College of Liberal and Fine Arts

Michael Cepek, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

Research area: Cultural Anthropology


Phone: (210) 458-5700

Office: MH 4.03.34

Research in Progress

My research explores the relationship between socioecological crisis, cultural difference, and directed change at the margins of global orders. In my studies with indigenous Cofán people in the lowland forests, Andean foothills, and capital city of Ecuador, I investigate cultural and environmental politics from the perspective of longstanding concerns in social theory and emerging debates in South American ethnology. In my current project, I am producing a critical phenomenology of the oil-related transformation of Cofán lands, which lie at the epicenter of Ecuador’s petroleum industry. In all of 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, conservation policy and practice, and collaborative filmmaking and activism with indigenous peoples and other subaltern groups.

In addition, I am a fellow in the program for Science Action for Conservation & Community at the Field Museum of Natural History, and I work as Book Review Editor for Environment and Society: Advances in Research, a publication affiliated with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. I am also a board member of the Cofán Survival Fund, a non-profit organization that supports Cofán-directed conservation and sustainable development initiatives in Amazonian Ecuador.


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; community-based conservation; contamination and pollution; and the theoretical and methodological approaches associated with phenomenology, political economy, and classical holistic ethnography.

Recent Publications

In press - 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).

2014 - Cepek, Michael L. "A White Face for the Cofán Nation?: Randy Borman and the Ambivalence of Indigeneity." In Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences. Laura Graham and Glenn Penny, eds. Pp. 83-109. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

2013 - Cepek, Michael L. "Indigenous Difference: Rethinking Particularity in the Anthropology of Amazonia." Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(2):359-370.

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

2012 - Cepek, Michael L. "The Loss of Oil: Constituting Disaster in Amazonian Ecuador." Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 17(3):393-412.

2012 - Cepek, Michael L. "Strange Powers: Conservation, Science, and Transparency in an Indigenous Political Project." Anthropology Today 28(4):14-17.

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