Carol J. Pierce Colfer (United States of America)




Carol J. Pierce Colfer is an anthropologist holding a Ph.D. degree in anthropology from the University of Washington in Seattle (1973) and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Hawaii (1979) specialized in international health.


From age 9-16 she lived in Ankara, Turkey, where she developed a heart-felt concern for the world’s people and experienced viscerally the inequities of the world. Her life’s trajectory was deeply influenced by what she saw and experienced there in this early age. This is reflected in her work, which has been focused conscientiously on issues of justice and equity, with particular attention to gender issues –building on a strong faith in the good sense of rural peoples.


Early on in her career (1973-1977), she worked as an anthropologist on an education project designed to improve the local school system on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State (USA). However, disillusioned because the intended opportunities for local contral did not materialize, she remembered her earlier commitment to trying to make the world a better place for people in developing countries. She went back to school at the University of Hawaii to study international public health, which she thought could offer a better chance to follow her aspirations, by combining public health with anthropology (and hopefully being employed!).


Her public health master’s thesis project, on family planning, took her in 1979 to Indonesia, a country she fell in love with.  After graduation she began work at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu as an Extension Women in Development Specialist, later working as a Farming Systems Specialist on campus in Hawaii and in the field in Sumatra, Indonesia. Since then, she has continued working in Indonesia most years until 2009, except for a couple of years teaching at the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat Oman (1988-1990). She learned to know how diverse Indonesia had been, socially and ecologically, through her work respectively in Kalimantan (ecological project in 1979-81), Sumatra (farming systems project in 1983-86), East Kalimantan (gender training program in 1990) and Java (a soil and agroforestry project in 1991-92) and West Kalimantan (conservation project in 1992-93).


In 1994, her interests expanded into a more cross-country realm when she began working for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), headquartered in Indonesia. She first studied the human well-being aspects of sustainable forest management in five countries. Next, she developed and led research on Adaptive Collaborative Management, in which she and her international team tried their best to develop mechanisms whereby local communities in eleven countries all over the globe could help to determine and direct the course of their own forest-based futures. She then led a project on people’s rights and access to resources in twelve countries; a project on forest devolution around the world and in Southeast Asia; and another project on health and forests (1996-98).  Since 2009, she has been focusing again (as she did in the early 1980s) on gender while working for CIFOR as a Senior Associate and for Cornell University as a Visiting Scholar.


Throughout these projects and jobs, she has tried to make people’s ways of life explicit so that their own preferences, interests and constraints could be better taken into account; she has tried to strengthen equity between men and women and between groups of people; and she has tried to work with local people toward their own empowerment.  Underlying her work is a solid belief that only by developing a more equitable and just world will be able to realize the goal of peace.


Carol Colfer is the author of over 200 publications, some of which are translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian and Chinese. To better know her and her works, please visit or