My research platform focuses on understanding how ecological, social, and economic systems interact to support or hinder environmental and social justice. I am an interdisciplinary ecologist with training that spans ecology, sociology, education, and the arts. My unique background and training have formulated my systems approach to socio-ecological challenges to better understand how conservationists and development practitioners can foster sustainable livelihoods. The following objectives incorporate my topical research interests, my commitment to transdisciplinary research and my desire and commitment to mentor students:
- Advance research on environmental and social justice through investigating the interplay of climate change, food (in)security, violence, and migration.
- Contribute to an evidence-base for interventions in environmental and social justice.
- Develop a platform for the inclusion of undergraduates in international research and service learning.
Below are three examples of recent presentations from my research. Please visit the CV and Publications page to access scholarly journal articles and technical papers from my research.
Title: "Silence is not always golden: Reciprocal peer interviews as a participatory research method for sensitive subjects and vulnerable populations
Abstract: Interviews and focus groups are seminal core methodologies in the social sciences. However, how does a researcher elicit meaningful information when interviews and focus groups result in silence? This problem occurs in many settings but is prevalent when engaging youth, hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, or when asking sensitive questions. This presentation will discuss the use of reciprocal peer interviewing (RPI) when researching violence in Honduras with vulnerable youth. RPIs are a participatory data collection and research method wherein participants act in dyads to interview one another without the researcher present. The RPIs conducted for this study resulted in a richness and depth to the interviews through attuning to the influence of a researcher on power, social location, and the social process inherent in a traditional interview process. The presentation will include the methodological advantages and disadvantages to the RPI method, arguing that RPIs are a powerful and promising alternative to traditional research methodologies.
February 09, 2021: Presented to Tropilunch, a weekly seminar series of the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD) in University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies.
Title: Family, Food, Fear or Finances? Migration as a livelihood strategy in response to environmental, socio-political, and economic upheaval in Honduras
Abstract: This presentation highlights the results of the Rural Livelihoods, Violence, and Migration Study (RLVS) financed by USAID/Honduras. We will focus on the migration (rural-to-urban and transnational) results of the study. The purpose of the mixed-methods RLVS study was to examine the systems relationships between changing rural livelihoods, perceptions of livelihood opportunities, and pathways into violence and migration. Our study looked at 67 variables through 4,300 school-based surveys, 700 household surveys, and over 150 hours of qualitative recordings (interviews, focus groups, and reciprocal peer interviews) across five municipalities in Western Honduras. Through statistical modeling our results show that community support, availability of on-farm jobs, community security, and food security interact to predict intention to migrate in the rural and peri-urban population. The qualitative results provide important context into the modeling results. For example, Hondurans are very aware of the dangers of migration, the negative perceptions of migrants, and the low chance of success. However, the impacts of climate-driven collapse of agricultural production and the resulting high levels of food insecurity and poverty far outweighs the risks associated with transnational migration.
October 27, 2020: Presented to Tropilunch, a weekly seminar series of the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD) in University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies.
Title: Documenting socio-economic-ecological collapse in rural Honduras: preliminary results from research into the linkages between climate change, violence, and migration
Abstract: Currently in the United States everywhere we look we see headlines such as “Desperate Migrants on the Border” (New York Times, 09/29/2019), “Who’s responsible for the border crisis?” (The Boston Globe, 06/20/2019), and “Migrant Crisis Is Moving South to Mexican Border Towns” (NPR, 08/12/2019). The “migration crisis” has governments, development organizations, and the public in an uproar over what is causing the migration, who is at fault, and what should be done about it. In this talk, Dr. Williams will present preliminary findings from new research into the systems relationship between food insecurity, climate change, youth unemployment, the perceived value of education, epistemic violence, masculinities, the breakdown of community, and how these issues are resulting in migration as a primary livelihood strategy. This is occurring within the context of weak and corrupt government institutions, extreme poverty, and powerful gang and narcotrafficking organizations whose influence reach far beyond the urban landscape. The three qualitative case studies that will be presented illustrate the dominant issues that are reflected on a wide scale in the five municipalities selected for the study (Intibucá, Ocotepeque, Santa Barbara, Marcala, and Nueva Arcadia) and point to the connection between social, economic, and ecological collapse as the driving force behind transnational migration from rural Honduras.
October 10, 2019: This special lecture was organized by the Master of Sustainable Development Practice program, Tropical Conservation and Development program, Centre for African Studies, and Center for Latin American Studies at UF.