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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]
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 in the Middle East. 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 is now working on a book entitled Precarious Staples: Bread, Wheat, and the Taste of Security in Egypt, currently under review with Duke University Press. The book centers on Egypt’s staple food, bread, which most Egyptians eat multiple times a day, many relying on the cheap bread subsidized by the government. To Egyptians, the possibility that their nation could run out of wheat, or that they might not have enough bread to eat, is an existential threat. Precarious Staples is about how various actors, from within the government to within a home, understand, experience, and respond to that threat. Linking diverse practices, from scientists breeding new varieties of wheat to the government building silos for grain storage, farmers growing wheat for homemade bread, and women freezing and heating loaves for their families, the book presents a novel theorization of 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 has been supported by an ACLS Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and Howard Fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation.


  • 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. 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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