Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington
  • People

Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences
One Discipline, Four Fields

Catherine M. Tucker


Associate Professor, Anthropology Department
Associate Faculty, Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change (CIPEC)
Affiliated Faculty, Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis
Adjunct Courtesy Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA)
Faculty Associate, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT)


Field Schools: Heritage and Cultural Diversity in Oaxaca, Mexico

(812) 855-2555 | Email | Office Hours

  • Ph.D. in Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson (1996)
  • M.A. in Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1987)
  • B.A. in Interdisciplinary Major (Anthropology, Biology & Philosophy), Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota (1983)

Geographical Areas of Specialization: Honduras, eastern Guatemala, and Oaxaca, Mexico

Topical Interests: Ecological Anthropology, Political Ecology, Community Forestry, Collective Action, Common Property, Economic Development, Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, Latin America


Exploring human-environment interactions and evaluating possible approaches toward local and global sustainability constitute my central research interests. I am particularly interested in change processes and interactions linking people, forests and watersheds within complex social-ecological systems. A key component in my work is the study of the institutions (defined as the rules, norms and values) associated with local and multi-level collective action and development processes. Much of my work focuses on mountainous regions of Latin America, where I have been studying the challenges faced by agrarian populations to manage their natural resources sustainably and strengthen their resilience to economic and environmental stressors. To examine ongoing processes of change, I combine ethnographic fieldwork and survey methods with the techniques of remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). My research crosses disciplinary boundaries and involves collaborations with international colleagues working in the natural and social sciences. I am currently working on three interrelated research projects:

  1. Coffee farmers' adaptations to market volatility and environmental change in Central America and Mexico: Export coffee production represents a major economic activity for Mexico and Central American countries, and influences forest transformation trends. Changes in world coffee markets and price volatility are posing a challenge for coffee growers' livelihoods. Moreover, coffee plantations continue to make incursions into fragile watersheds and high biodiversity forests. These processes occur in a context of climate change that is disrupting weather patterns, and may be facilitating the spread of diseases and pests. The study aims to understand what adaptations appear to be most promising and sustainable for coffee producers and the natural environment.
  2. Community-based protected area management and water conservation: The potential for communities to create and manage strictly protected areas remains an understudied topic. I am examining the emergence and maintenance of the Montaña Campara Watershed Reserve in western Honduras. The reserve was created without national government involvement by three municipalities that share the mountain. The municipalities and their populations established the reserve despite conditions considered unfavorable to collective action, including border disputes and ongoing tensions among stakeholders. The reserve has experienced reforestation since its creation, which involved the peaceful and voluntary relocation of a number of farmers who had occupied the mountain. Current work is evaluating the institutional, cultural, economic and political dimensions of the reserve's creation and the difficulties associated with its management.
  3. The successes and shortcomings of alternative and fair trade certifications for coffee producers in Mexico and Central America: In recent decades, farmers have gained the opportunity to certify their coffee and other crops through a range of certifications (fair trade, organic, shade-grown, and others). Despite claims by certifying organizations, the outcomes and benefits of these certifications for farmers’ livelihoods and the environment remain unclear. This exploratory project involves teams of researchers in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. Following common protocols, the research combines detailed ecological assessment of certified and uncertified coffee plantations with interviews and surveys of producers, members of cooperatives, representatives of certifying organizations, and technical experts. Through a multi-leveled, cross-national and comparative approach, the project aims to provide initial insights and directions for future research on how coffee certifications influence producers’ lives and environmental conditions

These projects intersect with broader interests in globalization, food production, and consumption practices as critical dimensions in societal and ecological processes. Together these areas of research inform my theoretical and practical curiosity to identify contexts and opportunities that may foster greater sustainability and equity.

Selected Publications


2012 Nature, Science and Religion: Intersections shaping society and the environment. Edited volume. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research (SAR) Press.

2010 Coffee Culture: Local Experiences, Global Linkages. Anthropology of Stuff Series. New York: Routledge Press.

2008 Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property and Coffee in Honduras. New York: Springer Academic Press. Now available online at IUCAT

Selected Publications

2014 Tucker, C. M. Creating equitable water institutions on disputed land: A Honduran case study. Water International 39(2):216-232.

2013 Eakin, H., C. M. Tucker, E. Castellanos, R. Diaz-Porras, J. F. Barrera, H. Morales. Adaptation in a Multi-stressor Environment: Perceptions and responses to climatic and economic risks by coffee growers in Mesoamerica. Environment, Development and Sustainability. Published online June 2013. URL:

2012 Tucker, C. M. “Smallholder Coffee Farmers, the Coffee Crisis and Neoliberal Policy: Disjunctures in Knowledge and Conundrums for Development.” In Central America in the New Millennium: Living Transition and Rethinking Democracy. J. Burrell and E. Moodie, eds.  Pp. 163-180. Oxford, UK: Berghahn Books.

2010 Tucker, C. M. “Private Goods and Common Property: Pottery Production in a Honduran Lenca Community.” Human Organization 69(1):43-53.2009 

2010  Tucker, C. M., H. Eakin, and E. Castellanos. “Perceptions of Risk and Adaptation: Coffee producers, market shocks and extreme weather in Central America and Mexico.” Global Environmental Change (2010) 20:23-32. Published online August 2009 URL:

2008 Tucker, C. M., J. C. Randolph, T. Evans, K. P. Andersson, L. Persha, and G. M. Green. “An approach to assess relative degradation in dissimilar forests: toward a comparative assessment of institutional outcomes.” Ecology and Society 13(1): 4. [online] URL: