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Colin Hoag

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Colin Hoag


Hillyer Hall 309


Colin Hoag is a multispecies ethnographer with research and teaching interests in botany, capitalism, poetry, plant conservatories, landscape, water, ecology, bureaucracy, migration and colonialism. He is currently working on two new research projects: one on the biogeography of the cosmopolitan plant family, Asteraceae, and another on Sylvia Plath’s encounters with the Lyman Plant Conservatory at Smith College.

Hoag recently finished a book project on water and rangeland ecology in the southern African country of Lesotho, where a multibillion-dollar scheme to export water to South Africa has generated fantasies of national economic development, as well as fears that soil erosion stemming from rural land use could imperil the water economy. The book examines the terrestrial politics of water export, including the social and ecological engineering required to produce water commodities. The Fluvial Imagination: On Lesotho’s Water-Export Economy was published in Fall 2022 with University of California Press. Writing for the project was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Thanks to the UC Press Luminos Initiative, the book is fully open access (follow this link to download a PDF).

Selected Publications


The Fluvial Imagination: On Lesotho’s Water-Export Economy. University of California Press (2022).


The Bell Jars: Smith College, Pelargonium sidoides, and Sylvia Plath’s Botanical Imagination.” Environmental Humanities 16, no. 1 (2024): 36-57.

“Interpreting Dwarf Shrub Patterns in the Lesotho Highlands.” In: Rubber Boots Methods for the Anthropocene: Doing Fieldwork in Multispecies Worlds, N. Bubandt, A. O. Andersen, R. Cypher, eds. Pp. 67-94. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press (2023).

“‘Water Is a Gift that Destroys’: Making a National Natural Resource in Lesotho.” Economic Anthropology 6, no. 2 (2019): 183-194.

Bureaucracy.” Oxford Bibliographies - Anthropology (2019).

The Ovicaprine Mystique: Livestock Commodification in Post-Industrial Lesotho.” American Anthropologist 120, no. 4 (2018): 725-737.

Wasteland Ecologies: Undomestication and Multispecies Gains on an Anthropocene Dumping Ground.” With F. Bertoni and N. Bubandt. Journal of Ethnobiology 38, no. 1 (2018): 88-104.

African Environmental Change from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene.” With J.-C. Svenning. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 42 (2017): 27-54.

Dereliction of the South African Department of Home Affairs: Time for the Anthropology of Bureaucracy.” Critique of Anthropology 34, no. 4 (2014): 410-428.

Assembling Partial Perspectives: Thoughts on the Anthropology of Bureaucracy.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 34, no. 1 (2011): 81–94.

The Magic of the Populace: An Ethnography of Illegibility in the South African Immigration Bureaucracy.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 33, no. 1 (2010): 6–25.

Public Writing

“Learning How to Look at Plants.” Leaflet. Northampton, MA: The Botanic Garden of Smith College, 2022.

Water in Lesotho: Contradiction, Disjuncture, Death.” Engagement: Blog of the Anthropology and Environment Society (2014), December 1.

“‘Cleaning up the Streets’: How Joburg Cops Bring Order to Hillbrow by Bringing Chaos to Hillbrow.” Allegra Virtual Magazine of Legal Anthropology (2014), November 25.

Office Hours

Fall 2023
Tuesday, 10 a.m.- noon,
or by appointment


Ph.D., Aarhus University
Ph.D., M.A., University of California at Santa Cruz
M.A., B.A. Hons., University of the Witwatersrand
B.A., Michigan State University

Selected Works in Smith ScholarWorks