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Ashley Carse

Assistant Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development


Professor Carse is a cultural anthropologist focused on the intersection of culture, technology and ecology. His research is interdisciplinary in orientation, bridging anthropology, geography, environmental studies, and science and technology studies. He has carried out long-term, community-based fieldwork in Panama, the southeastern United States, and, increasingly, along transnational transportation networks. Across these locations, he uses ethnographic and historical methods to study infrastructure projects (water systems, roads, canals, ports, dredging) as sites where communities debate priorities and make value-laden decisions about how the benefits and burdens of economic development will be distributed across space, race, class, and ecosystems. His first project explored the implications of remaking nature as infrastructure. The resulting book, Beyond the Big Ditch: Politics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal (MIT 2014), recasts the story of the iconic waterway from its rural margins. It shows how the reorganization of the surrounding watershed as an infrastructure to optimize the fresh water supply used to move ships between the seas transformed Panamanian landscapes and livelihoods. Since then, he has written extensively about infrastructure and society, including publications on the history of the infrastructure concept, water management and drought, transportation chokepoints, time and temporality, dredging, and the changing work of maritime ship pilots. He is currently working on three research projects: 1) port development and the political ecology of global supply chains; 2) urban heat, climate change, and inequality; 3) reimagining regional food infrastructure for sustainable, equitable transitions. You can read more about the research and access some publications at


Professor Carse teaches Global Dimensions of Community Development at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This course provides students with an opportunity to explore international development in theory and practice, focusing on debates around efforts to expand opportunities, raise living standards, and improve well-being. He also teaches Global Sustainable Development at the undergraduate level. In this course, students analyze society-environment relations across spatial scales (from local to global) using approaches drawn from multiple academic disciplines and professional fields. He teaches Ethnographic Research Methods in Communities at the graduate level. Ethnography is a fieldwork-based, qualitative research and writing process that is employed by social scientists, non-profit organizations, businesses, and community groups seeking to understand (and, in some cases, transform) sociocultural phenomena.

Community Engagement:   

Professor Carse is committed to community-based research. In Panama, he facilitated community workshops to foster dialogue around contentious environment and development issues. He also seeks to advance more inclusive policy and planning dialogues on infrastructure and democracy more broadly by writing for interdisciplinary audiences and communicating findings to the public. To this end, his new research explores how communities articulate and pursue transitions to more sustainable and equitable futures in a changing world.

Representative Publications