Featured Researcher: Rebecca Witter

Rebecca Witter is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Ecological and Environmental Anthropology at UGA and a student associate of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research. Following a year of field research in Mozambique, Witter can be found sitting securely behind her desk at CICR writing her dissertation – which is currently entitled Trees, Trails, and Traces of Transfrontier Territory:  Human Mobility and Resource Tenure in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park (subject to change).

Witter’s research examines how voluntary and involuntary migration and displacement shape customary resource tenure and territory in southern Africa, with a focus on Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park (LNP).  Established in 2001, the LNP is the Mozambican side of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park which also includes South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, and other conserved areas.  Witter conducted research in the LNP villages of Makandezulu A and Makandezulu B, located a few kilometers from the international border between Mozambique and South Africa.  Makandezulu residents are Tsonga/ Shangaan speaking and most refer to themselves as Maluleke or Nwanati people.  Residents have a history of movement due to labor opportunities and constraints, war, drought, and villagization, and they currently face resettlement from the park.  In particular, Witter’s dissertation investigates 1) the interrelated history of territorial interactions and resident mobility in the region 2) how LNP residents established access to fields and trees during a series of voluntary and involuntary mobility events and 3) the significance of the relationship between mobility and resource tenure to conservation related resettlement in southern Africa.

Witter’s research is shaped by theory on place, landscape, and political ecology and entrenched in oral history.  Since conducting her first oral history project in Greenville, North Carolina in 1993-1994, Witter has been interested in oral history research, not only for the intimacy, depth, and level of respect this type of inquiry provides to research participants and their experiences, but also because oral history data lends exactness, force, and visibility to important social patterns.  Since joining the Department of Anthropology at UGA in 2002, Witter has aimed to combine this interest in history with her high esteem for maps.  In collaboration with Tommy Jordan (CRMS at UGA), Witter has worked to integrate small scale, “fuzzy,” and temporally dynamic data and GIS.  She is excited about where this work is headed and looks forward to the opportunity to share her results with Makandezulu residents and LNP policy makers and practitioners.

Recently, Witter participated in the 2008 United Nations University Institute of Environment and Human Security Summer Academy on Environmental Change, Migration, and Social Vulnerability held in Hohenkammer, Germany.  There, she had the opportunity to collaborate with a dynamic, multidisciplinary group of international PhD researchers and to apply her work on issues of displacement in southern Africa to the problem of global environmental change and migration.  In the future, she hopes to become more engaged in issues of displacement in the face of global climate change and to shape policy development and implementation.  Witter’s research interests tend to gravitate toward questions of inequality, marginalization, and who ultimately pays the cost for political, socio-economic, and environmental decisions made at the national and international level.  After completing her PhD in May 2009, Witter plans to continue to build her career around these issues, and she’d like to try her hand at developing courses around and teaching these themes.