IDCE Faculty

Cynthia Caron, Ph.D.


Assistant Professor of International Development and Social Change

Coordinator of the Undergraduate Program in International Development and Social Change


Phone: 508-793-8879


Ph.D.,  Development Sociology, Cornell University, 2003

Master of Forest Science  (MFS), Yale University, 1993

B.A., Government and  International Development (cum laude, Phi  Beta Kappa), Clark
   University, 1990

Research Interests

I specialize in political and environmental  sociology.My research focuses on social  inequality, resource access in its broadest sense (land, forests, or  development aid), and the cultural politics of development. One aspect of my  scholarship focuses on working with local community organizations in Sri Lanka  on their energy needs and local environmental issues.This research explores how engaging in  environmental activism and exploring new frontiers with renewable energy  technologies allows individuals and communities to transform ideas of  citizenship, which in turn, enables us to see how the state and particular  groups in society mutually constitute one another.

Another focus of my work is on internal  displacement in Sri Lanka and understanding the dynamics of hosting; the act of  families taking in other families that have been displaced from their homes as  a result of conflict or natural disaster.  This research has immediate policy and programmatic implications as the  results have and can be used to design community and family level support  services so that families are able to host, and therefore, spare another family  from living in an overcrowded camp.  

Another aspect of my displacement research examines the relationship  between displacement, sense of belonging, host community integration, and the  return ‘home’.This research focuses on  a very particular displaced community: Sri Lankan Muslims expelled from the  Northern Province by the LTTE in 1990.


Professor Caron  has worked and conducted research in South Asia for over 15 years primarily in  India, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka and more recently in Rwanda and  Ethiopia. Living in Sri  Lanka at the time of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Professor Caron spent five  years managing and implementing a variety of post-tsunami relief,  rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. For the United Nations, she managed  a joint monitoring system that kept track of shelter and shelter-site  conditions in over 400 transitional shelter sites housing tsunami-displaced  families. She was Rehabilitation and Resettlement Program Manager for  Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB Germany) providing financial support, construction  training, and engineering oversight to displaced communities so that they could  construct new homes.

In 2008, Professor  Caron founded the Applied Research Unit (ARU) for the United Nations Office for Project Services providing clients in Sri Lanka’s humanitarian and donor  community with project design and monitoring and evaluation services. She has  worked with World Wildlife Fund-Bhutan, UNICEF, UNDP, the Centre on Housing  Rights and Evictions, CARE International, FAO, and the International Labor  Organization (ILO). Most  recently, she served as Land Tenure and Property Rights Specialist and Senior  Research and Evaluation Manager on land rights programming with the  Seattle-based non-profit, Landesa.

She  previously taught at Cornell University and has delivered seminars and training  programs in applied social science research in Rwanda, Pakistan, India, and Sri  Lanka. She has served on the boards of various Sri Lankan NGOs including the  Energy Forum and a disability-mainstreaming organization, Equality-Based Community Support and  Training (ECSAT). She speaks, to varying degrees, both Sinhala and Tamil and  has published a Sinhala-to-English translation of a children’s novel. She regularly peer review manuscripts for journals  such Contemporary South Asia and International Forestry Review. Her book  reviews have been published in Society and Natural Resources, Contemporary  South Asia, and Conservation and Society.

Awards and Grants

“Housing  Solutions for Long Term Conflict Affected IDPs in Sri Lanka,” European Commission, 2009

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur  Foundation, Program on Global Security and Sustainability, Research and Writing  Grant, 2002

Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation  Research Abroad, 1999

Foreign Language and Area Studies  Fellowship (FLAS), 1998, 1999, 2001-2002  

John Miller Musser Forest and Society  Fellowship, Institute of Current World Affairs, 1994-1996

Harvard Institute for International  Development, Harvard University & Tropical Resources Institute, Yale  University, 1992

Selected Publications

2011. Anna Knox, Cynthia Caron, Jonathan Miner and  Allyson Goldstein. “Land Tenure and Payment for Environmental Services:  Challenges and Opportunities for REDD+”. Land  Tenure Journal 2: 18-55.

2009b. “Left Behind: Post-tsunami Resettlement Experiences  for Women and the Urban Poor in Colombo.” In: Fernando, Priyanthi, Karin Fernando, and Mansi Kumarasiri (eds.) Forced to Move: Involuntary Displacement  and Resettlement-Policy and Practice.  Colombo: Centre for Poverty Analysis.  Pp. 177-206.

2009a. “A Most  Difficult Transition: Negotiating Post-tsunami Compensation and Resettlement  from Positions of Vulnerability.” In:  De Mel, Neloufer, Ruwanpura, Kanchana N. and Samarasinghe, G. (eds.) After the Waves: The Impact of the Tsunami  on Women in Sri Lanka.Colombo:  Social Scientist Association.  Pp. 112-152.

2009 (with  Hannah K. Wittman).“Carbon Offsets and  Inequality: Social Costs and Co-Benefits in Guatemala and Sri Lanka.” Society and Natural Resources 22(8):  710-726.

2007. “Needs Assessment Survey for Income Recovery  (NASIR) IV: A study undertaken in tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka.” RADA/ILO Livelihoods.Colombo: ILO.  20 pp.

2007 (with Dia  DaCosta).“There’s a Devil on Wayamba  Beach: Social Dramas of Development and Citizenship in Northwest Sri  Lanka.” Journal of Asian and African  Studies 42(5): 415-445.

2005. “Sri  Lanka’s Northern Muslim Community: Expulsion, Internal Displacement and  Prospects for Return.” Law Matters (October): 15-22.

2003. “Sri  Lanka.” In: Desai, Manisha (ed.) The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Women's Issues  Worldwide: Asia and Oceania. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Pp. 441-468.

2002.  “Examining Alternatives: The Energy Services Delivery Project in Sri  Lanka.” Energy for Sustainable Development 6(1): 38-46.

1997. Wedding Feast.Colombo, Sri Lanka: Karunaratne & Sons  Ltd.53 pp.(English Translation of Cumaratunga Munidasa’s  Sinhala novel, Magul Kaema).

1995.  “The role of nontimber tree products in food procurement strategies: Profile of  a Sri Lankan village.” Agroforestry Systems 32(2): 99-117.


International Development and Social Change

ID 125: Tales from the Far Side
ID 229: Property  and Community

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