Since the inception of the Forum in the spring of 2013, our goal has been to increase connections between graduate students and faculty working on environmental research, both here at UCSD and in our region more broadly. We aim to influence the quality and communicability of increasingly important environmental sciences, social sciences, and humanities by creating a community of engaged scholars who can discuss wide ranges of topics, constructively critique diverse kinds of projects, and see the regional connections to their work.

A fundamental part of learning the specificity of our region amongst these often global or abstract environmental research programs is widening our sense of community to include our neighbors in Baja California. A central goal of our collaboration is the production of a binational network of scholars working in the San Diego-Tijuana bioregion, understanding that many of our social and ecological systems are elaborately and inextricably entwined. Our effort has been to match the reality of interconnection within our region with an epistemological shift to understanding our common reliance on natural systems and the practical, everyday practices that connect us socially.

In our third year of operation we seek to sharpen the point of this binational collaboration through partnering with the Center for US-Mexico Relations at UCSD. To facilitate this new partnership, as well as capitalize on our agreement with the Maestría de Administración Integral del Ambiente (MAIA) program at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, we will devote 2015-2016 to a specific set of themes organized around the question: ‘What is the Nature of Borders?’ We want to stress the ambiguity of this question towards disciplinary approaches, but also the challenge it presents to locate research in the community and the region. At once, this theme is a reflection of our focus on San Diego and Tijuana as natural partners, and at the same time it is a challenge to rigid disciplinary boundaries which divide and at times impede recognition and solution of social-ecological problems.

Rather than purely divisive entities, we propose to see national and disciplinary boundaries as gathering forces for engaged social and ecological research in our region. This task, broadly construed and interpreted through many different disciplinary perspectives, will provide the foundation of our continued collaboration and pursuit of innovative answers to local and global ecological problems


We seek to create, encourage, and publish innovative work in ecological research blending cutting edge scientific study with cultural and social studies working on policy, economics, international relations, literature, social movements, history, communications, etc.

We feel that many of the normal channels for research regarding environmental issues are either vertically siloed by department or horizontally linked by specific problems, but that the transition between these two types of research is challenging.

The point of this group is to collapse this distance by providing a space for integration of different disciplinary vocabularies and epistemic cultures which are addressing common problems related to environmental degradation. We seek to accelerate the growth of cutting edge cross-disciplinary research by creating a dedicated space for consistent cross-disciplinary interaction.

It is our opinion that the kinds of social-ecological challenges faced in our contemporary world require this new kind of academic who can speak across and work with other traditions and vocabularies; who seeks out common problems and mobilizes the resources available at the research university to make the world (both humans and the nonhuman world) safer, healthier, and more resilient. We imagine our effort as a coordinating force in this new multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary research program.


At the end of its second year and sixth quarter in operation, the Interdisciplinary Forum on Environmental Research has coordinated, hosted, and catered 30 meetings of different formats, each putting diverse disciplinary expertise in conversation with fellow researchers from across the academic spectrum and national borders.

In our first year, as the Critical Ecologies Research Forum (CERF) we held primarily graduate student research presentations and faculty panel events, and began our working relationship with the students of the Maestría en Administración Integral del Ambiente at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, Mexico. We held 15 events touching on different themes and research programs of students and faculty working on environmental challenges, ranging from fisheries science and management, to the role of indigenous knowledge in the creation of scientific and economic understandings, to the under-studied aspects of our cities’ urban ecology, to the influence of religion and tradition on the study of the environment. This included two events held at the beautiful campus at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

In our second year, we adjusted to input from ecologists in our team and rebranded as the Interdisciplinary Forum for Environmental Research (IFER). We held a mixture of expert panels, graduate student-led workshops, and a few invited keynote speakers. Our topics have included: the use and art of photography in conservation, premiere showings of documentary features, intimate workshops on geoengineering and animal welfare, a session reading and discussing science fiction, and several assorted presentations from visual artists, political theorists, and participants in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties.

These two years have imparted a wealth of coordinating experience for our conveners and provided a vital resource for expanding the resources and perspectives of a diverse group of graduate students who would not necessarily have met in the traditional structure of academic study here at UCSD. Our openness and flexibility towards themes and formats have allowed us to maintain good attendance and interesting speakers, whether for small workshops with around 10 participants or speaker events with over seventy attendees. Through this flexible structure, we have insisted throughout all of our formats on the centrality of open discussion, reserving half of each of our sessions for question and answer and discussion.

What we are perhaps most proud of accomplishing so far, however, is that we have given an opportunity to students from both sides of the international border between the US and Mexico to experience the institutions and culture of their neighboring country, and to learn about how our approaches to solving and studying social-ecological problems differ based on our trainings and perspectives. Providing access to resources at Scripps, UCSD, and COLEF, we have attempted to create a binational academic community of researchers, broadening the focus of each individual institution to include all those who live in our region, regardless of language or nationality. This is not a panacea for addressing regional problems, clearly. But it is a first step towards approaching them together, with a vision that gathers the perspective of many different parties regardless of the social and cultural barriers that separate the flow and pulse of natural systems across, above, and around the border fence dividing our communities.

In 2015-16:

Drawing on the last two years of events and strengthened by new collaborations, our research question this year takes on a more specific grain. We propose a year-long focus at two levels.

At a broad level, our question is ‘What is the Nature of Borders’? Specifically, however, we want to also ask ‘How can we understand the San Diego-Tijuana region as social and ecological partnership?’

Considering the ‘Nature of Borders’ in both broad theoretical and specific scientific context requires understanding the boundaries created by traditional academic disciplines as well as the effects of the physical border dividing national sovereignties. It is our conviction that our region has in microcosm many of the global issues underlying the continued degradation of ecosystems—issues of violence, immigration, economic globalization, and radical social inequality that are often neglected in unreflective environmental management which assumes that nature is ‘out there’ rather than radically intertwined with social and economic factors. From across disciplinary and national perspectives, we hope to enrich environmental research by cross-pollinating the different disciplinary perspectives and setting them to root in the local community through intense exposure to local issues.

Web Resources:


Center for the Humanities, UC San Diego, La Jolla, US.

Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, US.

Maestría de Administración Integral del Ambiente (MAIA), El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana, MX

Center for US-Mexico Relations, School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), UCSD, La Jolla, US.

Mobile Knowledges and Cultures of the Commons research group, UCSD Center for the Humanities.


  • Ben van Overmeire – Literature
  • Kyle Haines – Political Science
  • Yassir Eddebbar – Scripps
  • Lauren Linsmayer – Scripps
  • Natasha Gallo – Scripps

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