Luis Vivanco is a Cultural Anthropologist and Chair of the Anthropology Department. He holds an A.B. in Religion from Dartmouth College (1991), and M.A. (1995) and Ph.D. (1999) degrees in Cultural Anthropology from Princeton University. He came to UVM in 1997 as a New England Board of Higher Education Dissertation Write-up Fellow, and began as Assistant Professor in 1999. In 2005, he was awarded tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. In 2015, he was promoted to Professor. Between 2014 and 2022, he served as Director of the UVM Humanities Center.
His scholarship focuses on understanding the cultural and political aspects of environmental change and efforts to "save nature" through environmental social movements. This research, which he has conducted in Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, and the U.S., explores how meanings of nature and social change are debated, negotiated, imposed, and resisted across diverse social contexts, including community environmental and indigenous groups, the ecotourism economy and advocacy, and sustainable development organizations. This broader research agenda has evolved to include writing about the relationship between visual culture and environment, focusing on how media, cinema, and other public institutions help shape popular understanding of environmental issues. In recent years, Luis has also developed a distinct but related research program investigating the rise of sustainable transportation movements and alternatives to automobility in urban areas, specifically focused on the relationship between bicycle transportation, environmental sustainability, and quality of life.
He has published several books on different aspects of this research, including Green Encounters: Shaping and Contesting Environmentalism in Rural Costa Rica (Berghahn Books, 2006); Tarzan was an Ecotourist…And Other Tales in the Anthropology of Adventure (co-edited with Rob Gordon, Berghahn Books, 2006); Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing (Routledge Press, 2013); and co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Cycling (Routledge 2022). His research has also been published in various journals (American Anthropologist, Ethnology, Alternatives Journal, The Ecologist, Ecosystems and People, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, and Vermont History) and books on democracy and environmentalism; Central American transitions; reconstructing conservation; tourism; religion and cinema; and ecocinema studies. In recent years, he has turned some of his bicycle-related research into comics, available at https://www.illustratedwheel.com.
He has also published several acclaimed and widely-used textbooks, all published by Oxford University Press. These books include Field Notes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology (2017), Anthropology: Asking Questions About Human Origins, Diversity, and Culture with Robert Welsch and Agustin Fuentes (2023), Cultural Anthropology: Asking Questions About Humanity with Robert Welsch (2021), and Asking Questions About Humanity: A Concise Introduction (2022) also with Robert Welsch. He is also the author of the Oxford Dictionary of Cultural Anthropology. He is currently writing a new book with co-author Keri Brondo called Culture, Nature, and Sustainability: An Anthropological Introduction (Wiley, forthcoming).
Complementing his academic work, Luis has been involved in Indigenous tourism activism, as a board member of Indigenous Tourism Rights International; as a Visiting Public Policy Fellow at the Snelling Center for Government; as a board member of Local Motion, a Burlington-based active transportation organization; and as a board member of Vermont Humanities. He has received a number of prestigious awards to support his ethnographic research on environmentalism, ecotourism, and most recently bicycles and mobility, including: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, MacArthur Foundation, Mellon Foundation, the New England Board of Higher Education, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. He has also received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to attend a cultural studies institute at the East-West Center (University of Hawai'i) and two Fullbright Scholar Awards, to teach and conduct research at the University of Costa Rica (2004) and National University of Colombia, Bogotá (2014).
In 2012, Luis won UVM’s highest teaching honor when he received the Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award, for excellence in teaching, mentoring, and an ability to inspire students for life-long learning. He was also awarded the 2012 Outstanding Service-Learning Faculty Award for his successes at integrating service learning into several of his courses.
He teaches a variety of courses in the Anthropology Department and Global Studies Program. In his area of research specialization, he regularly teaches courses on Culture and Global Environmental Problems; Environmental Anthropology; Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean; Anthropology of Media; Anthropology of Mobility; and Bicycles, Globalization, and Sustainability. He has also taught courses on Indigenous Social Movements; Ethnographic Research Methods; Anthropological Theory; Latinos in the U.S.; Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. In 2009 he became founding director of the new UVM Global Studies Program, and in 2006 he helped develop and co-led UVM’s first semester study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico.