I study society-environment dynamics with a focus on food. My work is rooted in political ecology, development studies, and food geography. My current research examines the food-water nexus, exploring how social vulnerability and justice issues arise at the interface of environmental governance and rural development. Before joining SLU I was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford from 2018 to 2020.
I have taught at Oxford (graduate courses on the political ecology of food and agriculture) and Penn State (undergraduate course on the geography of human-environment interactions).
My research examines how global processes of social and environmental change are experienced in places. I conduct case studies on the interface of rural development and environmental sustainability in agriculture and forest contexts. I aim to understand how rural transformation is unevenly experienced in terms of differential vulnerability, power, and adaptive capacity. My fieldwork combines ethnographic, qualitative, spatial, and quantitative methods.
My three ongoing projects include:
i) Food system sustainability transformation. This study considers the possibilities and contradictions in attempts to improve human wellbeing and environmental sustainability through the governance of agri-food systems. I focus on sustainability initiatives in dairy systems and plant-based ‘alternative proteins,’ assessing the forms of sustainability offered by alternative proteins and the political ecologies that they uphold.
ii) Uneven pathways of livelihood adaptation. This project considers vulnerability and adaptation to climate change amid the “new green revolution” in sub-Saharan Africa. Writing is based on fieldwork in Rwanda, where my research team explored the social-environmental processes by which uneven adaptation pathways are produced.
iii) Political ecology of plant disease. This emerging study focuses on the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa, whose 2016 emergence in Spain has transformed landscapes and livelihoods. The study uses a political ecology lens to examine the intersecting biophysical, social, and political processes that influence exposure, management, and vulnerability to Xylella as part of deeper trends of rural marginalization.
Ph.D. Geography, Pennsylvania State University
M.S. Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
B.S. Zoology, Michigan State University
B.A. English, Michigan State University
Clay, Nathan, Alexandra Sexton, Tara Garnett, and Jamie Lorimer. 2020. Palatable disruption: The politics of plant milk. Agriculture and Human Values, 37, 945–962.
Clay, Nathan and Karl Zimmerer. 2020. Who is resilient in Africa’s Green Revolution? Sustainable intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture in Rwanda. Land Use Policy 97,
Dickson, Elissa and Nathan Clay. 2020. Geopoetics as collaborative encounter: Performing poetic political ecologies of the Colorado River. In Geopoetics in Practice. Magrane, Eric et al. (eds.). Routledge.
Clay, Nathan and Kayla Yurco. 2020. Political ecology of milk: Contested futures of a lively food. Geography Compass 14(8), 1-18.
Clay, Nathan, Tara Garnett, and Jamie Lorimer. 2020. Dairy intensification: Drivers, impacts and alternatives. Ambio: Journal of the Human Environment. 49, 35–48.
Clay, Nathan. 2019. Fixing the Ecosystem: Conservation, crisis, and capital in Rwanda’s Gishwati Forest. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 2(1), 23-46.
Clay, Nathan and Brian King. 2019. Smallholders' uneven capacities to adapt to climate change amid Africa's ‘green revolution’: Case study of Rwanda's Crop Intensification Program. World Development 116, 1-14.
Clay, Nathan. 2018. Seeking justice in green revolutions: Synergies and trade-offs between large-scale and smallholder agricultural intensification in Rwanda. Geoforum 97, 352-362.
Clay, Nathan. 2018. Integrating livelihoods approaches with research on development and climate change adaptation. Progress in Development Studies 18(1), 1-17.
Clay, Nathan, Kayla Yurco, Arun Agrawal, and Lauren Persha. 2018. Ecosystem services in transitional forest landscapes: Shifting trajectories in southeast Michigan. Society and Natural Resources 31(4), 457-472.
Clay, Nathan. 2017. Agro-environmental change in African mountains: Shifting socio-spatial practices amid state-led commercialization in Rwanda. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 107(2), 360-370.
Clay, Nathan. 2016. Producing hybrid forests in the Congo Basin: A political ecology of the landscape approach to conservation. Geoforum 76, 130-141.