I think of myself as an interdisciplinary scholar, and have been a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at the University of Windsor since 2005. Before that I earned my BA in geography and history at the University of Kentucky in 1999, and my MA and PhD in geography at Syracuse University in 2001 and 2005, respectively. If I had to define myself in terms of a specific disciplinary label, it’s political geography, though my interests range widely across political economy, development, diplomacy and international relations, and agriculture and food issues.
My primary research focus has long been official development assistance, specifically those state institutions that handle donor countries’ aid and development policies. I concentrate on two aspects of these institutions and their activities: first, how they frame and intervene in processes such as agricultural development, national security, and governance; and second, their own internal structures and external relations, and how these have changed over time as ideas about development, security, and foreign policy have changed. I have more recently developed an interest in diplomacy and diplomatic practice, including how notions of expertise, gender, institutional culture, and place matter for these. My published research has focused on similar themes, examining the geopolitics of food security, ideas about aid effectiveness, and the evolution of official development aid and foreign policy agencies in the US and Canada. I have more general interests in the geographies of state power and bureaucratic expertise and the spatial organization of food systems, and have three main projects in progress.
First, I am finishing up research funded through a multi-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant titled Development, diplomacy, and expertise: Placing state bureaucratic labour in the CIDA-DFAIT merger. In this, I examined the 2013 amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) to form a new single department, now called Global Affairs Canada (GAC). Several themes related to the merger have been the focus of this work: the organization and agency of expert labor in the state bureaucracy; changes in institutional culture related to the intersection of development, diplomacy, and other policy areas; the geographic complexity of national state institutions with global reach; the role of gender in the production and use of policy expertise; and how the Canadian merger compares with similar moves in other donor states. Annual year-end research summary and progress reports for this project are available for 2017, 2018, and 2019. I am continuing this research following the grant with two focal points: first, the physical and social infrastructure shaping life and work abroad, including the physical space of embassies and the social networks shaping the extended diplomatic network of family life at post; and second, how foreign ministries define, assess, and manage risk and danger, looking especially at US embassy design in the post-9/11 period and the recent case of “Havana Syndrome” among Canadians and Americans posted to Cuba.
Second, I am returning to my longstanding interest in agriculture and food with a project on the life and work of Oliver Baker. Baker’s career as academic geographer, agricultural expert in the US Department of Agriculture before and during the New Deal, founder of the University of Maryland Department of Geography, and president of the Association of American Geographers helps track the origins and path of agricultural geography as a disciplinary subfield. While today agricultural geography is subsumed within the broader interdisciplinary research program of food studies, its roots as a distinct subfield of study and policy prescription, especially but not only in the US, rest in soil fertilized by the twentieth-century collapse of colonial empires, attempts to expand American expertise and power globally, and the fraught history of racist land and farm policies. This project has been stewing for a while but is underway as I read through a series of articles Baker published in the 1920s and 1930s in Economic Geography on the regional geography of farming in North America. Baker’s work strongly shaped how geographers viewed the spatial and scalar dynamics of industrial agriculture, the rural-urban relationship, and the political economy of food during a pivotal period in the development of both the discipline of geography and American hegemony.
Third and finally, I have in the past few years been involved in a research cluster at the University of Windsor with colleagues in Creative Arts, History, and Political Science focused on the Windsor-Detroit border region. This has spurred my interest in the local Windsor region and the wider set of economic, political, social, and ecological connections here, and I am hoping to undertake more research on the complex geographies of the Windsor-Detroit borderlands in the near future. This remains rudimentary at the moment, but I have sketched out more focused projects on Windsor’s development as a Canadian periphery, cross-border efforts at environmental conservation, and the border in the 2020 US election, and plan to use them as pedagogical platforms for structuring my geography-oriented undergraduate courses beginning in fall 2021.
Below is a list of my publications. Some are also available in their almost-final form through the Scholarship at Windsor portal at the University of Windsor’s Leddy Library. Many of these are behind paywalls when you click the links, but if you want any of the articles, please contact me and I can get a copy to you.
Essex, J. (2013) Development, Security, and Aid: Geopolitics and Geoeconomics at the US Agency for International Development. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Refereed journal articles
Essex, J. and J. Bowman. (2020) “Striped pants and Birkenstocks: Clothing, gender and work culture at Global Affairs Canada.” International Feminist Journal of Politics. doi: 10.1080/14616742.2020.1724814.
Essex, J., L. Stokes, and I. Yusibov. (2019) “Geographies of diplomatic labor: Institutional culture, state work, and Canada’s foreign service.” Political Geography, 72: 10-19. doi: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.03.005. [open access with no paywall]
Essex, J. and L. Carmichael. (2017) “Restructuring development expertise and labour in the CIDA-DFAIT merger.” The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 61 (2): 266-278. doi: 10.1111/cag.12328.
Essex, J. (2016) “International development institutions and the challenges of urbanization: The case of Jakarta.” Development in Practice, 26 (3): 346-359. doi: 10.1080/09614524.2016.1150966.
Essex, J. (2014) “From the global food crisis to the age of austerity: The anxious geopolitics of global food security.” Geopolitics, 19 (2): 266-290. doi: 10.1080/14650045.2014.896795.
Le Billon, P., M. Sommerville, and J. Essex. (2014) “Introduction: Global Food Crisis.” Geopolitics, 19 (2): 235-238. doi: 10.1080/14650045.2014.920231.
Sommerville, M., J. Essex, and P. Le Billon. (2014) “The ‘global food crisis’ and the geopolitics of global food security.” Geopolitics, 19 (2): 239-265. doi: 10.1080/14650045.2013.811641.
Essex, J. (2012) “Idle hands are the devil’s tools: The geopolitics and geoeconomics of hunger.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102 (1): 191-207. doi: 10.1080.00045608.2011.595966.
Essex, J. (2012) “The politics of effectiveness in Canada’s international development assistance.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue canadienne d’études du développement, 33 (3): 338-355. doi: 10.1080/02255189.2012.713856.
Essex, J. (2010) “Sustainability, food security, and development aid after the food crisis: Assessing aid strategies across donor contexts.” Sustainability, 2 (11): 3354-3382. doi: 10.3390/su2113354.
Essex, J. (2009) “The work of hunger: Security, development, and food-for-work in post-crisis Jakarta.” Studies in Social Justice, 3 (1): 99-116. https://journals.library.brocku.ca/index.php/SSJ/article/view/1026.
Essex, J. (2008) “Biotechnology, sound science, and the Foreign Agricultural Service: A case study in neoliberal rollout.” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 26 (1): 191-209. doi: 10.1086/c61m
Essex, J. (2008) “Deservedness, development, and the state: Geographic categorization in the US Agency for International Development’s Foreign Assistance Framework.” Geoforum, 39 (4): 1625-1636. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2008.02.002.
Essex, J. (2008) “The neoliberal geopolitics of food security: The case of Indonesia.” Human Geography, 1 (2): 14-25.
Essex, J. (2008) “The neoliberalization of development: Trade capacity building and security at the US Agency for International Development.” Antipode, 40 (2): 229-251. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00590.x
Essex, J. (2007) “Getting what you pay for: Authoritarian statism and the geographies of US trade liberalization strategies.” Studies in Political Economy: A Socialist Review, 80 (Autumn 2007): 75-103. http://spe.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/spe/article/view/5190/2047.
Essex, J. (2002) “‘The Real South Starts Here’: Whiteness, the Confederacy, and commodification at Stone Mountain.” Southeastern Geographer, 42 (2): 211-227. doi: 10.1353/sgo.2002.0029.
Short, J.R., C. Breitbach, S. Buckman, and J. Essex. (2000) “From world cities to gateway cities: Extending the boundaries of globalization theory.” City, 4 (3): 317-340. doi: 10.1080/713657031.
Book and encyclopedia contributions
Essex, J. (2020) “Aid.” In D. Richardson, N. Castree, M.F. Goodchlild, A. Kobayashi, W. Liu, and R.A. Marston, (eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Geography. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. doi: 10.1002/9781118786352.wbieg0458.pub2. [first edition 2017]
Essex, J. (2017) “U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).” In R. Rycroft (ed.), The American Middle Class: An Encyclopedia of Progress and Poverty. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood, 316-318.
Essex, J. (2016) “The neoliberalization of agriculture: Regimes, resistance, and resilience.” In S. Springer, K. Birch, and J. MacLeavy (eds.), The Handbook of Neoliberalism. New York: Routledge, 514-525.
Essex, J. (2010) “Food, Geography of.” In B. Warf (ed.), Encyclopedia of Geography (Volume 3). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1144-1146.
Essex, J. (2016) “Author’s response: Geopolitics, geoeconomics, and further developments at USAID.” Dialogues in Human Geography, 6 (1): 98-102. doi: 10.1177/2043820615609512 [Part of a book review forum on Development, Security, and Aid]
Essex, J. (2014) “Introducing Globalization: Ties, Tensions, and Uneven Integration, by Matthew Sparke.” AntipodeFoundation.org. http://radicalantipode.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/ sparke-reviews_essex.pdf; full book review symposium at http://ow.ly/vIya4.
Essex, J. (2013) “Committing Geography.” In P. Bigger (ed.), Explosive Geographies – Intervention Symposium. Antipodefoundation.org. http://radicalantipode.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/essex.pdf; full symposium at http://antipodefoundation.org/2013/05/20/explosive-geographies/.
Essex, J. and M. Ruggles. (2009) “Praxis and place in FedUp Windsor’s local food activism.” In K. Daly, D. Schugurensky, and K. Lopes (eds.), Learning Democracy by Doing: Alternative Practices in Citizenship Education and Participatory Democracy (Conference proceedings). Toronto: Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT, 503-509.