Sylvia Cifuentes

Graduate Student
PhD Cohort 2015


Specialization: Global Political Economy, Development and Environment.

PhD Emphasis: Environment and Society.


MSc.    Environment and Development, The London School of Economics and Political Science (2012)

B.A.     Economics & B.A. Liberal Arts (sp. Anthropology). Universidad San Francisco de Quito (2010)


Sylvia Cifuentes is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was recently a Visiting Instructor at Pitzer College, where she taught a course on Social Movements in the Global South. Her research and teaching interests are in climate politics, critical indigenous studies and decoloniality, and science and technology studies (STS).

Sylvia’s dissertation research focuses on the ontological and epistemic aspects of multi-scale and multi-ethnic indigenous climate change politics in the Amazon basin. Her engaged research approach integrates a political ecology of scale perspective and indigenous research methods. By putting forward the concept of integral territorial ontologies, she discusses how indigenous politics can challenge the premises of neoliberal climate governance and expand understandings of global climate politics. She further explores how climate change becomes a politically significant object for indigenous organizations and their processes to “scale-up” ancestral knowledges.  

Sylvia’s work broadly interrogates how ethnicity, power and development imaginaries shape climate knowledge and politics. Her research projects have also analyzed indigenous responses to COVID-19 in the Amazon basin; the co-production of land change science and development policies in the Amazon; and traditional ecological knowledge in the Tibetan Plateau, China. She has further collaborated in research projects about environmental science and politics in Chile.

Sylvia is affiliated to the Environmental Justice / Climate Justice Hub of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at UCSB. She is an Editorial Fellow of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and has collaborated with indigenous organizations including the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon basin (COICA). Before joining UCSB, she completed her MSc in Environment and Development at the London School of Economics. She has also worked in environmental and public health projects with the United Nations Development Program, the Peace Corps, Conservation International, among other organizations.


  • 2017    Cifuentes, S. Global Forest Governance, Poverty and Expert Knowledge. The case of UN REDD in Ecuador. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 16 (1).

Under Review:

  • 2020    Rethinking climate governance: Amazonian Indigenous Climate Politics and Integral Territorial Ontologies. Journal of Latin American Geography.
  • 2020    Territory, autonomy and rights: indigenous organizations and COVID-19 in the Amazon basin. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (Digital Magazine).


Teaching Assistant (S'16): GLOBL 1 - Global History, Culture and Ideology

Teaching Assistant (F'16): GLOBL 130 - Global Economy and Development

Teaching Assistant (W'17): GLOBL 130 - Global Economy and Development

Teaching Assistant (S'17): GLOBL 130 - Global Economy and Development

Teaching Assistant (W'18): GLOBL 161 - Global Environmental Policy and Politics