Karen Allen

Karen Allen

Assistant Professor, Sustainability Science; Anthropology

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Dr. Karen Allen's Ph.D. training is in cultural anthropology, and she has integrative training across disciplines relevant to conservation and sustainability science, in particular, ecological economics and landscape ecology. She focuses her research on the sustainability of social-ecological systems, and in her teaching and mentoring she seeks to provide experiences for students to critically analyze the feasibility of environmental policy within the complexity of human-environment interactions. Her publications focus on the landscape-level impacts of land-use decisions, and the complex value systems that inform and shape human behavior. She has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for her research.

Dr. Allen believes that the goal of education is to promote curiosity and critical thinking, skills that she believes create successful, responsible citizens that may contribute to a more just society. In this respect, her courses aim to foster critical thinking through hands-on engagement with the material, and analysis of diverse perspectives on a particular subject.


  • 2017 Wenner-Gren Foundation Engaged Anthropology Grant
  • 2014 National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
  • 2014 Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant


  • Ph.D., in Integrative Conservation and Anthropology, University of Georgia
  • B.A., in Biology, Williams College


Dr. Allen is an anthropologist who studies the sustainability of social-ecological systems. In particular, she is interested in how environmental policies engage with complex human value systems to influence behavior. She has carried out research in the Bellbird Biological Corridor of Costa Rica, where she examined how Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and nature tourism impact land-use decisions at the parcel level, and the implications for landscape sustainability. She has also researched public willingness to pay for ecosystem services in Macon County, NC, and Greenville, SC. She is currently working to understand the role of dialogue and social capital in advancing conservation and sustainable communities in both Costa Rica and the United States.


  • Allen, Karen and Greg Colson. 2019 Understanding PES from the ground up: A combined stated choice experiment and interview approach to understanding PES in Costa Rica. Sustainability Science 14(2): 391-401.
  • Allen, Karen, Courtney Quinn, Chambers English, John Quinn. 2018. Relational values in agroecosystem governance. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 35:108-115.
  • Allen, Karen. 2018. Why exchange values are not environmental values: Explaining the problem with neoliberal conservation. Conservation and Society 16(3):243-256.
  • Allen, Karen and Steve Padgett-Vásquez. 2017. Forest cover, development, and sustainability in Costa Rica: Can one-policy-fit-all? Land Use Policy 67:212-221.