Ethan Tupelo

Visiting Assistant Professor of Critical Social Thought
Ethan Tupelo
Contact Ethan

Mail Code CSI
Ethan Tupelo
Franklin Patterson Hall 214

Ethan Tupelo, Visiting Assistant Professor of Critical Social Thought, received his PH.D. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and his B.A. from American University in International Studies. His work is at the interdisciplinary intersection of environmental politics, political theory, and social movements.

Tupelo’s book manuscript, entitled Debris of Progress: A Political Ethnography of Critical Infrastructure, focuses on Pedal People, a twenty year-old worker cooperative based in nearby Northampton, Massachusetts. The cooperative is one of the main waste haulers in the city, but does all of its work by bicycle. While working with them as a participant-observer and worker-owner for five years (while he worked on his graduate degree), hauling eight-foot long trailers filled with over 300 pounds of waste across a total distance of over 9000 miles, he shows how they challenge the destructiveness of waste infrastructure in their community in multiple dimensions: eliminating the use of fossil fuels, providing worker ownership and control, and reclaiming the value of dirty work. This kind of hauling is more common in the Global South, but done as a successful business in the context of the ‘developed’ world, projects like these challenge common narratives of economic development and technological progress, where it would seem ‘obvious’ and ‘inevitable’ that more advanced machinery will displace human-powered work, and that such ‘progress’ would be beneficial and desirable to all involved. He argues that local initiatives like these provide openings for solving some of the most dire political and environmental problems of our time, while they simultaneously obscure and even reinforce the very problems they set out to solve.
In conjunction with his academic work, Tupelo has been involved in a range of social movements. While an undergraduate in Washington, DC, he was an organizer in the Global Justice Movement, during which he branched out to anti-war and union organizing. He co-operated an egalitarian rural commune in Virginia for several years, and recently has been involved in regional worker cooperatives beyond Pedal People through the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives. Tupelo holds his academic work and commitment towards social justice as inexorably linked, each making the other more effective. 
Courses Tupelo teaches at Hampshire include waste and the environmental crisis, social movements, radical political theory, utopian separatism, and ethnographic and qualitative research methodologies. 
Current information on research, teaching, and activism can be found at

Recent and Upcoming Courses

  • The Cannon of political theory presents capitalism, the State, and other social hierarchies as the pinnacle of human freedom and progress. By contrast, radical political thought critiques the power and domination hiding in these structures and ideologies, theorizing what liberation is, and how it can be achieved. This course will provide an introductory overview to many forms of radical political theory, broadly defined. Sources will draw on a variety of traditions, including communism, anarchism, feminist, queer, black, indigenous, decolonial, and poststructural theory. Additional topics to be covered based on the interest of the class. This course is intended as a general introduction to a range of political thought, ideal for Div I students or those who otherwise haven't studied political theory. From this course, students can decide future courses or research interests on more specific topics. Keywords:politics, radical, theory, social, philosophy

  • Most academic social inquiry methodologies are from 'afar': library research, archives, surveys, data sets, quantitative analyses, web scraping, formal modeling, and so on. By contrast, the ethnographic researcher immerses into a social structure, understanding through participant-observation. What does it mean to study 'from below?' What can immersion help us understand that other research methods miss, and what are its limitations? What are the ethical considerations for this form of research, and who are we making our research results for? While studying examples of major ethnographic works, students will start their own ethnographic projects. This involves identifying fieldsites, regularly traveling there, taking and analyzing fieldnotes, and writing a final project synthesizing their study with course themes. As such, note the higher hourly work expectations outside of class. This course is especially useful for anyone considering participant-observation research as part of their Div III project. Keywords:etnographic, field work, method, research, power

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  • Tossing something in the trash is an almost thoughtless, automatic part of our daily existence. How are our habits, practices, systems, and institutions around waste tied in with domination and social inequality? Who does the dirty work, and how is this related to inequalities around class, gender, and race? How have historical changes in materials and waste systems shaped our contemporary understanding of our selves, and our relations with each other? What social assumptions allow waste relations to be seen as an acceptable and inevitable part of contemporary life? Where is this 'away' to which we throw, and what are the lives of the people like there? Focusing on waste connects local actions to global systems, encompassing dirty and dangerous work, environmental racism, and ecological devastation. In addition to thinking broadly about these themes, students will also examine their own waste practices, campus and regional waste infrastructures, and our ethical and political entanglements with these systems. Keywords: power, politics, economy, labor, pollution

  • What is a social movement? Under which conditions do they emerge, and what accounts for their success or decline? This course will provide a broad overview of social movements from the past several decades, including movements of labor, civil rights and black liberation, queer liberation, global justice, plaza occupations, and the environment. In addition to studying specific movements, throughout the course we will collectively develop a strategy guide for organizing a social movement based on historical examples. As a final project, students will use this guide to create an outline for organizing a social movement campaign on an issue of their choosing. Keywords: Activism, protest, organizing, politics, government