Reflecting new thinking about conservation in Southeast Asia, Beyond the Sacred Forest is the product of a unique, decade-long, interdisciplinary collaboration involving research in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Scholars from these countries and the United States rethink the translation of environmental concepts between East and West, particularly ideas of nature and culture; the meaning of conservation; and the ways that conservation policy is applied and transformed in the everyday landscapes of Southeast Asia. The contributors focus more on folk, community, and vernacular conservation discourses than on those of formal institutions and the state. They reject the notion that conservation only takes place in bounded, static, otherworldly spaces such as protected areas or sacred forests. Thick with ethnographic detail, their essays move beyond the forest to agriculture and other land uses, leave behind orthodox notions of the sacred, discard outdated ideas of environmental harmony and stasis, and reject views of the environment that seek to avoid or escape politics. Natural-resource managers and policymakers who work with this more complicated vision of nature and culture are likely to enjoy more enduring success than those who simply seek to remove the influence and impact of humans from conserved landscapes. As many of the essays suggest, this requires the ability to manage contradictions, to relinquish orthodox ideas of what conservation looks like, and to practice continuously adaptive management techniques.
Contributors. Upik Djalins, Amity A. Doolittle, Michael R. Dove, Levita Duhaylungsod, Emily E. Harwell, Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells, Lye Tuck-Po, Percy E. Sajise, Endah Sulistyawati, Yunita T. Winarto
A significant contribution to political ecology, Conservation Is Our Government Now is an ethnographic examination of the history and social effects of conservation and development efforts in Papua New Guinea. Drawing on extensive fieldwork conducted over a period of seven years, Paige West focuses on the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area, the site of a biodiversity conservation project implemented between 1994 and 1999. She describes the interactions between those who ran the program—mostly ngo workers—and the Gimi people who live in the forests surrounding Crater Mountain. West shows that throughout the project there was a profound disconnect between the goals of the two groups. The ngo workers thought that they would encourage conservation and cultivate development by teaching Gimi to value biodiversity as an economic resource. The villagers expected that in exchange for the land, labor, food, and friendship they offered the conservation workers, they would receive benefits, such as medicine and technology. In the end, the divergent nature of each group’s expectations led to disappointment for both.
West reveals how every aspect of the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area—including ideas of space, place, environment, and society—was socially produced, created by changing configurations of ideas, actions, and material relations not only in Papua New Guinea but also in other locations around the world. Complicating many of the assumptions about nature, culture, and development underlying contemporary conservation efforts, Conservation Is Our Government Now demonstrates the unique capacity of ethnography to illuminate the relationship between the global and the local, between transnational processes and individual lives.
In Designs for the Pluriverse Arturo Escobar presents a new vision of design theory and practice aimed at channeling design's world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the Earth. Noting that most design—from consumer goods and digital technologies to built environments—currently serves capitalist ends, Escobar argues for the development of an “autonomous design” that eschews commercial and modernizing aims in favor of more collaborative and placed-based approaches. Such design attends to questions of environment, experience, and politics while focusing on the production of human experience based on the radical interdependence of all beings. Mapping autonomous design’s principles to the history of decolonial efforts of indigenous and Afro-descended people in Latin America, Escobar shows how refiguring current design practices could lead to the creation of more just and sustainable social orders.
How Nature Speaks illustrates the convergence of complexity theory in the biophysical and social sciences and the implications of the science of complexity for environmental politics and practice. This collection of essays focuses on uncertainty, surprise, and positionality—situated rather than absolute knowledge—in studies of nature by people embedded within the very thing they purport to study from the outside. The contributors address the complicated relationship between scientists and nature as part of a broader reassessment of how we conceive of ourselves, knowledge, and the world that we both inhabit and shape.
Exploring ways of conceiving the complexity and multiplicity of humans’ many interactive relationships with the environment, the contributors provide in-depth case studies of the interweaving of culture and nature in socio-historical processes. The case studies focus on the origin of environmental movements, the politicization of environmental issues in city politics, the development of a local energy production system, and the convergence of forest management practices toward a dominant scheme. They are supported by explorations of big-picture issues: recurring themes in studies of social and environmental dynamics, the difficulties of deliberative democracy, and the potential gains for socio-ecological research offered by developmental systems theory and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of intentionality.
How Nature Speaks includes a helpful primer, “On Thinking Dynamically about the Human Ecological Condition,” which explains the basic principles of complexity and nonlinear thinking.
Contributors. Chuck Dyke, Yrjö Haila, Ari Jokinen, Ville Lähde, Markus Laine, Iordanis Marcoulatos, John O’Neill, Susan Oyama, Taru Peltola, Lasse Peltonen, John Shotter, Peter Taylor
The essays collected here offer important new reflections on the multiple images of and rhetoric surrounding the rain forest. The slogan “Save the Rain Forest!”—emblazoned on glossy posters of tall trees wreathed in vines and studded with monkeys and parrots—promotes the popular image of a marvelously wild and vulnerable rain forest. Although representations like these have fueled laudable rescue efforts, in many ways they have done more harm than good, as these essays show. Such icons tend to conceal both the biological variety of rain forests and the diversity of their human inhabitants. They also frequently obscure the specific local and global interactions that are as much a part of today’s rain forests as are the array of plants and animals. In attending to these complexities, this volume focuses on specific portrayals of rain forests and the consequences of these characterizations for both forest inhabitants and outsiders.
From diverse disciplines—history, archaeology, sociology, literature, law, and cultural anthropology—the contributors provide case studies from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They point the way toward a search for a rain forest that is both a natural entity and a social history, an inhabited place and a shifting set of ideas. The essayists demonstrate how the single image of a wild and yet fragile forest became fixed in the popular mind in the late twentieth century, thereby influencing the policies of corporations, environmental groups, and governments. Such simplistic conceptions, In Search of the Rain Forest shows, might lead companies to tout their “green” technologies even as they try to downplay the dissenting voices of native populations. Or they might cause a government to create a tiger reserve that displaces peaceful peasants while opening the doors to poachers and bandits. By encouraging a nuanced understanding of distinctive, constantly evolving forests with different social and natural histories, this volume provides an important impetus for protection efforts that take into account the rain forest in all of its complexity.
Contributors. Scott Fedick, Alex Greene, Paul Greenough, Nancy Peluso, Suzana Sawyer, Candace Slater, Charles Zerner
In Pluriversal Politics Arturo Escobar engages with the politics of the possible and how established notions of what is real and attainable preclude the emergence of radically alternative visions of the future. Reflecting on the experience, philosophy, and practice of indigenous and Afro-descendant activist-intellectuals and on current Latin American theoretical-political debates, Escobar chronicles the social movements mobilizing to defend their territories from large-scale extractive operations in the region. He shows how these movements engage in an ontological politics aimed at bringing about the pluriverse—a world consisting of many worlds, each with its own ontological and epistemic grounding. Such a politics, Escobar contends, is key to crafting myriad world-making stories telling of different possible futures that could bring about the profound social transformations that are needed to address planetary crises. Both a call to action and a theoretical provocation, Pluriversal Politics finds Escobar at his critically incisive best.
Environmental issues have become increasingly prominent in local struggles, national debates, and international policies. In response, scholars are paying more attention to conventional politics and to more broadly defined relations of power and difference in the interactions between human groups and their biophysical environments. Such issues are at the heart of the relatively new interdisciplinary field of political ecology, forged at the intersection of political economy and cultural ecology.
This volume provides a toolkit of vital concepts and a set of research models and analytic frameworks for researchers at all levels. The two opening chapters trace rich traditions of thought and practice that inform current approaches to political ecology. They point to the entangled relationship between humans, politics, economies, and environments at the dawn of the twenty-first century and address challenges that scholars face in navigating the blurring boundaries among relevant fields of enquiry. The twelve case studies that follow demonstrate ways that culture and politics serve to mediate human-environmental relationships in specific ecological and geographical contexts. Taken together, they describe uses of and conflicts over resources including land, water, soil, trees, biodiversity, money, knowledge, and information; they exemplify wide-ranging ecological settings including deserts, coasts, rainforests, high mountains, and modern cities; and they explore sites located around the world, from Canada to Tonga and cyberspace.
Reimagining Political Ecology
Aletta Biersack and James B. Greenberg, eds. Duke University Press, 2006 Library of Congress JA75.8.R43 2006 | Dewey Decimal 304.2
Reimagining Political Ecology is a state-of-the-art collection of ethnographies grounded in political ecology. When political ecology first emerged as a distinct field in the early 1970s, it was rooted in the neo-Marxism of world system theory. This collection showcases second-generation political ecology, which retains the Marxist interest in capitalism as a global structure but which is also heavily influenced by poststructuralism, feminism, practice theory, and cultural studies. As these essays illustrate, contemporary political ecology moves beyond binary thinking, focusing instead on the interchanges between nature and culture, the symbolic and the material, and the local and the global.
Aletta Biersack’s introduction takes stock of where political ecology has been, assesses the field’s strengths, and sets forth a bold research agenda for the future. Two essays offer wide-ranging critiques of modernist ecology, with its artificial dichotomy between nature and culture, faith in the scientific management of nature, and related tendency to dismiss local knowledge. The remaining eight essays are case studies of particular constructions and appropriations of nature and the complex politics that come into play regionally, nationally, and internationally when nature is brought within the human sphere. Written by some of the leading thinkers in environmental anthropology, these rich ethnographies are based in locales around the world: in Belize, Papua New Guinea, the Gulf of California, Iceland, Finland, the Peruvian Amazon, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Collectively, they demonstrate that political ecology speaks to concerns shared by geographers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and anthropologists alike. And they model the kind of work that this volume identifies as the future of political ecology: place-based “ethnographies of nature” keenly attuned to the conjunctural effects of globalization.
Contributors. Eeva Berglund, Aletta Biersack, J. Peter Brosius, Michael R. Dove, James B. Greenberg, Søren Hvalkof, J. Stephen Lansing, Gísli Pálsson, Joel Robbins, Vernon L. Scarborough, John W. Schoenfelder, Richard Wilk
For more than fifteen years, Mario Blaser has been involved with the Yshiro people of the Paraguayan Chaco as they have sought to maintain their world in the face of conservation and development programs promoted by the state and various nongovernmental organizations. In this ethnography of the encounter between modernizing visions of development, the place-based “life projects” of the Yshiro, and the agendas of scholars and activists, Blaser argues for an understanding of the political mobilization of the Yshiro and other indigenous peoples as part of a struggle to make the global age hospitable to a “pluriverse” containing multiple worlds or realities. As he explains, most knowledge about the Yshiro produced by non-indigenous “experts” has been based on modern Cartesian dualisms separating subject and object, mind and body, and nature and culture. Such thinking differs profoundly from the relational ontology enacted by the Yshiro and other indigenous peoples. Attentive to people’s unique experiences of place and self, the Yshiro reject universal knowledge claims, unlike Western modernity, which assumes the existence of a universal reality and refuses the existence of other ontologies or realities. In Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond, Blaser engages in storytelling as a knowledge practice grounded in a relational ontology and attuned to the ongoing struggle for a pluriversal globality.
In Territories of Difference, Arturo Escobar, author of the widely debated book Encountering Development, analyzes the politics of difference enacted by specific place-based ethnic and environmental movements in the context of neoliberal globalization. His analysis is based on his many years of engagement with a group of Afro-Colombian activists of Colombia’s Pacific rainforest region, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Escobar offers a detailed ethnographic account of PCN’s visions, strategies, and practices, and he chronicles and analyzes the movement’s struggles for autonomy, territory, justice, and cultural recognition. Yet he also does much more. Consistently emphasizing the value of local activist knowledge for both understanding and social action and drawing on multiple strands of critical scholarship, Escobar proposes new ways for scholars and activists to examine and apprehend the momentous, complex processes engulfing regions such as the Colombian Pacific today.
Escobar illuminates many interrelated dynamics, including the Colombian government’s policies of development and pluralism that created conditions for the emergence of black and indigenous social movements and those movements’ efforts to steer the region in particular directions. He examines attempts by capitalists to appropriate the rainforest and extract resources, by developers to set the region on the path of modernist progress, and by biologists and others to defend this incredibly rich biodiversity “hot-spot” from the most predatory activities of capitalists and developers. He also looks at the attempts of academics, activists, and intellectuals to understand all of these complicated processes. Territories of Difference is Escobar’s effort to think with Afro-Colombian intellectual-activists who aim to move beyond the limits of Eurocentric paradigms as they confront the ravages of neoliberal globalization and seek to defend their place-based cultures and territories.