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Department of Geography


Jessica Barnes

Title: Associate Professor
Department: Geography; Earth Ocean and Environment
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-9945
Office: Callcott, Room 221
Resources: Curriculum Vitae [pdf]
Personal Webpage — Jessica Barnes
Lab Webpage — Critical Ecologies Lab
School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment 
Department of Geography
Jessica Barnes


Dr. Barnes received her Ph.D. in sustainable development from Columbia University in 2010 and held a postdoctoral fellowship with the Yale Climate & Energy Institute and Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies from 2011 to 2013. She has been at the University of South Carolina since 2013 and is jointly appointed between the Department of Geography and the School of Earth, Ocean and Environment.


Dr. Barnes's research examines the culture and politics of resource use and environmental change. Her award-winning first book, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke University Press, 2014) is an ethnographic study of water and the politics surrounding its use. In subsequent work, she explored the intersections of climate change, water, and agriculture, focusing on how scientific understandings of climate change and its impact on the water resources of the Nile Basin are produced, interpreted, and negotiated. Related to this research interest, Dr. Barnes co-edited a collection of anthropological essays on climate change with Michael Dove, Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change (Yale University Press, 2015).

Dr. Barnes’ most recent book, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt (Duke University Press, 2022) examines the central role these staples play in Egyptian daily life and the sense of existential threat tied to the possibility of bread not being available or tasting inadequate. Linking global flows of grain and a national bread subsidy program with everyday household practices, Barnes theorizes the nexus between food and security, drawing attention to staples and the lengths to which people go to secure their consistent availability and quality. Work on this book was supported by an ACLS Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and Howard Fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation.

Dr. Barnes is currently developing a new project on air pollution in London, which examines how air pollution is woven into the fabric of daily lives in racialized and class-inflected ways. Based in a diverse, low-income London neighborhood with high levels of air pollution, the project explores how people move through, walk alongside, and live close to the traffic that is the main source of emissions, breathing air that carries unseen dangers. It also enters into the domestic spaces where people spend much of their time and where the air can be even more hazardous, due to the penetration of outdoor pollutants as well as indoor pollutant sources. Focusing on three scaled domains of the home, street, and city, the project looks at the nexus of people, air, and pollutants and the systemic inequalities that influence how these things come together.



  • GEOG 347: Water as a Resource
  • GEOG/ANTH 569: Environment and Development
  • GEOG 730: Seminar in Environmental Geography
  • ENVR 201: Environmental Science and Policy
  • ENVR/GEOG 538: Global Food Politics
  • SCHC337: Food and Politics


Barnes, J. 2022 Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt. Durham: Duke University Press.

Barnes, J. and M. Taher 2019 Care and Conveyance: Buying Baladi Bread in Cairo. Cultural Anthropology, 34(3): 417-443.

Farmer, T. and Barnes, J. 2018 Environment and Society in the Middle East and North Africa: Introduction. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 50(3): 375-382.

Barnes, J. 2017. The Future of the Nile: Climate Change, Land Use, Infrastructure Management, and Treaty Negotiations in a Transboundary River. WIREs Climate Change. 8: e449. doi: 10.1002/wcc.449.

Barnes, J. 2017. States of Maintenance: Power, Politics, and Egypt’s Irrigation Infrastructure. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 35(1): 146-164.

Barnes, J. 2016. Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: The Social Worlds of Wheat. Environment and Society: Advances in Research, 7: 89-106.

Barnes, J. 2016. Uncertainty in the Signal: Modeling Egypt's Water Futures. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22(S1): 46-66.

Barnes, J. and M. Dove (eds) 2015. Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Barnes, J. 2015. Scale and Agency: Climate Change and the Future of Egypt's Water. In Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. Jessica Barnes and Michael Dove (eds). New Haven: Yale University Press, 127-145.

Barnes, J. 2014. Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt. Durham: Duke University Press.

Barnes, J. 2014. Mixing Waters: The Reuse of Agricultural Drainage Water in Egypt. Geoforum, 57: 181-191

Barnes, J. 2014. Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink: The False Promise of Virtual Water. Critique of Anthropology, 33(4): 369-387.

Barnes, J., M. Dove, M. Lahsen, A. Mathews, P. McElwee, R. McIntosh, F. Moore, J. O’Reilly, B. Orlove, R. Puri, H. Weiss, and K. Yager. 2013. Anthropology’s Contribution to the Study of Climate Change. Nature Climate Change, 3:541-544.

Barnes, J. 2013. Who is a Water User? The Politics of Gender in Egypt’s Water User Associations. In Contemporary Water Governance in the Global South: Scarcity, Marketization, and Participation. Leila Harris, Jacqueline Goldin, and Christopher Sneddon (eds). London: Routledge, 185-198.

Barnes, J. 2012. Pumping Possibility: Agricultural Expansion through Desert Reclamation in Egypt. Social Studies of Science,42(4): 517-538.

Barnes, J., and S. Alatout 2012. Water Worlds: Introduction to the Special Issue of Social Studies of Science. Social Studies of Science, 42(4): 483-488.

Barnes, J. 2012. Expanding the Nile’s Watershed: The Science and Politics of Land Reclamation in Egypt. In Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East. Alan Mikhail (ed). New York: Oxford University Press, 251-272.

Barnes, J. 2009. Managing the Waters of Ba'th Country: The Power and Politics of Syria’s Water Scarcity. Geopolitics, 14(3): 510-530.

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