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Sociology in the News

Fulbright Awarded for Graduate Research in Colombia

Fulbright Awarded for Graduate Research in Colombia

Tamra Gilbertson spent several years abroad as the co-director of Carbon Trade Watch, an environmental justice activist and research nonprofit organization, before deciding to return to the university in pursuit of her PhD. 

“Living and working abroad changed my life through a wide range of experiences and events, but I felt like something was missing,” Gilbertson says. “I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to study in a more institutional environment, but one that was committed to social and environmental justice.”

The Department of Sociology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, had exactly what Gilbertson wanted. Three years ago, she enrolled in the doctoral program. Next year, she will travel to Colombia on a Fulbright Fellowship to work on her dissertation. 

“Over the past three years at UT, I have gained a deeper knowledge of social theory, history, and research methods I think form a part of the mysterious missing pieces in my research,” Gilbertson says. “I hope to apply this newly acquired training to my research project in Colombia with the support of the Fulbright Fellowship.”

Gilbertson will investigate coal mining in Colombia to address the complex sociopolitical landscape of how large-scale resource extraction exemplifies socioeconomic and environmental conflicts at various scales.

"My goal is to understand the interconnected and conflicting impacts of the globalized economy, the role of the state, and experiences of impacted communities with a multi-scalar approach to the changing landscape of coal mining,” Gilbertson says. “This Fulbright will allow me to investigate these urgent questions in Colombia, where coal extraction and exports have increasingly become a key strategy for national economic development.”

By focusing on the macro economy, Gilbertson aims to bridge the methodologies of world-systems research with environmental and climate justice studies at the local level. 

“I hope to offer fresh insights to scholars studying extractivism, unequal exchange in world-systems studies, and environmental justice,” Gilbertson says. 

According to Jon Shefner, head of the Department of Sociology, Gilbertson is the first sociology graduate student to win a Fulbright Fellowship. 

“Tamra's Fulbright award is a terrific recognition of her work, but also an indication of our department's growing reputation for excellence, as evident by other recent awards and job placements,” Shefner says. 

Gilbertson is grateful for the support of faculty in the UT Department of Sociology and the University of Magdalena in Colombia. 

“The collaboration and ongoing support from both of these programs inspire my research,” Gilbertson says. “It was a difficult decision to leave my work with Carbon Trade Watch, but one that I do not regret. The commitment to social justice in the Department of Sociology is the reason I chose this program.”

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