The Cost of Liquid Gold: Evaluating the Production of Palm Oil in Ecuador

The production of palm oil—a key ingredient in biofuels as well as consumer products from chocolate to dish soap—has exploded over the last 40 years, much of it in large-scale, corporate-run plantations that are a hallmark of a new global land grab for food and fuel production. The social and environmental cost of so-called “liquid gold” has been steep. Charges of modern forms of slavery and widespread deforestation have marred the industry, which critics contend harkens to an earlier era of colonial commodity production. This historical political ecology study examines the latest frontier of palm oil production—Latin America—through multi-sited research in two palm-oil-producing regions in Ecuador, the globe’s sixth largest producer. By examining changing patterns of land tenure, commodity chains, labor regimes, and community resistance, this research asks how and with what effects is the palm oil boom in Latin America reworking historical relationships among land tenure, labor, and local ecologies?


Environmental Justice in Multispecies Worlds

Together with Caroline Gottschalk-Druskche (English, UW–Madison), Elizabeth Hennessy co-directs a trans-disciplinary working group on Environmental Justice in Multispecies Worlds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The group supports junior scholars from a range of disciplines to develop projects at the underdeveloped nexus of political ecology and multispecies studies to address the core question of how humans and nonhumans might live together in a more just world.

Thanks to funding from the Borghesi Mellon program of the Center for the Humanities and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, the group hosts biweekly reading discussions and twice yearly day-long writing workshops with visiting scholars. In March 2020, the Center for Culture, History, and the Environment will host an international, graduate-student focused conference on Environmental Justice in Multispecies Worlds: Land, Water, Food. Watch for a CFP in September 2019. For more information, see

Political Ecologies of the Galápagos Archipelago

Since 2007, Elizabeth Hennessy has done research on the political ecologies of the Galápagos archipelago. Her work has focused primarily on giant tortoises as contested charismatic icons at the center not only of science, conservation, and tourism, but also a long-running history of natural-resource-based development in the islands as well as local debates about sustainable livelihoods. Her book on this work will be published in October 2019 by Yale University Press. More information HERE.