Bjørn received his doctorate in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University. He has a master’s degree in Geography from the University of Kansas and a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota. A native of Ål, Norway, Bjørn’s research focuses on indigenous land rights, environmental and social justice, and alternative planning approaches, both in the United States and in Latin America. He is particularly interested in the dichotomies and tensions between local knowledge and traditional environmental management systems, and formal planning and management approaches. He has lived and worked in indigenous villages and border cities in Venezuela, investigating environmental conflicts and land rights struggles and conducting participatory mapping projects with the Pemon in the Gran Sabana and Yukpa in the Sierra de Perijá. As the director of the Institute of Latin American Studies’ (LLILAS) Research Initiative in Participatory Mapping, Bjørn works closely with partner institutions in South America to further international scholarship on representational politics and social justice in vulnerable communities. He is also engaged with research on informality and community development in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, focusing on the role of critical pedagogy for insurgent planning in neoliberal contexts. In addition to his international work, Bjørn examines the relationship between pedagogy, planning practice, and environmental and social justice in low-income communities in Texas. He collaborates with the environmental justice organization PODER in East Austin, focusing on children’s perceptions and knowledge of environmental hazards and the planning implications of environmental justice activism in Austin.
Bjørn teaches Geographic Information Systems, environmental and social justice, public space theory, and seminars and studio courses focusing on Latin American planning and development. As coordinator of the PhD program in Community and Regional Planning, he also teaches core courses in planning theory and academic practice. Through his partnership with the environmental justice organization PODER, Bjørn offers critical service learning courses where students investigate issues of social and environmental justice in partnership with community members. He also teaches studio courses in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where students work closely with community leaders, activist organizations and public officials in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to address environmental and social vulnerability in the informal settlement of Los Platanitos. In spring 2008, students conducted a risk and vulnerability assessment; in spring 2010, a second group of students built on this study and developed a participatory solid waste management plan; in spring 2012, students built on this work to initiate a vermicomposting feasibility study with an EPA P3 Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and in 2014 students conducted an outcome assessment of the composting project and an ethnobotanical study to consider the role of composting for food security and green space development in Los Platanitos.
Bjørn is an associated faculty member in the Department of Geography and the Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), University of Texas.
- Cartographies of Remembrance and Becoming in the Sierra de Perijá, Venezuela. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (June): 360–372.
- Territorialidad, mapeo participativo y política sobre los recursos naturales: la experiencia de América Latina. Cuadernos de Geografia 22 (2): 193-209. With Joe Bryan, Marla Torrado, Charles Hale and Deborah Barry.
- Disruptive Encounters and Affective Planning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Planning Theory and Practice 13 (4) 616-620.
- The Mythical Forest, the Becoming-Desert: Environmental Knowledge Production and the Iconography of Destruction in the Gran Sabana, Venezuela. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 (2010): 672-690.
- Apök hace feliz a Patá: Sugerencias y retos para una gestión intercultural del fuego en la Gran Sabana. Antropológica LIII n° 111-112 (2010): 149-191.
- Autogestión en representaciones espaciales indígenas y el rol de la capacitación y concientización: el caso del Proyecto Etnocartográfico Inna Kowantok, Sector 5 Pemón (Kavanayén-Mapauri), La Gran Sabana. Antropológica LIII n° 113 (2010): 43-75.
- Education of Self and Others: Narrative, Critical Reflexivity and Knowledge Production in Service Learning. Journal of Planning Education and Research 29(4) (2010): 403–415.
- "We Drew What We Imagined:" Participatory Mapping, Performance, and the Arts of Landscape Making. Current Anthropology 50 (2009): 443-476.
- "Indigenous people don't have boundaries": reborderings, fire management, and productions of authenticities in indigenous landscapes. Cultural Geographies 16 (2009): 253-277.
- The Knowledge that Counts: Institutional Identities, Policy Science, and the Conflict over Fire Management in the Gran Sabana, Venezuela. World Development 36 (October 2008): 1938-1955.
- Producing Space(s), Representing Landscapes: A Lefebvrian Approach to Resource Conflicts. Cultural Geographies 9 (2002): 389-420.
- A Swamp and Its Subjects: Conservation Politics, Surveillance and Resistance in Trinidad, the West Indies. Geoforum 36 (January 2005): 77-93.
- Autodemarcación del Sector Kavanayen: Informe Final. Proyecto Etnocartográfico Inna Kowantok. Kumarakapay, Venezuela 2004. (Informe_Final_Sector5.pdf, 3197kb)
- Mapping the Gran Sabana. Americas Magazine 57, Organization of American States (November 2005). (Americas_GranSabana.pdf, 1460kb).