The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Krista Harper Among Researchers Awarded $6.3M in NSF Funding to Study Energy Transition

Friday, October 2, 2020

Krista Harper, professor of Anthropology and Public Policy, is among the UMass investigators recently awarded $6.3 M in NSF funding to pursue research on renewable energy systems, social equity, and climate change resiliency. The project, ELevating Equity VAlues in the Transition of the Energy System (ELEVATE), unites scholars from Engineering, Natural Sciences, Computer Science, and Social and Behavioral Sciences, including Principal Investigator Christine Crago, associate professor of Resource Economics and Co-PI Harper. The interdisciplinary research team will combine research strengths to study electricity technology, energy economics and policy, climate science, and social equity. 

The project is designated “Growing Convergence Research: The Transition to a Sustainable Energy Future.” Convergence refers to the integration of insights from many disciplines. Harper observes, “Energy has many angles, from science and engineering to political and economic institutions to meaning in everyday life. We need a convergence of methods from a range of disciplines to get this right. For the human dimensions alone -- from how electricity markets work to how people think about their electric bills and how they use energy in their homes -- we will need economists, anthropologists, and other social scientists to cover the range of issues.”

Cultural anthropologist Harper will collaborate on community-based participatory research with Holyoke-based civic organizations and peer faculty at Holyoke Community College. Initial research was funded by the UMass Institute for Diversity Sciences (IDS). Harper, whose previous projects have included collaborations with a youth food-justice organization in Holyoke and with community mobilizations on environmental justice in Europe and the U.S., emphasizes the unique contribution of anthropology, “Anthropologists are committed to understanding embedded practices, cultural values, and meaning-making, and that helps us understand how people make sense of changing environmental conditions, social inequalities, and technological systems.”

Harper specializes in qualitative and community-based participatory research methods, which help individuals in communities bring forward issues of importance to them in relation to the research and policy questions. “For example, we may use participatory games to elicit responses about what’s fair or unfair when it comes to electricity costs or Photovoice to understand the role of electricity in people’s daily lives.” 

Harper and Crago are now recruiting currently enrolled and prospective graduate students to conduct funded research as part of the NSF-funded ELEVATE project.  The research team especially encourages applicants with a strong interest in energy, climate, and environmental justice with preference for students who may have lived experience of social injustice. 

Prospective graduate students are encouraged to contact Anna Goldstein ( to identify a prospective PhD advisor in one of the affiliated Departments: Anthropology, Computer Science, Economics, Electrical, and Computer Engineering, Environmental Conservation, Geosciences, Mechanical, and Industrial Engineering, Resource Economics. Prospective applicants seeking a PhD in Anthropology may contact Prof. Harper via email.