Jennifer E. Telesca is Associate Professor of Environmental Justice in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Her work takes a critical approach to ocean studies, spanning the interests of political ecology, the human–animal relationship, the politics of extinction, science and technology in policymaking, environmental diplomacy, and ethnographies of international law in society. She conducts fieldwork at the United Nations and in treaty bodies, diplomatic missions, and other sites scaled supranationally.
Red Gold: The Managed Extinction of the Giant Bluefin Tuna (University of Minnesota Press, 2020) is Telesca’s first book. Her on-the-ground, first-person research has shown just how damned the lives of fishes are in the very world entrusted to care for them in ocean governance. Her second book on hydrothermal vents, tentatively titled The Midnight Zone, invites readers to honor creatures in all their mysterious and unchartered forms at sites in the deep dark sea—open to regulatory oversight—where scientists believe life on Earth began.
Telesca is trained to cross disciplines. By meandering past the silos in academic fields, she incites fresh thinking through unexpected scholarly alliances. This mode of engagement was honed in her pursuit of a PhD in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University, where she earned a Distinguished Dissertation Award. She also holds double MAs, one in Law and Society from New York University and the other in Anthropology from the University of Connecticut—Storrs. At the latter, she earned a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. Prior to graduate school, she received a BA with Departmental Honors in History from the University of Richmond.
In spring 2022, Telesca will serve as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway. There she contributes to an international research team of anthropologists, legal scholars, and climate scientists to execute the large-scale, cross-disciplinary project, “Island Lives, Ocean States: Sea Level Rise and Maritime Sovereignties in the Pacific,” led by Professor Edvard Hviding with support from the Research Council of Norway’s TOPPFORSK Programme for Scientific Excellence (2018-2024). In this capacity, she follows the development of ocean governance as it relates to UN Sustainable Development Goal #14 (Life below Water) and to a treaty now in formation dedicated in name to marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). This research complements another collaborative project she joined in Summer 2021 about animal agency, sentience, and cognition among marine mammals, octopuses, and tunas, funded by the Brooks Institute under the direction of Dale Jamieson of New York University. Grants from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Furthermore Foundation: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, among others, have generously supported her research and writing over the years.
In 2017, Telesca won the Positive Impact Award for Leadership in Sustainability Education at the Pratt Institute. She teaches courses on environmental justice, the human-animal relationship, and the ocean as a site where empire plays itself out beyond the vistas of everyday shores. In the classroom she encourages students to push through the anxiety wrought by ecological destruction, not to deny or erase it but to confront directly the contemporary predicament for healing to occur. What worlds can we imagine—and install—that would neutralize the forces separating people from each other and from the biomes shared with other beings? The goal is to discover, to reclaim, to love, to respect, to move beyond anthropocentrism, to become curious about all sorts of life on our planetary home.
Jen lives in New York City. You can find her on long walks, kayaking, cultivating plants, following the seemingly impossible feats of the beautiful game, and learning how to better multispecies relate. Her activity on social media is thin and spotty. Better to reach her directly at jtelesca[at]pratt.edu.
~ February 2022