Lisa Arensen, Ph.D.


Lead Faculty and Lecturer in Ecosystems and Livelihoods




B.A. in Writing and Humanities
Houghton College (NY, USA)

M.Sc. in Social Anthropology
University of Edinburgh (Scotland)

Ph.D. in Social Anthropology
University of Edinburgh (Scotland)

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Faculty Profile

I am a social anthropologist who specializes in the aftermath of war. My work explores issues of post-conflict recovery and resilience in social, cosmological and biophysical terms, especially as regards Cambodians’ social dynamics, and complex and shifting environmental relationships with forested and war-altered landscapes.

A U.S. citizen raised in East Africa, I moved to Cambodia in 1999. Inspired by people’s struggle to recover and thrive after decades of conflict and deprivation, I spent another seven years living and working in Cambodia as a community development practitioner and a qualitative research consultant. Much of my consulting focused upon the circumstances of vulnerable women and girls, and I conducted research and assessments for a variety of international and local NGOs working with exploited and trafficked women and children.

In 2006 I began my graduate studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, initially in the anthropology of development, but later shifting to the study of post-conflict resilience and recovery. My PhD fieldwork consisted of an in-depth ethnographic study of three villages situated on the former front lines in northwest Cambodia. It examined issues such as post-war migration and resettlement strategies, land distribution, clearing minefields for agriculture, Khmer engagement with forest ecosystems, and efforts at social reintegration in communities with divided affiliations and violent histories.

During and immediately after my PhD, I taught as an interim assistant professor at Houghton College, my alma mater. I returned to Cambodia and applied research in 2013, providing change analysis training to indigenous highlanders in Cambodia and participating in qualitative evaluations for international NGOs in Cambodia and Sierra Leone. With my SFS students over the past five years, I have explored issues of natural resource use by communities dwelling in protected areas, and changes and continuity in traditional botanical medicine use. I have also supervised the documentation of histories of environmental change for national park residents in both highland and lowland Cambodia, with both indigenous Bunong communities and the Khmer ethnic majority.

Academics & Research

Research Interests

Prior to my graduate work, my research interests centered upon gendered experiences of vulnerability, exploitation and resilience in Cambodia. My doctoral research allowed me to explore issues of post-conflict recovery and resilience, in both social and biophysical terms, and I am continuing to research Cambodians’ complex and shifting relationships with forested landscapes.

I am also interested in the emergence of community-based tourism and ecotourism in Cambodia, and work at assessing the levels of local involvement and benefits of such initiatives.

During my ethnographic research, I became interested in the intergenerational relationships between young and elderly Cambodians. I gathered oral histories with various elderly Cambodians, focused upon their shifting survival and livelihood strategies through decades of conflict. The knowledge and experiences of the elderly generation of Cambodians is vast and largely undocumented, and I am proud that SFS students have been able to contribute to the conservation of traditional knowledge and historical memory.


Book Reviews

2019. A review titled ‘Nancy J. Jacobs, Birders of Africa: history of a network.’ Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 89, Issue 1: 191-193.


Paper presented at The Force of Life: Living in Precarious Spaces and Times in Asia conference on 20-21 July 2014, hosted by the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore.
Paper presented at the Villains, Rogues and Deviants: Writing the Histories of People We'd Rather Forget conference on October 22, 2010, hosted by the University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Studies.
Paper presented at the Joint Conference of Early Career Researchers Conference on East Asian Studies, the 4th Korean Studies Graduate Students Convention in Europe, and International Workshop on Governability across Regime Types, 24-26 October 2007, hosted by the University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Studies