Sarah Osterhoudt

Sarah Osterhoudt

Associate Professor, Anthropology


  • Ph.D., Yale University, 2014
  • Joint-Ph.D., New York Botanical Garden, 2014
  • M.E.M., Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
  • B.S., Biology with Certificate in Science in Society, Wesleyan University

Geographical areas of specialization
Madagascar; Africa; Indian Ocean

Research Interests
environmental anthropology; agrarian studies; agro-ecological systems; political ecology; commodities and trade; conservation and development; anthropology of knowledge

About Sarah Osterhoudt

My research examines the relationships between people, the environment, and global trade systems, especially within agricultural and agro-ecological landscapes. I ask: what are the connections between the cultivation of land and the cultivation of self? Working with smallholder vanilla and clove farmers in Northeastern Madagascar, I investigate ways agrarian landscapes emerge as cultural landscapes, where individuals simultaneously cultivate meanings, moralities and memories. I examine how ideological dimensions of landscape become particularly important in times of pronounced cultural, economic, and environmental change.

Currently, I am researching the dramatic vanilla boom in Madagascar, and its intersecting effects on the cultural, economic and environmental dynamics of smallholder vanilla farmers. I am also tracing the reverberating effects on the price boom for other groups situated across the international vanilla supply chain. In particular, I highlight how international trade dynamics ‘writ large’ intersect with the more personal, affective dimensions of everyday life for those individuals who are part of the vanilla market.

My research has been supported by organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Program, the Lewis B. Cullman Foundation, the Yale Program in Agrarian Studies; the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.

In addition to my academic research, I have co-founded an organization that partners with farmer cooperatives in Madagascar to foster more integrated and equitable agricultural supply chains. This organization has received support from USAID, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency.


  • E101: Sustainability & Society
  • A205: Sustainable Agriculture & Trade
  • E318: Nature / Culture: Global Perspectives in Environmental Anthropology
  • E366: Sustainable Trade & Culture
  • E444 / 644: People & Protected Areas: Conservation in Theory and Practice
  • E606: Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology

Selected Publications


2017. Vanilla Landscapes: Meaning, Memory and the Cultivation of Place in Madagascar. Advances in Economic Botany Series, New York Botanical Garden Press.


2019    A New Sustainability Model for Measuring Changes in Power and Access in Global Commodity Chains: Through a Smallholder Lens. With Benjamin Neimark, Hayley Alter, and Adrian Gradinar. Palgrave Communications 5(1).

2018    Community conservation and the (Mis)appropriation of taboo. Development and Change 49(5): 1248-1267.

2018    Remembered Resilience: Oral History Narratives and Community Resilience in Agroforestry Systems. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, special issue: Agriculture, Food Systems, and Climate Change. 33(3): 252-255.

2018    Land of no taboo: The agrarian politics of neglect and care in Madagascar. Journal of Peasant Studies 45(7): 1297-1313.

2016    Written with seed: The political ecology of memory in Madagascar. Journal of Political Ecology 23(1): 263-278.

2015. Disaster, Degradation, Dystopia: A Political Ecology Approach to Disaster Research. With: Catherine Claus, Michael Dove, Lauren Baker, Luisa Cortesi, Chris Hebdon and Amy Zhang. In: A Handbook of Political Ecology, Raymond Bryant and Soyeun Kim, eds. Edward Elgar Publishers.

2013    Baker, Lauren, Michael Dove, Dana Graef, Alder Keleman, David Kneas, Sarah Osterhoudt, and Jeffrey Stoike. Whose diversity counts? The politics and paradoxes of modern diversity. Sustainability 5(6): 2495-2518. doi:10.3390/su5062495

2012    Sense and sensibilities: Negotiating meanings within agriculture in northeastern Madagascar. Ethnology 49(4): 283-301.

2010    The field as labyrinth: Exploring ethnographic practices through the works of Jorge Luis Borges. Anthropology Matters 12(1).

2009. Writing Knowledge: Re-articulations of Vanilla Production in Imorona, Madagascar. Tropical Resources Institute Research Bulletin. 28:13-16.