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Frédérique Apffel-Marglin earned a B.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University. She was first a student of Indian classical dance (Orissi style) and did field research among the temple dancers of Jagannath Temple in Odisha in Eastern India in the mid-1970s. Her later field research was among agricultural communities in coastal Odisha. In 1994, she began collaborative work with nongovernmental organizations in Peru and Bolivia and taught in graduate courses that those organizations offered from 1994 to 2004. She was the coordinator of the Centers for Mutual Learning in Peru and Bolivia during that period. This project was funded by a MacArthur grant until 1999. With the Peruvian NGO PRATEC, Apffel-Marglin created a research and community center in the Peruvian High Amazon, where she directed a program in biocultural diversity for U.S. undergraduates from 2001 to 2004. From 2004 to 2009 she collaborated with a local Fair Trade Coffee cooperative in the Peruvian High Amazon offering study abroad courses there.
In the spring of 2009, Apffel-Marglin founded the nonprofit organization Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration (www.centrosachamama.org/sachamamain/), dedicated to the regeneration of both the local forest and of indigenous agriculture and culture in the Peruvian High Amazon while addressing the climate crisis by creating a type of Amazonian pre-Columbian soil that acts as a sink for greenhouse gases. The center is an educational organization that aims to integrate theory, research, activism and spirituality.
Apffel-Marglin was a research adviser at the World Institute for Development Economics Research in Helsinki, an affiliate of the United Nations University, from 1985 to 1991. As part of that endeavor, she and the Harvard economist Stephen Marglin formed an interdisciplinary and international collaborative team that has produced three books on critical approaches to development and globalization. She currently directs a six-week summer learning internship: "Sustainability Through Indigenous Permaculture While Addressing the Climate Crisis" at her center in Peru, which includes the opportunity to learn Quechua. This internship is part of Smith's PRAXIS program.
Apffel-Marglin is the author of five books, the editor or co-editor of an additional eight books and the author of more than fifty five articles and book chapters. Her interests cover ritual, gender, political ecology, critiques of development, science studies and Andean-Amazonian shamanism. Her areas of specialization are South Asia and the Amazonian Andes. Her latest single authored book is Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World, Oxford University Press, 2012. She currently resides in Cambridge, MA.