Geography and the Environment

LTA, Sessional, and Adjunct Faculty

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Terah Sportel

Terah Sportel, PhD

Sessional Instructor

Geography and the Environment

Abbotsford campus

email Terah


I am a development geographer broadly interested in the politics of socio-economic and environmental change, with thematic interests in political ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable livelihoods. In particular, my expertise lies in studies of globalization processes, especially in rural and developing locales, coupled with an extremely strong commitment to India (a key world region), its professional research networks, and several rural communities in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Growing up in rural Northwestern Ontario fuelled my passion to explore human-environment relations and processes of inequality. I began working toward a more comprehensive understanding of the spatial relationships between the ‘margins’ and ‘cores’, and challenging myself in contexts beyond my ‘small world’ and comfort zone, expanding my sense of place and identity. This led me to Southern Ontario where I pursued undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Immediately after completing my PhD I began teaching in the Department of Geography and the Environment at UFV.


  • PhD (Geography), University of Guelph, 2013
  • MSc (Rural Extension Studies and International Development), University of Guelph, 2002
  • BES (Honours Geography), University of Waterloo, 1999


  • South Asian Studies Institute, UFV
  • Canadian Association of Geographers
  • Association of American Geographers
  • International Rural Sociology Association
  • Kerala Scholars eGroup (by invitation)

Teaching Philosophy

My considerable experience of overseas fieldwork, marked by significant periods of time, and equalling over four years spent living in South India, has been invaluable not only for my own work, but also for introducing students to global/local realities other than their own. I am committed to integrating my passion for research with my teaching. Having lived and worked in different parts of the world and regions of Canada, I do appreciate, however, the conflicting demands upon people according to their geographical origins, position in life, and aspirations. In this respect, I feel that actively engaging and supporting students in studies of geography and development requires a personable and compassionate nature and the ability to offer lived experiences within cultural contexts that are different from one’s geographic grounding.

I believe students must be provided with the 'knowledge tools' to visualize and shape their own personal and professional futures. I see my role as offering ideas and experiences that develop the curiosity, confidence, reflection, and analytical/practical skills for people to themselves change their lives. To realize this ideal, I aim to nurture student participation in classes through techniques such as small group discussions (with reports back to the class), seminar discussions, group brainstorming, role-playing, and Q&A periods, and expand their worldviews. Whenever possible, I incorporate experiential learning to help students gain a tangible understanding of issues discussed in the classroom.

I value cultivating mutual respect, accountability, and responsibility in all of my student interactions. 'To lead by example' is a maxim that I subscribe to – and it helps to instil an educational culture that is healthy and respectful of everyone. I believe effective teachers continually reflect upon and re-evaluate their pedagogy and continue to strengthen course content and delivery.  Pedagogy must evolve with experience, and relate in critical ways to disciplinary norms and to teaching techniques, with an awareness of the responsibility of educators to society at large.

Teaching Interests

  • GEOG 109 / GDS 100: A World of Development
  • GEOG 111: Environmental Issues and Strategies
  • GEOG 130: Geography of Canada
  • GEOG 140: Human Geography
  • GEOG 312: Political Ecology
  • GEOG / GDS 340: Geographies of Poverty and Development
  • GEOG 354: Approaches in Human Geography
  • GDS 400: Global Development Studies Seminar
  • GEOG 433: Regional Geography of South Asia
  • GEOG 452: Advanced Field Methods and Techniques
  • GEOG 491 and GEOG 492: Undergraduate Honours Research

Completed Honours Research I have supervised include:

  • 2017, Monosky, Miranda. Honours thesis: Land Rights, Landfills, and Environmental Equity: The Bailey Landfill and Tzeachten First Nation, Chilliwack, BC. Department of Geography and the Environment, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC, Canada.
  • 2016, Blackman, Tyler. The Canadian Farmworkers Union: Social Movements & Labour Arrangements.  (Co-Supervision with Garry Fehr.)

Research Interests

The particular foci of my research and publications to date include sustainable livelihoods, agricultural and agrarian change, policy and development narratives, and labour geography. My PhD dissertation notably examined in-depth the impacts of agricultural policy liberalization on India's important coconut economy and generated considerable empirical data. I conducted detailed ethnographic study (100+ in-depth interviews) and a quantitative survey (550+ household questionnaires) during my intensive 24 months of fieldwork, in two regions of the State of Kerala that offered a textured account of how liberalization related to community development. These areas were selected for their regional differences, specifically their varying agrarian change, coconut production statistics, local ecologies, and social and political-economic histories. I argued how multiple ecological and political economy processes in Kerala informed its regional trajectory over 25 years.

I am interested in expanding my work on the coconut economy of Kerala, embarking on a comparative study of Tamil Nadu. The long-term objective of my research is to establish a robust understanding of the politics of agrarian and livelihood change in South India, while developing mechanisms for tangible contributions within communities. Environmental struggles are increasingly now becoming also class and regional/nationality struggles within India, and vice versa whereby it is thus necessary to bring politics into analyses on sustainable livelihoods. Deepening neoliberal policy has particularly important implications for labour relations, environmental management and sustainability. Expanding global linkages have led to deepening environmental deterioration and unequal resource access in a variety of ways. Conflict over resources is, and will continue to be, a growing concern. These issues are deeply worrying as the gap between the rich and poor widens, and poverty in conjunction with a deteriorating environment, is overshadowed by discussions of India as the world's largest democracy and rising economic power.

I also seek to establish a local, community-engaged research program, engaging undergraduate students within two broad foci: (1) Studying issues of resource management, access and control, and changing labour dynamics to determine the livelihood implications for communities in Northern BC and the Fraser Valley; and (2) Engaging with the Indian diaspora to further understand changing connections between India and Canada and evolving processes of socio-economic inclusion and cultural change.


Research Experience

2007- 2009: PhD Research (Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India), Labour, Livelihoods & Political Narratives: A Study of Social Structures, Globalisation and Development in the Coconut Sector of Kerala. Ethnographic case studies in two gram panchayats, one in rural Trivandrum District and one in Palakkad District. Qualitative and quantitative methods used to conduct and analyze 140+ interviews (informal and in-depth semi-structured) and 569 Household Livelihood Surveys with data on 2700 individuals, conducted in English, Malayalam and Tamil with the help of a local research assistants.

2003: Editorial Support Intern (Waterloo, Canada), CIDA-SICI Partnership Project, Making Deserts Bloom: Community Action Plans for Environmental Restoration in Thevaram Basin, India, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada and University of Madras, Chennai, India.

2002- 2003: Agro-forestry and Water Supply and Sanitation Intern (Tamil Nadu, India), Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, CIDA Youth Internship Programme, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada and University of Madras, Chennai, India.

2001- 2002: MSc Research (Tamil Nadu, India), Influence of Socio-cultural Norms and Community Perceptions on the Sustainability of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation: A Case Study in Tamil Nadu, India. Ethnographic case study in one gram panchayat in rural Theni District. Qualitative and quantitative methods employed. Research was primarily based on a participatory, community-based and gender-sensitive approach, conducting household surveys, informal and in-depth interviews, transects, ‘story with a gap’, and participatory mapping in English and Tamil with the help of local research assistants.

2001: Gender Analyst Intern (Waterloo, Canada), CIDA-SICI Partnership Project, Making Deserts Bloom: Community Action Plans for Environmental Restoration, Thevaram Basin, India, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada and University of Madras, Chennai, India.



Sportel, T. and Véron, R. 2016. Coconut Crisis in Kerala? Mainstream Narrative and Alternative Perspectives. Development and Change. 47 (5): 1051-1077.  doi: 10.1111/dech.12260.

Sportel, T. 2013. Agency within a Socially Regulated Labour Market: A Study of 'Unorganised' Agricultural

Labour in Kerala. Geoforum. 47, 42-52. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.02.007.

Book Reviews

Sportel, T. 2014. [Review of the book Revisiting Rural Places: Pathways to Poverty and Prosperity in Southeast Asia, by J. Rigg and P. Vandergeest (Eds.)]. The Canadian Geographer 58 (3). doi: 10.1111/cag.12106.

Sportel, T. 2013. [Review of the book Unruly hills: A Political Ecology of India's Northeast, by B. Karlsson]. Contemporary South Asia 21(2), 178-180. doi: 10.1080/09584935.2013.805952.

Sportel, T. 2013. [Review of the book Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India, by A. Gupta]. Progress in Development Studies. 13 (4), 347-349. doi: 10.1177/1464993413490486.

Media Contributions

Sportel, T. 2009 (April 16). Hammers, sickles and progress. The Globe and Mail, Letter to the Editor.

Community Engagement

  • Journal Referee: Geoforum (2015 – present, n=2); Gender, Place & Culture (2018, n=1)
  • 2017 (March 3): Organizer, Conference Field Trip, The Diverse Geography of Abbotsford – A City in the Country. TheWestern Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC, Canada.

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