Pearson, T

Thomas Pearson

Social Science

Office: 318 Tainter Hall
Phone: 715/232-1515


PhD, Anthropology, State University of New York, Binghamton

MA, Anthropology, State University of New York, Binghamton

BA, Sociology, Trinity Christian College

Research Interests

My research interests include environmental politics and activism, social movements, the cultural construction of identity and difference, social conflicts over the meaning of rights and citizenship, and community-based organizing. I currently have two main research agendas:

Social Impacts of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin

Industrial sand mines have expanded rapidly in western Wisconsin, introducing new forms of environmental and social change to the region. These mines produce a special type of silica sand used within hydraulic fracturing technologies ('fracking') for natural gas extraction elsewhere in the country. Increased demand for 'frac sand' has spurred unprecedented development of sand mining in western Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. The costs and benefits of sand mining are often extensive, but distributed unequally. In this research, I am using ethnographic methods, such as participant observation and informal interviewing, to document how local communities are responding to these changes and inequities. First, I am interested in how various actors, such as citizens, local governments, and private companies, negotiate and contest the right to transform shared landscapes and exploit natural resources through mining. Second, I am exploring how the rapid expansion of industrial scale frac sand mining affects local democratic control over land use, natural resources, and decision making processes. Third, I am documenting how and why numerous local citizens groups have organized to address frac sand issues.

For more information about this project, please visit:

Some of my writing on this topic includes:

Some of my community presentations:

  • Presentation on "Frac Sand Mining, Citizen Involvement, and Local Democracy," at the Augusta Lions Club Hall, Augusta, WI, 6pm, April 17, 2013. Organized by Concerned Citizens of Bridge Creek. 
  • Presentation on sand mining for Chippewa Valley Learning in Retirement, Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum, Menomonie, WI, 3-5pm, March 27, 2013. 
  • Speaker, Community Environmental Forum on "The Impacts of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin," Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, UW-Madison, November 13, 2012.
  • Interviewed on the Joy Cardin Show, Wisconsin Public Radio, November 12, 2012.
  • Presentation about "Contested Landscapes: Frac Sand, Rural Wisconsin, and the Hydrocarbon Commodity Chain," UW-Barron Thursdays @ the U, November 8, 2012.

Presentations at academic conferences about this research: 

  • Presentation about "Mining for Frac Sand in Wisconsin: Local Democracy, Community Organizing, and the Politics of Landscape," session on Fracking and the Hydrocarbon Commodity Chain, Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, March 20, 2013.  
  • Presentation about "The Political Ecology of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin," session on Anthropological Engagements with Hydraulic Fracturing, American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, November 15, 2012.

Environmental Conflicts in Central America

Since 2006, I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America on environmental activism involving biodiversity conservation, genetically modified seeds, and intellectual property rights. A central question I have explored is why claims about nature and "biological life" have become increasingly important as political issues and for registering opposition to unpopular economic policies related to globalization. Aside from my dissertation, my recent publications on this theme include:

  • Pearson, T. 2013. "Life is Not for Sale!": Confronting Free Trade and Intellectual Property Rights in Costa Rica. American Anthropologist 115(1):58-71.
  • Pearson, T. 2012. Transgenic-free territories in Costa Rica: Networks, place, and the politics of life. American Ethnologist 39(1):90-105.
  • Pearson, T. 2011. Naturaleza, neoliberalismo, y soberanía: la vida como espacio de lucha en Costa Rica. Biocenosis 24(1-2):45-53.
  • Pearson, T. 2010. A soberania e a vida em si: a critíca ambientalista da propriedade intelectual na Costa Rica. In Do regime de propiedade intelectual: estudos antropológicos. Ondina Fachel Leal e Rebeca Hennemann Vergara de Souza, eds. Nicole Isabel do Reis, trans. Pp. 263-278. Porto Alegre: Tomo Editorial.
  • Pearson, T. 2009. On the Trail of Living Modified Organisms: Environmentalism Within and Against Neoliberal Order. Cultural Anthropology 24(4):712-745.

Courses Taught

ANTH 220: Cultural Anthropology

SOC/ANTH/GEO 290: Global Political Ecology

ANTH 310: Latinos in the United States

ANTH/SOC 395: Social Movements in Global Perspective

ANTH 400: Applied Anthropology

Pearson, T