Faculty Profile: Dr. Nik Heynen

January 9, 2023

Dr. Nik Heynen is a Distinguished Research Professor at the Department of Geography, University of Georgia. His research targets the concurrent effects of the social constructs of race, class, and gender on the creation of geographical inequalities and has important implications for social and environmental justice. By focusing on the ways social movements identify and secure resources for communities, Dr. Heynen’s work emphasizes and strengthens the connections between the university and society. His expertise includes racial and economic justice, political ecology, urban social movements, social reproduction, racial capitalism, and hunger/food studies. His collaborative research in political ecology – particularly urban political ecology and the relationships between material urban conditions and social, political, and economic processes – has been widely cited in the academic literature.

Dr. Heynen’s educational background includes a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Geography from Indiana University. At the University of Georgia since 2006, he currently serves as a faculty affiliate of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research, the Department of Anthropology, the Institute for Women’s Studies, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, and the Marine Institute. In addition, he is a co-director of UGA’s Cornelia Walker Bailey Program on Land and Agriculture, a steering committee member of the NSF “Housing Justice in Unequal Cities” research network, and an advisory board member for a partnership between UGA’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District funded by the Mellon Foundation. Dr. Heynen also holds a visiting scholar position in Food Studies at Spelman College.

Dr. Heynen teaches various undergraduate and graduate courses in the Department of Geography on urban political ecology, race and racial capitalism, justice, and ethnographic methods. Along with Pete Brosius, Meredith Welch-Devine, Cathy Pringle and Nate Nibbelink, Dr. Heynen co-developed the Integrative Conservation (ICON) Program and is a former Director of the Program. He has also taught the core courses of the ICON Ph.D. program. Dr. Heynen advises several undergraduate and graduate students in the geography and anthropology departments, and serves as a committee member for other students at UGA, other U.S. universities, and abroad. In June 2022, he co-led a research residency at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District on St. Helena Island, SC, as part of a partnership between the Penn Center and UGA’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. There, students, faculty, and community experts from the U.S. Southeast spent five days participating in seminars, field trips, and workshops on land, liberation, and justice related to the Gullah-Geechee culture and community.

Dr. Heynen’s impressive publication record includes authored and co-authored books and articles published in a range of peer-reviewed journals, including the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Urban Affairs Review, Cities, Antipode, Urban Geography, and many others. Much of this work is collaborative, drawing on partnerships established with scholars and activists. Dr. Heynen strives to design a “bottom-up” research approach in which local communities reveal their problems and concerns, and these are placed at the forefront of their research, facilitating ways to work through them.

For instance, Dr. Heynen is currently analyzing land and property in Sapelo Island, Georgia, part of an archipelago on the U.S. Southeastern coast. In collaboration with Saltwater Geechee activists and the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society, he is studying how formerly enslaved peoples organize and demand emancipatory and liberatory politics. Sapelo is home to the largest Gullah Geechee community in the U.S. who have lived on the island for generations since their enslaved ancestors were brought there at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The collaboration aims to fight cultural erasure stemming from colonial sugarcane plantations by retaking heritage crops in order to build a hopeful future for the Gullah Geechee people. The struggles for land are central to this work, and so is attention to individuals, communities, and the landscape as inherent characters in the creation of history. This is one example of the participatory and collaborative nature of Dr. Heynen’s research, which is aligned with CICR’s and ICON’s integrative approach.