Maryann Cairns is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Cairns’ research is focused at the intersection of environment, infrastructure, and health. Her work examines socio-ecological interactions in polluted waterscapes, giving specific attention to the sustainability and efficacy of infrastructure development. Dr. Cairns has completed projects within these theme areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Western Balkans, and the United States. Her work in Costa Rica focuses on placing ethnographic information at the forefront of mathematical modeling and mixed-methods research poised to understand the impact of wastewater on enviro-social spaces and human health.
In May of 2021, she co-authored an article titled Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Approaches: Anthropological Contributions and Future Directions for Engineering which covers how anthropologists contribute key insights toward a comprehensive understanding of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) as a multidimensional, multiscalar, and culturally embedded phenomenon. Dr. Cairns’ work informing this article was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1745934.
Before coming to SMU, Dr. Cairns was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow hosted at the US Environmental Protection Agency, and was a Postdoctoral scholar at Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. She is a Board member for the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology & Environment Society (A&E).
When asked what motivates her to do impact work she responded, “For me, sustainability is a focus on what matters. I want the things that matter to all of us –environmentally and otherwise–to be around for a while. I am so thankful for the access to education that have had throughout my life and career. It is a gift to be able to share what I have learned with my students and with the public. Leading truly collaborative research designed to solve environmental problems is everything to me. For me, knowledge should never be a secret.”
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