Professor and Acting Department Head
Professor, Department of Science and Technology Studies
- PhD, Cultural Anthropology, Rice University
- BA, History/Philosophy, Duke University
Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Kim Fortun’s research and teaching focus on environmental problems, and on ways ethnographic and experimental methods can be used to address the complexities of the contemporary world. Her research has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to, and reduce, vulnerability to environmental risk and disaster.
“Environmental problems are cultural problems, as well as scientific and political problems,” Fortun said. “To understand environmental problems, many of the assumptions of industrial culture must be set aside – assumptions about health, prosperity and security; assumptions about how science should be conducted and used in governance,; assumptions about how complex problems play out and can be addressed. My research and teaching aims to advance our ability to think through and constructively engage the cultural dynamics of environmental and other complex problems.”
Fortun's undergraduate teaching contributes to RPI's new Sustainability Studies Program, and to the development of student capacity for independent research. Her graduate teaching focuses on research design and methods, on cultural analysis of science and technology, and on critical theories of language, knowledge, and communication.
Her current work includes research for a book titled Making Environmental Sense, which examines how information technology, theory and culture have shaped the environmental field over the last two decades; The Asthma Files, a collaborative, web-based project to draw together and explicate multiple perspectives on asthma – from different scientific disciplines, policy arenas, health care settings and communities where asthmatics live; and Strategizing Transdisciplinarity: From Exposure Assessment to Exposure Science, a NSF-funded study of environmental exposure science.
Fortun’s book Advocacy After Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders. (University of Chicago Press, 2001) was awarded the 2003, biannual Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society. From 2005 to 2010, Fortun co-edited (with Mike Fortun) Cultural Anthropology, one of the most highly ranked journals in the field, published by the American Anthropological Association.