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Department of Geography

Sierra Deutsch
Sierra Deutsch, Dr.
Group Leader

Space, Nature and Society

Tel.: +41 44 63 55247
Room number: Y25 L 42


PhD Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy, University of Oregon, USA.

MA Sociology, University of Oregon, USA.

GCert Marine Resource Management, Oregon State University, USA.

MS Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, USA.

BS Marine Biology/Zoology, Humboldt State University, USA.

Research interests and expertise

Sierra is an interdisciplinary political ecologist* who has published peer-reviewed work in both the natural and social sciences. Her interests include inter- and transdisciplinary research and problem-solving, conservation and biodiversity, globalization and development, social inequality and intersectionality, environmental justice, critical Indigenous studies, social movements, sustainable communities, marine biology, marine resource management, and wildlife policy and law.

Sierra’s academic expertise is additionally informed by her work with humanitarian and environmental justice NGOs and as an offshore Protected Species Observer, as well as with her observations from extensive international travel in North, South, and Central America, Asia, Africa, the South Pacific, and Europe. Her research broadly focuses on shared root causes of social and environmental problems and their solutions, with an emphasis on decolonial methodologies and philosophies. For much of her career, she has used social theory to explain the causes and processes of ruptures in socioecological (human-nature and human-human) relations at various scales. She utilizes empirical case studies to "zoom in" on disruptive socioecological processes, particularly those associated with neoliberalization, to connect these to broader global patterns. She has thus shown how neoliberalization in an Irrawaddy dolphin conservation project in Cambodia altered socioecological relations and led to significant negative consequences, while another project in Myanmar did not. She has also shown how Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s particular form of anti-environmentalism is related to his authoritarian neoliberalism, and how this creates socioecological ruptures at the national level.

At UZH, she continues publishing empirically-grounded theoretical interventions from her work in Brazil, while co-developing research projects on practical solutions. These new projects merge the core lessons of her research career with her transdisciplinary and practical experiences to enhance transdisciplinary transformative change initiatives (TTCIs - i.e. those that seek to address socioecological problems by fundamentally altering the status quo).

* Political ecology is a growing field of scholars from various disciplines who understand socioenvironmental problems as inherently political and thus cannot be addressed without attending to power dynamics and issues of justice.


Büscher, Bram, Kate Massarella, Robert Coates, Sierra Deutsch, Wolfram Dressler, Robert Fletcher, Marco Immovili, and Stasja Koot. 2022. The Convivial Conservation imperative: Exploring “Biodiversity Impact Chains” to support structural transformation. In Transforming Biodiversity Governance. Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers and Marcel T. J. Kok (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 244-263. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra and Rob Fletcher. The ‘Bolsonaro bridge’: violence, visibility, and the Amazon fires. Environmental Science & Policy, 132, pp.60-68. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra, 2021. Populist authoritarian neoliberalism in Brazil: making sense of Bolsonaro's anti-environment agenda. Journal of Political Ecology, 28(1): 823-844. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra. 2020. "Who doesn't like dolphins?!" Neoliberalization, variegated environmentalities, and value alterations in a cross-national comparison of Irrawaddy dolphin conservation. Geoforum, 114: 159-171. DOI:

Orbach, Dara N., Amy Beier, Frank Cipriano, Sierra Deutsch, Heidi C. Pearson, Mridula Srinivasan, Jody S. Weir, Suzanne Yin, and Bernd Würsig. 2018. Long-term assessment of spatio-temporal association patterns of dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) off Kaikoura, New Zealand. Aquatic Mammals, 44 (6): 608-619. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra. 2018. Uneven development and shifting socioecological rifts: Some unintended consequences of dolphin conservation in Cambodia. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 4. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra. 2017. The struggle of a marginalized community for ethnic renewal: The whale hunters of Neah Bay. Environmental Sociology 3 (3): 186-196. DOI:

Deutsch, Sierra, Heidi Pearson, and Bernd Würsig. 2014. Development of leaps in dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) calves. Behaviour 151 (11): 1555-1577. DOI:

Weir, Jody, Sierra Deutsch, and Heidi Pearson. 2010. Dusky dolphin calf rearing.  In The Dusky Dolphin: Master Acrobat off Different Shores. Bernd Würsig and Melany Würsig Eds. Academic/Elsevier Press. 177-193.

Current teaching

GEO242: Humangeographische Methoden der Datenerhebung (lecturer; compulsory BSc module, spring)

GEO425: Political ecology (coordinator; core elective module MSc, spring)

Research experience

Senior Scientist; Space, Nature and Society; University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland. 2021-present. Supervisor: Norman Backhaus, Professor, Department of Geography.

Postdoctoral Researcher; Crisis Conservation VIDI/NWO project, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 2018-2021. Supervisor: Bram Büscher, Professor and Chair of the Sociology of Development and Change group.

Research Assistant; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) resources initiative, University of Oregon, OR. 2017. Supervisor: Sarah Wald, Associate Professor of English and Environmental Studies.

Field Staff; New Zealand Dolphins Project, Earthwatch Institute, Kaikoura, New Zealand. 2007.

Research Assistant; Sperm Whale Seismic Study (SWSS), Galveston, TX. 2004-2007. Supervisors: Bernd Würsig, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the Marine Mammal Research Program, Texas A&M University at Galveston and Jonathan Gordon, Research Fellow, University of St. Andrews.

Research Technician; Right Whale Aerial Monitoring Project, Wildlife Trust, Charleston, SC. 2004-2005.

Biological Technician; North Coast Survey (NCS), Gray Whale Photo-Identification Project, and Gray Whale Ecology and Distribution Project; Marine Mammal Education and Research Program (MMERP), Humboldt State University, CA. 2000-2003. Supervisor: Dawn Goley, Professor of Zoology and Director of MMERP.

Research Technician; Pinniped-Salmonid Project; Marine Mammal Education and Research Program (MMERP) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Arcata, CA. 2002-2003

Teaching experience

Co-Instructor at University of Zürich 2021-present. Political Ecology; Human Geographic Methods of Data collection

Co-Instructor at Wageningen University 2018-2021.Theorizing Development: Implications for Research; Authoritarian Natures? Political Ecologies of Post-Truth, the State, and Resistance (PhD course; cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic)

Teaching Assistant/Lab Instructor at University of Oregon 2010-2014 & 2016-2017. Social Science Courses: American Society; Animals & Society; Community, Environment, and Society; Introduction to Environmental Studies: Social Sciences; Introduction to Environmental Studies: Humanities; Sustainability; Sustainable Agriculture. Natural Science Courses: Animal Behavior (lower division); Animal Behavior (upper division); Conservation Biology; Introduction to Environmental Studies: Natural Sciences; Marine Biology; The Ocean Planet

Volunteer teacher at Phaung Daw Oo Monastic Education High School, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) 2014-2015. 9th grade Science; Environmental Issues (pre-college); Political Ecology seminar

Teaching Assistant/Lab Instructor at Texas A&M University at Galveston 2007-2008. Biology of Marine Mammals; Cetacean Behavior and Ecology.

Transdisciplinary experience

Co-Organizer; Earth week, hosted by Beyond Toxics, Eugene, Oregon, USA. 2018.

Volunteer Builder; Biotecture Planet Earth, Khandbari, Nepal. 2017. 

Co-Organizer; Eugene climate rally, hosted by 350 Eugene, Eugene, Oregon, USA. 2017. 

Lead Protected Species Observer/Protected Species Observer; LGL Alaska Research Associates, Inc. and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Anchorage, AK and National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Fisheries, Galveston, TX. 2009 – 2015.

Lead Organizer; Fundraising night for rebuilding in Nepal, hosted by Blairally Vintage Arcade, Eugene, Oregon, USA. 2015. 

Project Co-Manager; Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA)-Nepal, Changu Narayan, Nepal. 2015. 

Camp Instructor at Sea Camp at Texas A&M University at Galveston Marine Mammal Explorations. 2006-2008.