Karen Allen

Associate Professor, Sustainability Science, Anthropology

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Dr. Allen has been a member of the Furman faculty since the fall of 2016. Originally from the midwest, she has spent her adult life living in Costa Rica (Central America), Georgia, and now South Carolina. She has worked in education for over 20 years, first in experiential learning settings, then as a 7-12 science teacher, and now in higher ed.
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.


  • 2021 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education USDA Grant
  • 2021 Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Endowed Professorship
  • 2017 Wenner-Gren Foundation Engaged Anthropology Grant; 2014 National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
  • 2014 Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant


  • Ph.D. University of Georgia
  • B.A. Williams College


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, with a particular emphasis on Latin American contexts, 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. She has a long-running engaged research program in Costa Rica, where she works with collaborators to support grassroots conservation and sustainable farming efforts. 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, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the USDA for her research.


  • Allen, Karen, Sarah McLean and Sophia Pessagno. 2022. Connecting Communities, Connecting Environments: The Role of Social Capital in Landscape Conservation. Society & Natural Resources 35(7): 763-783.
  • Allen, Karen, Celia Castellano and Sophia Pessagno. 2021. Using Dialogue to Contextualize Culture, Ecosystem Services, and Cultural Ecosystem Services. Ecology and Society 26(2): 7.
  • 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.