College of Liberal and Fine Arts

Michael Cepek, Ph.D.


Department of Anthropology

Research area: Cultural Anthropology


Office: MH 4.03.34

Research in Progress

My research explores the relationship between environmental change, cultural difference, and political power at the margins of global orders. In my studies with Indigenous Cofán people in the Amazonian forests, Andean foothills, and capital city of Ecuador, I investigate cultural politics, environmental conservation projects, and environmental justice movements from the perspective of longstanding concerns in social theory and emerging debates in the anthropology of Latin America. In my last project, I produced an ethnographic account of the oil-related transformation of Cofán lands, which lie at the epicenter of Ecuador’s petroleum industry. In my current project, I am studying the ways in which Cofán shamans negotiate relations between humans and nonhumans in the context of intercultural violence, invasion, and dispossession. In all my work, I employ an immersed ethnographic standpoint to develop new perspectives on the forces that trouble us, whether ecological disasters, specters of cultural loss, or enduring constraints on human agency. I use this viewpoint to contribute to broader discussions in environmental anthropology, political economy, science and technology studies, the anthropology of religion, conservation policy and practice, and collaborative filmmaking and activism with Indigenous peoples and other subaltern groups.

In addition, I am President of the Cofán Survival Fund, a non-profit organization that supports Cofán-directed conservation, education, and sustainable development initiatives in Amazonian Ecuador. I also serve on the editorial board of Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology and PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Honors and Awards: UTSA President's Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching (2016), UTSA President's Distinguished Achievement Award for Community Engagement (2021), UTSA President's Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Core-Curriculum Teaching (2021).


Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2006


My teaching interests grow out of my long-term anthropological experience as informed by both classical and contemporary theory. I firmly believe that cultural analysis and ethnographic methods are essential tools for understanding humanity in the 21st century. I teach courses organized by topic (Indigenous peoples and politics; environment, culture, and conservation; the oil industry; shamanism and cosmology), approach (environmental, political, and economic anthropology; political economy; phenomenology; the history of social and cultural theory), and area (lowland South America; Andean South America; contemporary Latin America). I also enjoy teaching introductory anthropology, and I consider myself to be an enthusiastic spokesperson for the discipline.

Prospective students: I am currently accepting MA and doctoral students. I am especially interested in applicants whose proposed research focuses on one or more of the following areas: Latin America; oil and other extractive industries; Indigenous peoples and politics; environmental conservation programs; contamination and pollution; shamanism and cosmology; and the theoretical and methodological approaches associated with phenomenology, political economy, and classical holistic ethnography. I value both academic and applied anthropology, and I am especially interested in advising students open to either or both paths.

Current Ph.D. Students: Miguel Alexander Duarte, Daniel Jimenez, Adam Johnson, Hugo Lucitante, Sadie Lucitante, David Felipe Rodríguez-Mora, Anthony Rey Villanueva

Current MA students: Aaron Castle, Moureen Kaki, Delilah Quezada, Hannah Smith, Mayrellen Werlitz

Representative Publications

2020 - Cepek, Michael L. "Engaging, Standing, and Stepping: Evaluating Anthropological Activism on an Amazonian Petro-Frontier." Commoning Ethnography 3(1):5–24.

2019 - Cepek, Michael L. "Theory, Ethnography, and Ethics in an Indigenous Phenomenology of Oil." HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 9(3):673–679.

2019 - Cepek, Michael L. La Supervivencia del Pueblo Cofán en los Campos Petroleros de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana. Translated by Mary Ellen Fieweger. Quito: Facultad Lationamericana de Ciencias Sociales.

2019 - Cepek, Michael L. "Valueless Value: The Question of Production in Cofán Shamanism." HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 9(2):320–333.

2018 - Cepek, Michael L. Life in Oil: Cofán Survival in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia. Austin: University of Texas Press.

2016 - Cepek, Michael L. "There Might Be Blood: Oil, Humility, and the Cosmopolitics of a Cofán Petro-Being." American Ethnologist 43(4):623–635.

2015 - Cepek, Michael L. "Ungrateful Predators: Capture and the Creation of Cofán Violence." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(3):542–560.

2014 - Oil & Water. Documentary film by Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith. Seattle: Stir It Up Productions. (Credits: Academic Advisor, Additional Camera, Cofán Translator, Provider of Archival Materials).

2012 - Cepek, Michael L. A Future for Amazonia: Randy Borman and Cofán Environmental Politics. Austin: University of Texas Press.

2011 - Cepek, Michael L. "Foucault in the Forest: Questioning Environmentality in Amazonia." American Ethnologist 38(3):501-515.


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Main Office: MH 4.03.38

Department of Anthropology

University of Texas at San Antonio

College of Liberal and Fine Arts

One UTSA Circle

San Antonio, TX 78249-1644