Louise Fortmann

I am a rural sociologist. I grew up in central Pennsylvania and received a BA in political science from Penn State in 1968. I received an MS from Cornell in rural sociology in 1970 after which I worked for a year as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps) Volunteer in Cattaraugus County, NY as a welfare rights organizer. I did my dissertation research on delivery of legal services to the rural poor in Cattaraugus County. In 1973 I earned a PhD in development sociology from Cornell. I have spent eleven years living and doing research on agriculture and natural resource management in east and southern Africa. I came to UC Berkeley as an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Resource Management in 1984.

For my resume, click here.


I regularly teach courses on conservation and environment in sub-Saharan Africa, political ecology, property, and science. The syllabi and course requirements for recently taught courses are available below.


My students and I study the outcomes of natural resource use and management for individuals and for communities. My own research is located in northern California and southern Africa. My students work all over the world. Our combined research addresses five interrelated questions:

  1. gender- how do women and men differ in their access to, control of, management of and responsibility for providing natural resources and natural resource products. What are the social and ecological results of these differences.
  2. property-how are property rights and claims to natural resources structured and distributed and how does this affect people/communities dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods?
  3. poverty--what is the extent, nature and distribution of poverty among natural resource dependent households and communities and what causes it?
  4. community control of natural resources- what factors facilitate or impede community control and management of natural resources? What are the social and ecological outcomes of community control and management of natural resources?
  5. knowledge production- under what conditions are participatory research methods effective? What social structures and processes facilitate successful collaboration between professional and civil scientists
For a description of my current book project, click here.


I have published on poverty, property, gender, community management of natural resources, and, most recently, on democratizing science. For a pdf listing of all my publications, click here.

Selected Publication

Public Service

For Potential Graduate Students

If you are thinking about applying to ESPM in order to work with me, please read this first.

  1. I am particularly interested in students who want to do a dissertation in one of these areas:
    1. Students who want to do interdisciplinary research with me and a professor in a biophysical science as co-chairs of your guiding and dissertation committees
    2. Students who are interested in doing research on the democratization of science
    3. Students who are interested in doing research on gender and property
  2. I do not accept masters students