intent to make research useful beyond the halls of academia.  It is precisely these qualities that vaulted Tony into a distinguished professional career, emerging as an internationally renowned expert in sustainable rural development. He has spent the past twenty years combining field work on local human-environment complexities, characteristic of cultural and political ecology, with attention to major concepts and themes emanating from development and the social sciences. The result has been a remarkable career that has made Tony Bebbington a most worthy recipient of the 2010 Robert McC. Netting Award.

Tony was raised in Staffordshire, England and began his higher education at Cambridge University, where he earned Class I distinction in Geography/Land Economy. With the help of others, B. L. Turner II recruited Tony, who had been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the U.S., away from Harvard to Clark University, where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. Tony returned to Cambridge University as a Research Officer (1989-92) before becoming a Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (1992-94) and then a Research Associate at the International Institute for Environment and Development (1994-95). Moving back to the US to get married, Tony worked for the World Bank (1995-96) before re-joining academia in 1996 at the University of Colorado (1996-2003) and then the University of Manchester (2003-2010), where he held several positions including Director of Research in the School of Environment and Development, Associate Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, and Research Director of the Institute for Development Policy and Management.  He has also held several affiliations with universities and NGOs in Peru and Ecuador and is currently Research Associate of the Peruvian Centre for Social Studies in Lima. In the summer of 2010, Tony returned to Clark University to assume the Directorship of the Graduate School of Geography as the Milton P. and Alice C. Higgins Professor of Environment and Society.

Tony Bebbington’s research is registered in 17 books, including edited collections (6 in Spanish), more than 65 peer-reviewed articles, 65 book chapters and other articles, and numerous reports with a variety of NGOs and think-tanks.  The substance of this work has been drawn mostly, but not solely, from field work inEcuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, and its content directed to pioneering themes for the fields of cultural/political ecology, environment and development, and, most recently, sustainability. His research on human-environment systems has focused on four overlapping themes: development, governance, interactions across scales, and sustainable livelihoods. What comes through consistently in Tony’s work is that he is particularly adept at showing how structural conditions interact with institutions and agency to shape development outcomes. Using the concepts of local knowledge, transnationalism, networks, and social capital, Tony has made numerous insights into how structural conditions are negotiated by local actors in specific environments. For example, he has shown that peasant livelihoods must be understood as combined cultural and productive strategies and their attendant organizations used for both political expression and livelihood enhancement.. His research on NGO aid chains and transnational development networks has demonstrated how transnational institutions commonly fail to understand the livelihood realities of disadvantaged populations, which in turn, has implications for development policies and practices. Tony’s latest research on institutions and extractive economies in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador makes the point that when resource extraction occurs before appropriate institutions are in place sustainable livelihoods are unlikely, but ironically, social conflict can create the conditions for institutional innovation.  The rich understanding embedded in his research and the ideas that emerge from it have captured the attention of scholars in such diverse fields as political science, sociology, anthropology and the agricultural sciences.

Problem formation for Tony resides at the nexus of conceptual themes and real-world practice, thus bridging the science-practice divide and gaining the attention of scholars and practitioners.  In regard to practice, his research has influenced an impressive diversity of audiences, including World Bank economists, indigenous activists, and NGO/development programs and workers worldwide, proving that he is just as effective and skilled in a Washington-based think tank or international aid agency as he is in rural Peru or in the corridors of academia. It is no surprise then that his work has helped spawn a rethinking of policy and programs—typically with an eye on the role of indigenous institutions—within the Inter-American Foundation, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank, and variousNGOs[AJB1] .  Indeed, his most recent work on mining and sustainability in the Andes, shared with his former students, has led to his appointment as an adviser toEl Salvador on such matters. In regards to scholarship, Tony has been pivotal in introducing concepts and themes emerging from social theory into the formal development process, and examining those concepts and themes in the “natural experiments” of the field. Social capital, social and institutional networks, governance have all been examined in various ways, lending insights into our understanding of common property resources, sustainable development, and resource management.Tony’s success thus shines a most positive light on CAPE within and beyond academia, and his ability to garner so much respect from diverse perspectives and professions is both laudable and rare.

These qualities, which have distinguished his work from at least the dissertation stage, have been highly regarded and rewarded by multiple organizations and institutions. In addition to his Fulbright and Inter-American Foundation pre-dissertation awards, selected as a Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Professional Research Fellow, Economic and Social Research Council (UK), Academic Fellow, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and, in 2009, elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), making him the youngest geographer in that institution at this time.

This last point may prove especially important. The contributions we noted have been achieved in the first 20 years of his professional career. We are fortunate because, undoubtedly, Tony has much more to accomplish and many more years to do it.  Finally, his achievements notwithstanding, Tony has kept his humility and remains as unassuming as ever, a personal quality of Robert McC. Netting who would have taken special pleasure in observing the same in recipients of awards in his name.

Brad Jokisch and B. L. Turner II, 2010


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