About me

Welcome! This is my professional blog where I share my research, teaching, and engaged anthropology.

I am a cultural anthropologist interested in human-environment relations, spanning a range of topical interests from how we learn and make sense of the world around us, to landscape change over time, to the relationships between culture, politics, and water. My work on how children and youth experience the “natural” world contributes to the anthropology of childhood, studies of situated learning, and informal science education.

Much of my ethnographic research is situated at the interface between environmental anthropology and the anthropology of  childhood. For more than a decade (2000-present) I have explored the ways environmental knowledge, practice, and meanings are learned, taught, and transformed by children and their families in Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya communities in Belize. This research forms the basis for my book manuscript: Landscapes of Childhood: Growing Up Maya in Southern Belize (in preparation).

Since 2008 I have been working with archaeologists, ecologists, and climate change scientists on the project, “Development and resilience of complex socioeconomic systems: A theoretical model and case study from the Maya Lowlands” to study the relationships between cultural landscapes, climate change, and the resilience of complex sociopolitical systems in the Maya lowlands of southern Belize, supported through the NSF Human Social Dynamics program. We are collaborating with local organizations and educators in southern Belize to develop local environmental and cultural heritage curricula through the TEACHA project. Ethnographic research focuses on the ways present-day cultural and environmental heritage is negotiated in relation to archaeological investigations at the ancient Maya site of Uxbenka and recent landmark court cases involving Maya land tenure and indigenous rights and change in cultural landscapes and agroecological practices over time.

In addition to Belize, I am also involved in several projects in the Tampa Bay area, focused on political ecologies of water through the Tampa Urban Long-Term Ecological Research Area Exploratory (ULTRA-Ex) project, “Urban Development, Power Relations, and Water Redistribution as Drivers of Wetland Change in the Tampa Bay Region Ecosystem.” For more on that project, see my page on Politics and Perceptions of Water and our project Facebook page. Recently our team was awarded a new NSF grant to study the impacts of climate change on water resources in the Tampa Bay area, which was written up here in a local magazine, Bay Soundings.

Since 2009, my students and I have also been researching the expansion of gardening and urban agriculture, and environmental pedagogies in schools and community-based organizations with a focus on how gardens and gardening can enhance learning and well-being. For a recent service learning course, Anthropology of Childhood, undergraduate and graduate students partnered with Moses House’s “youth heritage garden” to understand youth experiences with gardening and impacts on food preference and access.

Most recently I have begun a new multi-year project on the intersections of water resources, tourism, and energy in coastal communities in the Caribbean with an interdisciplinary team on the NSF PIRE project “RECLAIM”. For information about the sociocultural research pilot research project in Belize in summer 2013, see this story: http://usf-reclaim.org/2013/10/usf-pire-social-science-research-team-conducts-pilot-season-of-research-on-the-placencia-peninsula-belize/.

Contact Information

Rebecca K. Zarger, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of South Florida

4202 E. Fowler Ave., SOC 107

Tampa, FL 33620


email: rzarger at usf.edu