Thomas D. Sayles Research Grant

Sayles Student Research Grants are available to all Dartmouth students conducting research in ethics and working with a Dartmouth faculty advisor.  The Ethics Institute seeks to advance Dartmouth's unique teacher scholar model by providing graduate and undergraduate students funds to work on an ethics related research project under the supervision of a Dartmouth faculty advisor. Students develop and present their proposed project to the Ethics Institute as outlined below. Projects may take place either off-campus or in Hanover. Research opportunities are not given academic credit. The Sayles Grant is available to students during all terms.


  • Applicant must submit a complete application to the Ethics Institute by the deadline.
  • A 3-5 page final report must be submitted evaluating the completed research in terms of its value and its impact on the student. Copies of any formal work resulting from the research period will be submitted with the final report or when completed.
  • Student must be enrolled at Dartmouth when they undertake the research.
  • A brief financial report must be submitted showing how funds were utilized.
  • The final report and financial report are due the third week of the term following the research.


Our Sayles student research grants will not generally exceed $3,500.  The Institute reviews these grant requests each term and the award (which may be less than the amount requested) depends on how the project advances the mission of the Institute (Ethics Institute Mission Statement)as well as the availability of funds.   

Application Information

  1. Apply for a Sayles Student Research Grant here.
  2. Decide on a research arrangement that fits your interests and, if off-campus, discuss these arrangements with a sponsor for that agency/ institution/ organization. Select a Dartmouth faculty member who is willing to act as your advisor in designing the research, in providing a sounding board during the research, and in evaluating your work. Student thesis projects are allowed.
  3. On the online application, upload a letter of support from your faculty advisor or have your faculty advisor send a letter of support to
  4. Provide an itemized detailed budget of expenses during the research period. Costs may include:
    • Travel (airfare, bus, subway, automobile (current rate per mile)
    • Rent (hotel accommodations)
    • Supplies & Equipment (e.g. fees for translators, surveys, coding interviews, long distance call related to research, rental equipment)
    • We do not fund Dartmouth campus room and board during your research.
  5. Costs may not include your time working in research.

Application Deadline

For Fall Term '24: August 12, 2024

For Winter Term '25: November 15, 2024

For Spring Term '25: February 12, 2025

For Summer Term '25: May 10, 2025

Samples of recent grant recipients' work


Predicting Onset of Visual Hallucinations Using Pareidolias:

A Qualitative Exploration of the Ethics of a Digital App to Detect a Possible Biomarker

Julia Hill '24

Abstract: This study aimed to assess ethical considerations for using digital biomarkers in predicting the onset of neuropsychiatric disease. The study employed semi-structured interviews with 21 people (N = 16 people at-risk for hallucinations and N = 5 current patients who experience visual hallucinations). The interview questions were grounded in the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR). The Rapid and Rigorous Qualitative Data Analysis (RADar) method was used to generate results. Emerging themes included prior knowledge, care partner resources, perception of outcomes, accessibility, interest in the tool, essential safety, organizational capacity, and monetary considerations. Understanding how to address these concerns from a participant's experience may promote engagement and positive attitudes surrounding prodromal biomarker metrics adapted for digital health. Participants mentioned the potential of the digital biomarker to increase access to health care in areas with remote access to in-person health care and offset the trajectory of disease. Participants endorsed coordination with health care providers to provide next steps for modifying the trajectory of disease. Future research should promote team science among researchers, physicians, and individuals with lived experience of mental illness to improve telemedicine practices in accordance with population needs. With the increasing use of telemedicine and other remote health care practices, it is vital to consider the ethics of a stand-alone remote technology to diagnose pre-clinical neuropsychiatric disorders. Read the published paper here.

Family Caregiver Comfort with Telehealth Technologies: Differences by Race and Ethnicity in a Cross-Sectional Survey

Reed Bratches

Background:Telehealth has seen widespread use since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 82% patients required assistance in accessing their telehealth appointments. This assistance commonly comes from a family caregiver who may or may not be comfortable using the technologies associated with telehealth. The objective of our study was to analyze a demographically representative survey of U.S. family caregivers to understand the level of comfort using telehealth technologies among family caregivers.  Read the published article here.

Exploring the Ethics of Translating Open Biomedical Data into AI-derived Knowledge: From Policy to Practice

Chase Yakaboski,  PhD candidate at Thayer

Chase's research paper will be presented at the NeurIPS AI for Science workshop.

Read the paper:  ArXiv here.

Remembering in Israel

Mira Darham, Graduate Student

Throughout all my courses in the Master of Arts and Liberal Studies Program I have undertaken underlying themes of memory, personal history and the Holocaust. Utilizing the lens of creativity, I make each project I pursue innovative and striking, producing an experience for both the viewer and me. 

My goals within this Independent Study are to spend the term in Israel, doing research at Yad Vashem and interviewing survivors, members of the community and my own family. Not long ago my family discovered that we have relatives in France and Israel who survived the Holocaust. This will provide a foundation for my pursuits in personal history and allow the opportunity to actively witness and become reintegrated into my culture and heritage. I will be making frequent visits to Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Predominantly research based, this activity will give historical context and gravity to my pursuits. From its vast collection of archives, testimonies, documents, and databases on the Holocaust, I will glean information on my family and other survivors and victims whose stories I have yet to find. These interviews would complete a trifecta of experience and information-gathering that would address my current studies in creative writing while incorporating themes of cultural studies.  Read Mira's resulting essays here.

Responsible Planning in Assistive Digital Biomarkers: A Qualitative Analysis

Julia Hill '24

Seventy-five million individuals worldwide are impacted due to neuropsychiatric diseases, which include Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders.1 Their prevalence is expected to double by 2040 as the large baby boomer population ages, with patients dying 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population.2 The development and illness trajectory (prognosis) of neuropsychiatric diseases is modifiable if diagnosed early. I feel an urgent need to improve the quality of life and length of life for individuals who suffer from life-altering diseases. Thus, I collaborated with senior researchers: Vinamrita Singh, PhD, Andrew Bohm, PhD, MS, Gajanan Revankar, PhD, MBBS, and Karen L. Fortuna, PhD, LICSW, across multiple disciplines, including sociology, psychology, neuroscience, biology, and physics. I gained an understanding of multidisciplinary research. Then, I produced a novel tool for sustainable change in the disease trajectory. I also mentored two other Dartmouth undergraduates: Morgan Kerber-Folstrom and Margaret Klein, as we constructed the analysis of results. Together, we learned to appreciate the severity of the disease and the importance of scientific methodology in digital biomarker research.  Read more about Julia's research here.

UVelona: A Novel Harm-Reduction Method to Disinfect Needles and Syringes

George Gerber '23, Anahita Tewari Kodali '23, Aksheta Saireddy Kanuganti '24, Joel Smith '24

Injection drug use is a major public health issue in the United States; about 1 million individuals in the US inject drugs every year. Individuals who use injection drugs face a severe lack of resources and extreme stigma. For them, a lack of resources can result in unsafe injection practices, including reuse of needles and syringes. Needle/syringe reuse puts individuals who use injection drugs at a high risk of contracting several blood-borne diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Additionally, because of the strain put on the end of the needle, needle reuse can result in distortion of the needle's fine tip, which can cause the tip to fall off and become embedded in the user's skin. This increases the chance of injury and infection. Read more about their research here.

One Year After the U.S. Capitol Attack: Are Racial and Partisan Identities Opportunistic?

Ella Laurent '25

Affective polarization and racial fluidity are constructs that have become rather prevalent in America's political culture. Based on an online survey experiment with a sample of voting-age adults in the U.S., we examined how the exposure to information about violent protestors with strong racial and partisan influences impacted survey respondents' own racial and partisan identities. Read more about Ella's research here.

The Ethics of Language and Language Use

Zachary Lang '23

My research project was focused on exploring the ethics of language and language use. It did so by following a method that numerous philosophers take when approaching issues in conceptual ethics and conceptual engineering: reverse engineering. Reverse engineering, in essence, consists of assessing various descriptive properties of concepts—for example, their semantic content, their cognitive content, the inferences they generate, and their social functions—and then providing normative and prescriptive assessments.  Read more about Zach's research here.

Ethics in Making "Sustainable Food" in the Palm Oil Supply Chain of a Multilatina Company

Montserrat Perez Castro Perez (Graduate student)

Palm oil is the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world but has received much attention for its implication in the destruction of tropical forests and smallholder livelihoods. The food industry has responded to the negative claims through corporate sustainability [CS] strategies, such as certifications, and initiatives to trace the origin of the raw material, and monitor land-use changes. But implementing CS strategies has not been easy. These are voluntary projects; producers are not contractually obliged, nor are they required by government regulation to provide information. Even with access to data, the control of all the socio-environmental impacts of a value chain is immeasurable. Further, the creation of CS roles and new internal requirements within the organization, are also complicated organizational changes that don't go unchallenged. Due to the growing popularity of CS to approach the socioenvironmental impact of the industry in a voluntary way, is important to understand how ethics inform different actors' views and practices. The research draws from anthropology and social studies of science to ask, what ethical values, practices, and social relationships are involved in making sustainable food out of palm oil?  Read more about Montse's research here.

Mindful User Experiences: The Ethical Future for Persuasive Technologies

Natalie Noelle Svoboda (Graduate student)

Technology is currently designed with very limited ethical standards, leading to the creation of experiences that distract and addict.  This is the result of a carefully-crafted system that is set up for monetary value — the more attention the user dedicates to the experience, the better it is for the business.  As a result, user experience (UX) designers quantify user engagement by measuring screen time, clicks, and shares, keeping users hooked to their screens, treating attention as a commodity.  UX designers create features that ping the user to interact, pressures the user to respond immediately, and provide endless new content for entertainment.  Technology, as a result, is currently manipulating the thoughts and actions of millions of people, resulting in the frazzled and mindless consumption of information. What would our digital world look like if it had an ethical standard to protect user attention?  Read more about Natalie's research here.

Perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare communication in a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of family caregivers

The grant supported a nationally-representative survey of family caregivers, and we were able to have a whole section on the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Introductory Bioethics Podcast for Students at the Geisel School of Medicine and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice

Ovya Hema Ganesan (Geisel)

There is currently no introductory bioethics podcast available that is targeted to medical and health students. Micro-learning, through the form of a podcast, is becoming more widely used. In particular, podcasts allow students to listen to multiple points of view, follow along with the progression of a thought framework, and avoid reading more content on top of their schoolwork.

We hope to develop a health care ethics podcast meant to increase students' awareness about cases they may face within careers in the healthcare field. Allowing students to develop a framework that can be practiced and applied to real cases is crucial for enabling them to be prepared to face such challenges after graduation.

With each podcast episode, we hope to discuss case-based, practical, ethical issues through an analytical thought process. Through rigorous research and the involvement of expert ethicists, the podcast will cover both novel and classical ethics issues pertinent to health and wellbeing, encouraging listeners to understand that ethical deliberations underlie many of our daily decision-making. Listeners will then be equipped with the framework to address ethical issues in the healthcare field in an equitable fashion. Overall, this podcast seeks to fulfill the aim of the Ethics Institute as an innovative, accessible media: to foster the study and teaching of ethics.

Digital Mental Health Peer Support Intervention for Family Caregivers of People with Dementia

Caroline Collins-Pisano '22 (Thesis)

Family caregivers of people with dementia are critical to the quality of life of care recipients and the sustainability of healthcare systems but face increased risk of emotional distress and negative physical and mental health outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine the usability, acceptability, and preliminary effectiveness of a technology-based and caregiver-delivered peer support program, "Caregiver Remote Education and Support" (CARES) smartphone/tablet application and to identify barriers and facilitators to the ethical use of former caregivers as technology-based interventionists. Nine family caregivers of people with dementia aged 18 and older received the CARES intervention and three former family caregivers of people with dementia were trained to deliver the CARES system. Quantitative data were collected at baseline and at the end of the two-week field usability study. Qualitative data were also collected at the end of the two-week field usability study. The pilot study demonstrated that a two-week, peerdelivered and technology supported mental health intervention designed to improve burden, stress, and strain levels was experienced by former and current family caregivers of people with dementia as usable, acceptable, and ethical. CARES was associated with non-statistically significant improvements in burden, stress, and strain levels. This pre/post field usability study demonstrated it is possible to train former family caregivers of people with dementia to use technology to deliver a mental health intervention to current family caregivers of people with dementia. Future studies would benefit from a longer trial, a larger sample size, a randomized controlled design, and a control of covariables such as stages of dementia, years providing care, and the severity of dementia symptoms. Read Caroline's thesis here.

Ethical Implications of Media Influence on Altering US Public Opinion

Undergrad student research on how media coverage of the recent demonstrations and violence perpetrated by both the protesters and the pro-China police in Hong Kong affects U.S. public opinion about China and foreign policy preferences towards both China and Hong Kong. Experiment, to be fielded in the U.S., respondents are randomly exposed to either neutral, pro-China, or pro-Hong Kong news about the ongoing demonstrations, and then asked questions about their attitudes and preferences for subsequent U.S. foreign policies.

The State of Social and Political Expression on College Campuses

"What explains variation in student willingness and truthfulness when discussing social and political topics on campus?" Research to determine if a large percentage of undergraduate students across the political spectrum are muting at least some of their beliefs on social or political issues and the reasons behind self-censorship. Some potential reasons include preventing others from being offended, nipping emotionally-exhausting conversations on sensitive issues, being uncomfortable sharing partially-developed thoughts on polarizing topics, or being unwilling to speak on issues in which one lacks personal experience.

Leading Lives and the Normative Significance of Narratives

Xingzhi (Justin) Guo '22

There exists an intuitive connection between living and narrating—when we try to convey to others an understanding of ourselves, we do so by telling the story of our life. An important question ensuing this intuition, then, is whether this connection bears any normative significance upon us—whether narrative concerns matter to our decision-making and actions at all; to what extent can the question of what we should do be reduced to what promotes the narrative coherence of our life story. Some philosophers, like Galen Strawson and Bernard Williams, contended that narratives are without normative importance to us. For the majority of decisions in life, for instance, it is not the case that we consult our life stories up until then and infer what we should do in light of what ought to be done to promote a coherent life story. Rather, actions are often immediate responses to particular circumstances. The relevant considerations concern more immediate projects and ends, and the input/role of large-scale narrative considerations is obscure if not nonexistent. On the other hand, there are philosophers, including Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, who argued that we act precisely by pursuing and enacting coherence in the story we are leading. Narrative interests would therefore be decisive in guiding our actions. Indeed, when it comes to important decisions in life, such as career, marriage, and parenthood, the question in the end is always how the decision would impact and/or shed light on the story that our life would amount to (whether, for example, as the result of our choices, our life would become a story of redemption and improvement). 

How can we adjudicate between these two positions? Both intuitions seem real and important, and a satisfying account would need to incorporate both. In my project, I want to evaluate two proposals (one coming from each position) that have great promises in addressing this concern. Holding on to Strawson and Williams's position, the first proposal argues that the fact that we tend to refer back to our life stories at certain moments of decision needs not imply that life narrative is somehow indispensable to making decisions and taking actions. Rather, this may be explained in terms of social conventions: we are prescribed the norm of taking narrative considerations into view when it comes to certain moments of decisions, but it is still an open question whether it is inconceivable for us to decide and act in those moments without taking an interest in our life narratives. Another proposal, defending MacIntyre and Taylor's position, argues that the fact that we do not appeal to narrative concerns in each and every action is not sufficient to show that life narratives are irrelevant to ordinary decision making. Indeed, narrative considerations may play a reactive role insofar as it sets the boundaries for actions. It may delineate possible actions that would be considered out of bound in light of their disruption of our narrative coherence. Akin to laws or commandments, the demands of narrative coherence may not legislate positive content for what we ought to do from moment to moment. Nevertheless, it supervises and shapes all actions as it determines what ought not to be done. That narrative considerations do not surface in day-to-day actions would only mean that ordinarily our intentional activities do not threaten our narrative coherence.

I seek to take an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the two proposals. Because this is mainly a question in contemporary philosophy of action and ethics, I will further delve into important discussions raised by David Velleman (in his book Self to Self as well as in his articles Narrative Explanations, The Self as Narrator, among others). I will also consider relevant chapters in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. Beyond (just) philosophy, I want to explore the intersection between philosophy and literary theory, where much theoretical work on narratives in literature has been done. This would encompass Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative, Walter Benjamin's Illuminations, and Aristotle's Poetics. Lastly, incorporating the empirical perspective, I seek to include readings in contemporary developmental psychology (works on autobiographical selfhood by Qi Wang) and conduct case studies on the nature of life stories (drawing from the life story database of NPR'S Story Corps). I intend to conduct all of the above through self-initiated reading clubs so that reading and thinking about narratives will not be an impersonal research project but a personal, reflective, and interactive experience.  

Ethics and politics in the understanding of the Ecuadorian paramo

Mayra Flores

Isabel, who is an NGO representative, tells Antonia and me that the technical document we are about to produce is meant to influence national politics around the páramo—a highland ecosystem characterized for capturing water on the ground. She explains: "the plan is to place the Ecuarunari, which is the biggest organization of the Kichwa Nationality, as the main defenders of the páramos. That way, they can propose a political agenda towards nature rights and collective rights. By doing so, they can limit the entrance of mining activities in the páramos" (Meeting, June 21, 2023). This is not the first time techno-scientific evidence is produced to build legal cases that would allow people to do both, and defend their collective rights and nature's rights. In fact, since nature's rights were constitutionally recognized in 2008, approximately forty cases have reached the courts in defense of nature. 


Isabel's NGO was also actively involved in the commission that wrote the Intercultural Organic Law to Manage Water. Project of legislation carried on by the Confederations of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), and presented to the National Assembly to deliberate in March 2023. Just two months before President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the Assembly amid his turbulent political trial. Lasso, who was being held accountable for corruption, also led a project to legislate water. In a desperate attempt to avoid his trial, he pulled out a political strategy called "muerte cruzada" (mutual death). This instrument of public politics meant that the presidency and the Assembly needed to be reconstituted, calling for early elections. Having no Assembly, the deliberation of three competing projects to legislate water was postponed. There was a third project presented by a political party opposed to the current government. Each project to legislate water was written by one of the main political fractions in Ecuador at the moment: Unes, Conaie, and the government of Guillermo Lasso. By looking back to the writing process of the Intercultural Organic Law to Manage Water, Isabel explains that her organization did not foresee the political situation to turn out this way. Without the possibility to push forward the debates about the project to legislate water, the organizations turn their focus to the paramo. 

While my intentions during this preliminary fieldwork were to follow the debates over water legislation in the National Assembly, the debates never happened due to the sudden change in the political landscape. Instead, I had the opportunity to follow two processes that still would allow me to understand how different ethical values are being addressed in the making of water legal and political agendas. The first one was the analysis and discussion of a technical document that synthesized "threats" to the paramo. The second one was the early design of a public policy for the paramo. In both spaces geographers, lawyers, economists, sociologists, hydrologists, artists, agricultural engineers, and local political leaders raised fundamental questions about the "values" of nature. The value in terms of cultural and historical context, the value of the paramo in the hydrological cycle of the Andean Region, and the value of the paramo in the everyday life of the people inhabiting the highlands. In this summary report, I will address the main ethical dilemmas discussed in making technical documents and policies from "below".

From June to August 2023, I did preliminary fieldwork, including participant observations, interviews, and archival work mainly in Quito. But I also visited a paramo shared by two communities in the north highland region of Ecuador. I observed and participated in meetings where a public policy for the paramo was designed, as well as, multiple meetings to analyze the "threats" to this ecosystem and the people that inhibit it. I attended other spaces of public deliberation where concerns over water and territorial defense against mining activities were discussed. I held conversations with lawyers involved in the construction of legislation for water as well as peasant and community leaders who supported the process. Finally, I visited the main libraries of two of the most important graduate studies colleges in Quito and the historical archive of the library Aurelio Espinoza Polit. In the next sections, I will discuss the main threats of analysis after completing fieldwork, and the possible directions my dissertation research might take. Much of this work was carried out with Antonia, a geographer and activist who was the main contact with the NGO and lawyers. At the moment, we are working on our panel presentation for the Mexican Congress of Critical Geography in October 2023.

The fuzzy limits of the paramo

As we approached the technical document consultants had made for the NGO, two central issues needed to be addressed. First, there was uncertainty about the physical extension of the paramo across the country. There was a difference between the two cartographical categories that showed the extension of the territory that was once the paramo versus what remains of it. Second, the limits would influence how people settle or use land in this ecosystem. The report identified land use change as one of the main "threats" to the ecosystem. The expansion of grasslands for cattle, for example, was a primary concern. What must count as the territorial extension of the paramo? Solving these questions required thinking of both, the conservation of the ecosystem and the people who historically subsist from it. To explain the scope of ethical challenges around establishing the frontiers of the paramo, I will present the extract from a field note I wrote during a visit to a community in the highlands:

There are multiple mountains surrounding La Merced. Not far away from the colonial town, cows and scattered adobe houses populate the grasslands adjoining the paramo. As we go up, some woody trees start appearing. Polylepis eternally peeling. Many trees have bromeliads hanging in their branches. There are reeds everywhere and colorful small flowers. The vegetation starts looking a lot like the one usually found in the paramos. Is this what ecologists call ecotone? A space of transition between two ecosystems. Or, is it the remnant of this páramo? I asked them: "are we approaching the páramo?" And they answer: "no! The páramo is up there, all the way up there". 

They gesture with the hand an imaginary frontier, that I don't see clearly. I don't insist, but I wonder about what they think about the páramo. I wonder if those notions influence what areas become grassland or not. (Fieldnote, La Merced, July 13, 2023)

As people in La Merced, many other communities' livelihoods depend partly or entirely on the paramo. Campesinos, indigenous and mestizos, cultivating or raising animals rely on this ecosystem. Therefore, most communities have established their physical limits to protect it. In establishing what can be used and needs to be protected communities, especially indigenous communities with collective land rights, set ethical frontiers over the territory. These agreements are not set on laws or technical reports but on reciprocity and the strength of their social fabric. However, the paramo is inhabited not only by indigenous people and peasants, but also by other collectives, industries, and political actors with a different set of expectations over the paramo that puts pressure on the conservation, resource extraction, and management of nature. To explore this, we decided to unpack the nuances and complexities of the "threats" to the paramo as reported in the technical document and previous reports. The archival work comprehended looking at historical documents and a bibliography that would contextualize this ecosystem. 

Contextualizing the "threats" to the paramo

Following definitions of the UN (2016), the technical document provided by the NGO categorized "threats" as phenomena of anthropogenic or natural origin that would harm the ecosystem or human lives in the future. However, the distinction between natural and anthropogenic became problematic and raised multiple questions about Western parameters inscribed in the definition and management of the paramo. What are the political and ethical implications of perpetuating the nature-culture divide? Especially in territories historically guarded by indigenous people with different ontological approaches to living with other-than-human beings. 

Through the archival research, I came to understand that what we understand as paramo was a multiplicity of micro-ecosystems and diverse cultural landscapes, homogenized under a single category by the Spanish colonization (Ramon 2009). During that period, the hacienda settled in the lowlands and displaced indigenous people to the higher lands that were considered less productive. Forced to work for the hacienda, indigenous people had no time to reproduce their diversified agro-productive system in their lands. The paramo became synonymous with "desertic", "inhospitable" and "nostalgic". Decades after the Ecuadorian independence, during the agrarian reform, the paramo was occupied by migrational waves promoted by the state (Foro de los Recursos Hídricos 2013). During that time, indigenous families regrouped and took control over their land in a process that Ramon (2009, 19) calls "ethnic revitalization". 

The landscape of the paramo is then intertwined with the history of Kichwa indigenous people, who not only occupied the highlands before the colonial invasion but were also dispossessed of the lowlands. From these historical lenses, what constitutes a "threat" takes different meanings. Understanding the paramo as a landscape culturally and ecologically intertwined is not an easy task, because data and cartographical information that inform technical reports tend to divide both concepts into variables. Which in sum complicates a non-binary approach to the paramo. 

During one of the meetings, economists, sociologists, and cultural managers were compelled to rethink the ethical challenges of thinking of the paramo in conservational terms. For example, representing the paramo as an important ecosystem to the hydrological cycle would translate into a new dispossession of indigenous people from their lands. Thinking at the intersection of collective and natural rights became a crucial ethical and justice matter. Situating the "threat" not from the anthropogenic or natural divide, but from a historical perspective changed the focus to actors and power dynamics that affect both. In that regard, mining concessions and agroindustrial activities became the biggest "threat". 

Creating public policy for the paramos

In August, Isabel's NGO along with other organizations initiated the process of designing a public policy for the paramos. For this, they hired an experienced lawyer and university professor, who was previously involved in the writing process of the Intercultural Organic Law to Manage Water that CONAIE presented to the National Assembly months ago. The lawyer emphasized two points as pivotal for the production of national policy for the paramos. First, the paramo is a socio-agroecological territory. Meaning the paramo is equally important in its sociocultural dimensions as in ecological ones. Second, the necessity to create an institutional infrastructure capable of managing the paramo in terms of the bioregion, rather than scattered punctual efforts. Third, he posed the challenge of finding funds for this regional institutional infrastructure without framing the paramo in the language of ecosystem services—because of its problematic understanding and narrowing of nature in monetary terms, that leaves aside or diminishes other forms of cultural valuation. In the translation, the lawyer was trying to make, from consuetudinary forms of managing the paramo to the state administrative frameworks, ethical and justice concerns guided how to make plural politics.  

However, the relationship between natural rights and collective rights is not always equivalent. As a political ecologist pointed out during the meeting, there are cases when both can be in plain contradiction (Meeting, August 04, 2023). Claims about what matters and what should be prioritized posed a range of ethical concerns. The critical point would be how to go beyond nature-culture distinctions and respond to the rationale of public policies simultaneously. The history of dispossession would once again inform the design, yet no conclusion was made on how to fund public infrastructures of such a kind. 


During my summer preliminary fieldwork, I had the opportunity to approach the paramo as a territory entangled with political, cultural, and ecological histories that emerge in spaces of public deliberation as in everyday lives. This experience and information gathered will allow me to go deeper into the central questions for the larger dissertation project I will carry on during my Ph.D. Most importantly, it allowed me to build networks and explore openly which are the central concerns about water in Ecuador. There are many other spaces where the paramo in its hybrid form (nature-cultural) would make itself visible that I didn't address in this brief report, but I had the opportunity to observe: protest songs, paintings, and anti-mining struggles. Field notes, as well as archival work, are the departure points to my research problem. Likewise, working with my collaborators became a good opportunity to enrich my ethnographic work. Part of this work will be presented at the Congress of Critical Geography in Mexico and might turn into a paper.