Christopher J. Brown

J. Christopher Brown
  • Professor
  • Geography and Atmospheric Science
  • Environmental Studies

Contact Info

Lindley Hall 223
1475 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045


I am a "human-environment" geographer, one who feels uncomfortable being labeled as either human or physical. Through my teaching and research, I try to tell stories about the unfolding human experience on earth as one influenced by natural systems, social systems, and systems of culture and meaning. Ever since my years as an undergraduate biology major, I have been fascinated by the rapid changes occurring in the Brazilian Amazon. My research today continues to focus on attempts to forge sustainable development in that region. Policy directives in this area have often privileged a static image of forested environments, their biodiversity, indigenous cultures, and economies, as some ideal form to be replicated throughout the region among all human groups. Such of view of sustainable development masks what are dynamic political economic and biogeographical processes that have developed as people, institutions, and components of the natural landscape react to one another in an increasingly disturbed rainforest and savanna environment. I argue our research must focus on these dynamics that will determine the success of efforts to alter the currently destructive relationship between people and the humid tropical environment.


Project 1: Social relations in Amazonian rural development.


My long-term research plans involve understanding the role of the growing movement of NGOs throughout Latin America in mediating human - environment relationships, especially in rural areas. I am interested in producing empirical studies of the spatial character of NGO activity, tracking where NGO resources come from, the types of production activities and political economic formations NGOs encourage, and what lasting local and regional effects the resulting forms of social relations have on people and the environment. Much of my current work stems from an NSF-funded project I co-authored with political scientists David Brown (University of Colorado - Boulder) and Scott Desposato (University of California – San Diego). Our findings on how funding of NGOs affectsr on bridge domestic politics at the state and federal level have been published in Comparative Political Studies, Political Geography, and Latin American Research Review (in press). Our general conclusion is that there is a direct relationship between NGO funding and voting for leftist politicians when people vote for presidential candidates, but when state politicians can claim credit for NGO funding, voters reward them even though they may be from center-right parties. Moreover, there is no evidence that the type of group receiving money matters when considering the effect of funding on political change. As this project comes to a close, we will begin working on efforts to understand the political impacts of the landless movement in Brazil (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST).


Project 2: Expansion of soybean production in Amazonia.


The rapid expansion of soybean production has alarmed environmentalists world-wide that soybeans are the next major threat to the continued existence of tropical forest in the Amazon. Our task, involving researchers at Kansas Applied Remote Sensing, Texas A&M Geography, and Brazil's Federal Agricultural Research Agency (Embrapa) is to integrate remote sensing and socio-economic and cultural studies to understand the human environmental dynamics involved in the expansion of this land use. The major question is whether native tropical ecosystems are being converted directly to soybean and other annual crop production or whether most of the crop production has actually, and is likely to continue, to go into areas that were already deforested for other purposes long ago (cattle ranching, for example). Preliminary research, appearing in Ambio, suggests that soybean production expands readily into areas already deforested along with some expansion into forested regions. We also seek to use MODIS 250m data to carry out high-temporal resolution remote sensing of growing areas to detect deforestation and subsequent land uses to form the empirical data necessary to test hypotheses about the relationship between agricultural intensification and tropical deforestation. A current official cooperative research effort between Kansas and Brazil's Embrapa promises to allow for continued development of this research program.


Project 3: Development and the Politics of Scale:


This work involves a co-authored effort with Mark Purcell (Urban Planning, University of Washington), an urban political economic geographer. We are interested in the issue of scale in geography, not the common scales of analysis, but rather researching scale as the object of analysis, based on the idea that scaleis socially constructed and the outcome of political economic projects. Such research has allowed me to approach my work on so-called global/local linkages between international environmental and grassroots movements in Amazonian sustainable development efforts with much greater theoretical rigor. We argue that many human environment studies tend, incorrectly, to ascribe particular characteristics to scale (global and/or national is bad; local is good), and that understanding that scale is socially constructed helps avoid such "scalar traps". We call for researchers in political ecology to investigate more deeply the agendas of actors, rather than assume them from knowing something about the scale at which people are organized. Our work has appeared in Geoforum and Progress in Development Studies.

Research interests:

  • Political and ecological dynamics of development and conservation
  • Biogeography
  • Development institutions and policy
  • NGOs
  • Human-environment relations
  • Latin America
  • Amazonia, Brazil

Selected Publications

Oliveria, Márcio, J. Christopher Brown, and Marcelo P Moreira. 2017. “Highway Infrastructure, Protected Areas, and Orchid Bee Distribution and Conservation in the Brazilian Amazon.” Journal Articles. Journal of Environmental Protection 8 (8): 923.

Souza, Carlos Henrique  Wachholz de, Walter  Rossi Cervi, J. Christopher Brown, Jansle Vieira Rocha, and Rubens Augusto Camargo Lamparelli. 2017. “Mapping and Evaluating Sugarcane Expansion in Brazil’s Savanna Using MODIS and Intensity Analysis:  A Case-Study in the State of Tocantins.” Journal Articles. Journal of Land Use Science.

Brown, David S., J. Christopher Brown, and Courtenay Brown. 2016. “Land Occupations and Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.” Journal Articles. Land Use Policy 54: 331–38.

Petrini, Maria Angélica, Jansle V Rocha, and J. Christopher Brown. 2016. “Mismatches between Mill-Cultivated Sugarcane and Smallholding Farming in Brazil: Environmental and Socioeconomic Impacts.” Journal Articles. Journal of Rural Studies 50: 218–27.

Brown, J. Christopher. 2016. “Nongovernmental Organizations: Scale, Society, and Environment.” Book Chapters. In Placing Latin America: Contemporary Themes in Human Geography, edited by Ed Jackiewicz and Fernando Bosco. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Petrini, Maria Angelica, Jansle Rocha, J. Christopher Brown, and Rafael Bispo. 2016. “Using an Analytic Hierarchy Process Approach to Prioritize Public Policies Addressing Family Farming in Brazil.” Journal Articles. Land Use Policy 51: 85–94.

Brown, J. Christopher, and Matthew Koeppe. 2015. “Moratória Da Soja Na Amazônia Brasileira e Governança Ambiental: Regulação Através Do Mercado Ou Regulação Estatal? (The Soy Moratorium in the Brazilian Amazon and Environmental Governance: Market or State-Led Regulation?).” Journal Articles. Revista Pós Ciências Sociais 11 (22): 61–81.

Coutinho, Alexandre Camargo, J. Christopher Brown, Júlio Esquerdo, Jude Kastens, and Bruno Ribeiro. 2014. Dinâmica Da Agricultura Nos Polos de Produção de Grãos No Mato Grosso Do Sul. Conference Proceedings. SIMPÓSIO DE GEOTECNOLOGIAS NO PANTANAL. Vol. 5.

Peterson, Jeffrey M, Marcellus M Caldas, Jason S Bergtold, Belinda S Sturm, Russell W Graves, Dietrich Earnhart, Eric A Hanley, and J Christopher Brown. 2014. “Economic Linkages to Changing Landscapes.” Journal Articles. Environmental Management 53 (1): 55–66.

Brown, J. Christopher, Eric Hanley, Bergtold Jason, Marcellus Caldas, Vijay Barve, Dana Peterson, Ryan Callihan, et al. 2014. “Ethanol Plant Location and Intensification vs. Extensification of Corn Cropping in Kansas.” Journal Articles. Applied Geography 53 (4): 141–48.

Jason, Bergtold, Marcellus Caldas, Jeffrey Peterson, Dietrich Earnhart, J. Christopher Brown, Brian Lauer, and Sheng Gong. 2014. “Factors Affecting Farmers’ Willingness to Grow Alternative Biofuel Feedstocks across Kansas.” Journal Articles. Biomass and Bioenergy 66: 223–31.

Brown, David S., J. Christopher Brown, and Scott W. Desposato. 2014. “NGOs, Turn-out, and the Left: A Subnational Analysis of Brazil.” Journal Articles. Journal of Developing Societies 30 (4): 1–23.

Brown, J. Christopher, and Marcio Luiz de Oliveira. 2014. “The Impact of Agricultural Colonization and Deforestation on Stingless Bee (Apidae: Meliponini) Composition and Richness in Rondonia, Brazil.” Journal Articles. Apidologie 45 (2): 172–88.

Putnam, Heather, and J. Christopher Brown. 2014. “The Importance of Process in Achieving Food Sovereignty: Participatory Action Research (PAR) in Coffeelands of Nicaragua.” Book Chapters. In The Global Food System:  Issues and Solutions, edited by William D. Schanbacher, 243–65. Praeger.

Brown, J. Christopher, Lisa Rausch, and Veronica Gronau Luz. 2014. “Toward a Spatial Understanding of Staple Food and Non-Staple Food Production in Brazil.” Journal Articles. The Professional Geographer 66 (2): 249–59.

Brown, J. Christopher, Jude H. Kastens, Alexandre Camargo Coutinho, Daniel de Castro Victoria, and Christopher H. Bishop. 2013. “Classifying Multiyear Agricultural Land Use Data from Mato Grosso Using Time-Series MODIS Vegetation Index Data.” Journal Articles. Remote Sensing of Environment 130: 39–50.

Brown, J. Christopher, and Matthew Koeppe. 2013. “Debates in the Environmentalist Community: The Soy Moratorium and the Construction of Illegal Soybeans in the Brazilian Amazon.” Book Chapters. In Environment and the Law in Amazonia: A Plurilateral Encounter, edited by James M. Cooper and Christine Hunefeldt, 110–26. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press.

Kastens, Jude H., J. Christopher Brown, Christopher R. Bishop, Alexandre C. Coutinho, and Júlio Esquerdo. 2013. “Soy Moratorium Impacts on Soybean and Deforestation Dynamics in Mato Grosso, Brazil.” Journal Articles. PLOS ONE.

Donalísio, Maria Rita, Ricardo Cordeiro, Roberto  W. Lourenço, and J. Christopher Brown. 2013. “The AIDS Epidemic in the Amazon Region: A Spatial Case-Control Study in Rondonia, Brazil.” Journal Articles. Revista de Saúde Pública 47 (5): 873–80.

Barve, Narayani, Alvin  J. Bonilla, Julia Brandes, J.  Christopher Brown, Nathaniel Brunsell, Ferdouz  V. Cochran, Rebecca  J. Crosthwait, et al. 2012. “Climate-Change and Mass Mortality Events in Overwintering Monarch Butterflies.” Journal Articles. Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 83: 817–24.

Brannstrom, Christian, Lisa Rausch, J. Christopher Brown, Renata Marson Teixeira de Andrade, and Andrew Miccolis. 2012. “Compliance and Market Exclusion in Brazilian Agriculture: Analysis and Implications for ‘soft’ Governance.” Journal Articles. Land Use Policy 29 (2): 357–66.

Victoria, Daniel  de Castro, Adriano  Rolim da Paz, Alexandre  Camargo Coutinho, Jude Kastens, and J. Christopher Brown. 2012. “Cropland Area Estimates in Mato Grosso, Brazil, Using MODIS NDVI Time Series.” Journal Articles. Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira 47 (9): 1270–78.

Brown, J. Christopher. 2011. “Nongovernmental Organizations: Scale, Society, and Environment.” Book Chapters. In Placing Latin America: Contemporary Themes in Human Geography, edited by Ed Jackiewicz and Fernando Bosco, 147–58. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Cordeiro, Ricardo, Maria R. Donalisio, Valmir R. Andrade, Ana C.N. Mafra, Luciana B. Nucci, John C. Brown, and Celso Stephan. 2011. “Spatial Distribution of the Risk of Dengue Fever in Southeast Brazil, 2006-2007.” Journal Articles. BMC Public Health 11: 355.

Brown, David S., J.  Christopher Brown, and Maureen Donaghy. 2011. “The Electoral Consequences of Direct Political Action: Evidence from Brazil.” Journal Articles. Latin American Politics and Society 53 (4): 35–66.

Caldas, Marcellus, Gabriel Granco, Christopher Bishop, Jude Kastens, and J. Christopher Brown. Accepted/In Press. “Effects of Sugarcane Ethanol Expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado: Land Uses Response in the New Frontier.” Book Chapters. In Bioenergy and Land Use Change, edited by Z. Qin, U. Mishra, and A. Hastings. Wiley.

Grants & Other Funded Activity

Introducing interdisciplinary research on the human and environmental dynamics of biofuel production, climate change and related topics. 2015/19437-5. FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation). (1/4/2016 - 7/3/2016). Foreign (company, govt, agencies, etc.). Status: Funded