Carolyn Finney

Assistant Professor



  • Ph.D.  Geography Clark University, 2006
  • B.A.  Fairhaven Concentration Western Washington University


Research Interests

Identity representation difference and place, race and natural resource management

Research Description

My focus as a geographer is to explore how issues of difference impact participation in decision-making processes designed to address environmental issues. I first conducted research in Nepal, speaking with women about their experiences collecting fuel wood, fodder, and water, and the challenges of balancing traditional gender roles with immediate economic needs. Their stories revealed the significance of identity, representation, and struggle in shaping strategies for negotiating their daily lives. Since returning to the United States, I have explored how these same issues influence African Americans’ participation in environmental debate and decision-making. What happens when the environmental debate presumes to encompass most perspectives, expectations, and needs? The aim of my work is to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations and institutions, challenge media outlets on the (mis- or non-) representation of “different” folks, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action.

All of my work grows out of a commitment to question conventional wisdom and reconsider long-held assumptions regarding the production, representation, and dissemination of knowledge about people, places, and ideas. We must revisit and revise the way we do things – the frameworks we use, the value we attach to particular kinds of knowledge, the forms of expression that have currency in decision-making arenas – in order to invite creativity and maximize the possibility for positive change.

Here is a recent three-part interview conducted by Berkeley students:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Current Projects

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

I have completed my first book, which explores the relation of African Americans to the environment and to the environmental movement. In particular, I explore the role of memory and identity in influencing African American environmental participation, and the general disconnect between African American environmental professionals and their white counterparts regarding the perception of exclusion and racism within an environmental context. Black Faces, White Spaces was published in May 2014 by UNC Press.

National Parks Advisory Board/Relevancy Work

As chair for the Relevancy committee on the National Parks Advisory Board, I am working with a geographically and culturally diverse group of people from across the county to assist the National Park Service in engaging in relationships of reciprocity with diverse communities.  In particular, we will be hosting a number of Citizen Conversations over the course of the next two years where members of the park service can engage in dialogue with community members.

Climate Change, Privilege, and Consciousness

S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation - With Dr. Matthew Kolan and artist/educator Kaylynn Twotrees, I  constructed a framework to bring into the climate-change conversation those people whose voices have so far been unheard. Who is shaping this conversation, and how is it being packaged and disseminated? Who gets to participate, who is experiencing the impact of climate changes through loss, and who is engaging with the changes through information? For those individuals and groups who wish to communicate their experience of a changing planet, we will provide a structure for framing their issues, expressing their ideas, and proposing solutions, as well as leveraging that dialogue into full participation in the climate-change debate.

The Great Dismal Swamp

American University/National Endowment for the Humanities - I was part of team of investigators taking part in The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape study in Virginia. In particular, I was responsible for constructing a narrative about race and environment in the region.

Out in the World

I also work with individuals and organizations in the U.S. and abroad who are deeply invested in developing innovative and creative approaches to how they do their work in the world.  One of these organizations is The Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) whom I have been privleged to work with for the last two summers in Europe:

Selected Publications

Geographer Carolyn Finney on the Tavis Smiley Show

Finney, C.  2014.  Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. UNC Press (May 2014).

Finney, C.  2013.  Brave New World? Ruminations on Race in the 21st Century. Antipode 

Finney, C. 2012. Child’s Play: Finding the Green in the In Between. In Companions in Wonder: Reflections on Children and Adults Exploring Nature, Julie Dunlap and Steven Kellert, editors, MIT Press.

Finney, C. 2010. This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land: People and Public Lands Redux. In The George Wright Forum Vol. 27(3), p. 247-254.

Finney, C. 2008. What’s Race Got to do With It? Climate Change, Privilege and Consciousness. Whole Thinking Journal January 2009.

Finney, C. 2003. Can’t See the Black Folks for the Trees: Feminist Theory in Black and White. In Voices for a New Century. Eds. C. Faulkner and S. Weir. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Honors and Awards

  • Graduate Mentorship Award, ESPM - 2014
  • Faces of Conservation - The Wilderness Society - 2010
  • Creating a Community That Works Award - North Lawndale Employment Network, Chicago, IL - 2009
  • Newhouse/Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Studies, Wellesley College, 2006-07 - Wellesley College - 2006
  • Canon National Parks Science Scholarship, 2004-07 - National Parks Science - 2004
  • Society of Women Geographers Pruitt National Fellowship - Society of Women Geographers - 2003
  • Fullbright Fellowship, Nepal - Fullbright - 2001

Recent Teaching

  • 197 - FIELD STUDY
  • 262 - Race, Identity, and the Environment

Selected Professional Activities

National Parks Advisory Board - I have been appointed through the Department of the Interior to advise the National Park Director on increasing park relevancy to a diverse public.

The Center for Whole Communities, Vermont – I participate as a board and faculty member in developing curriculum and facilitating workshops with environmental professionals designed to focus on race, land, and privilege.

Second Century National Park Commission – I served on a board-appointed committee of academics, politicians, and private sector individuals that addresses the educational role of the National Parks in the 21st century.

Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – I serve as a member of a board-appointed committee on the Public Understanding of Science and Technology (COSTEP).

Contact Information


Office: 128C Giannini Hall

Office Phone: 510-643-6342

Fax: 510-666-3031


Office Hours

Tuesdays, 2:30-4:30 and by appointment.

Research Group(s)

Mailing Address

Dept of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
UC Berkeley
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720