Marcela Vásquez-León

About Marcela Vásquez-León

Marcela was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She has an interdisciplinary background, with a Ph.D. in Anthropology and an M.S. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Arizona. Currently, she has a joint appointment at BARA and the Center for Latin American Studies.


The Gulf of California Fisheries: Since the early 1990s she has conducted extensive research among small-scale fishing communities in the Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California, Mexico. Her doctoral dissertation examined the shrimp industry focusing on issues of fisheries management and the comparison of industrial and artisanal fishing technologies. She participated in a socioeconomic assessment of the Upper Gulf of California - Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve. In 2001 Marcela was Principal Investigator on a NSF funded project in the Mid-Gulf of California region of the Sonoran coast. She also was Principal Investigator in a project funded by the Inter American Institute for Global Change, which focused on the relationship between ethnicity and class in the development of co-management schemes of coastal resources in southern Brazil and the Gulf of California.

Farming in the Sonora Desert: Since 2000 Marcela has conducted research on human and institutional vulnerability, including adaptation, to climate variability and change in diverse agricultural communities on both sides of the US-Mexico border. These communities included Anglo, Hispanic, and Mexican farmers and ranchers, Native American Tribes, farm workers, and a variety of state officials that deal with natural resource management. From 2000 to 2004 she was Project Manager for the social science component of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest Project (CLIMAS), funded by NOAA. CLIMAS is an interdisciplinary, university-wide project housed the the Institute of the Environment. Its principal objective is to assess the impacts of climate variability and change on human and natural systems in the Southwest. Marcela also collaborated with the Colegio de Sonora on a study of the impact of drought among farming and ranching communities in Northwest Mexico. The aim of research in this area is to contribute to the conceptualization of a policy-oriented anthropology of climate that goes beyond examining single populations and that, by simultaneously examining issues of class and ethnicity as well as marginalized and privileged populations, calls into question the adaptive capacity of a system that buffers the privileged while it prevents the most vulnerable form accessing a minimum of resources that could prevent the loss of livelihoods.

Grassroots Collective Organization in rural South America: Marcela is Co-principal Investigator in a project entitled "Development and Expansion of Economic Assistance Programs That Fully Utilize Cooperatives or Credit Unions." This multi-year project is funded by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) and done in collaboration with ACDI/VOCA. It assesses a set of agricultural cooperatives that vary in terms of size, function, and commodity in Paraguay and Brazil in order to develop strategies of change that reflect the effective role of cooperativism and cooperatives and their impacts on society and the economy. This study pays attention to how issues of alternative and "sustainable" development are framed in the study of grassroots collective organization, where in the midst of escalating economic and environmental uncertainty, cooperatives have the potential to become possible avenues for small producers to assert rights to resources and participate in larger processes of democratization and economic transformation.

Research Interests

Marcela's research interests include environmental anthropology; political ecology; fisheries management and maritime anthropology; rural development and agricultural cooperatives; environmental justice; human dimensions of global environmental change. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between human-agency and large-scale structures, with an emphasis on how contradictory processes occurring at a global scale (i.e. neoliberalism and environmentalism) impact state policy, scientific management of natural resources, notions of “sustainable development”, and environmental conservation. Because both rural development and environmental protection remain key policy concerns in Latin America, her aim is to conduct research capable of proposing relevant alternatives in collaboration with local communities.

Marcela Vásquez-León's picture

Contact Information

Associate Research Anthropologist
Telephone: 520-626-3331
Office: Harvill 345 & Geronimo 332


1995 University of Arizona, Ph. D., Anthropology.
1991 University of Arizona, M.S., Agricultural Economics.
1990 University of Arizona, M.A. Cultural Anthropology.
1986 College of Saint Teresa, Minnesota., B.A., Sociology. Summa Cum Laude.

Courses Taught

LAS/ANTH 595N, Environment and Conflict in Latin America
LAS 595D, Qualitative Research Methods for Latin America
INDV 102, Modern Latin America: A Social Science Perspective