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Ecology Human Ecology
by
Michael R. Dove

Introduction

Contemplation of the relationship between human beings and their environment is millennia-old. As Hippocrates wrote over two millennia ago in his “Airs, Waters, Places” (Hippocrates 1923, cited under History), “For in general you will find assimilated to the nature of the land both the physique and the characteristics of the inhabitants” (p. 137). The contemporary efflorescence of studies of this relationship dates from the second half of the 20th century, with the rise in public perceptions of an environmental “crisis” spawned by industrial society and attendant recognition of the need for analysis and interventions based on the social as well as natural sciences. The term human ecology, which encompasses this field, came into vogue in the second and third decades of the 20th century, followed in declining order of frequency of use by the term social ecology and then, in the 1960s and 1970s, cultural ecology, and then ecological anthropology. Human ecology has been used for widely disparate fields of study, most of which are referenced in the current Wikipedia article on the term. The term today is variously applied to the household-oriented College of Human Ecology at Cornell University (focused on the themes of design and technology, development and the life course, economic and social well-being, and human nutrition, health, and genomics), the industry-oriented Commonwealth Human Ecology Council in London, and the Department of Human Ecology in the School of Environmental and Ecological Sciences at Rutgers University, which focuses on the human dimensions of environmental problems. The focus in this essay, in keeping with the focus of the Oxford Bibliographies project, is on human ecological studies that address the relationship between human society and the physical environment. Within this focus, however, this article is not concerned with ephemeral distinctions between its various subfields (e.g., the differences among human ecology, social ecology, cultural ecology, and ecological/environmental anthropology). Examples of institutions where this field with this focus is studied include the aforementioned program at Rutgers University and similar programs of ecological or environmental anthropology at the University of Georgia, the University of Hawaii, the University of Kent at Canterbury, and Yale University.

General Overviews

For much of human history, intellectual interest in the environment has been concerned with its impact on human society, as famously illustrated by the quotation in the Introduction from Hippocrates (Hippocrates 1923, cited under History). In direct contrast, some (but far from all) of the broadest and most influential modern approaches to the subject of human ecology have focused on the reverse, on human impacts on the environment. Justifiably hailed as a pioneer was George Perkins Marsh (Marsh 1965, first published in 1864). A pivotal mid-20th century statement on the subject was Thomas 1956, the theme of which was subsequently revisited and updated in Turner, et al. 1990. A salient dimension in these discussions of both impacting on and being impacted by the environment is culture, which most clearly distinguishes human ecology from nonhuman ecology. In the latter case, the unit of adaptation is the physical organism; whereas in the former case it is culture. Scholars from Hippocrates to Montesquieu and Ratzel (see Antecedents) have attributed cultural differences to differences in environment. Modern scholars see the relationship between culture and environment as less deterministic and more complex, but many still see culture as the most important mediating element between human beings and their physical environment. Steward (see Steward 1963, cited under Canonical Works) is recognized as the father of cultural ecology, a phrase that he coined in 1937 to describe a method for studying how culture changes in adaptation to the environment. Important theoretical elaborations of cultural ecology subsequently followed with Frake 1962, Geertz 1963 (cited under Monographs), Netting 1968, and Netting 1977 (cited under Textbooks), as this subfield gained ground within geography (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987, cited under Political Ecology) and especially anthropology. The historic and ongoing development within anthropology of these and other approaches to understanding the relationship between society and environment are reviewed in Vayda and McCay 1975 (cited under Environmental Perturbation and Change) and Scoones 1999 (cited under Environmental Perturbation and Change).

  • Bates, Marston. 1953. Human ecology. In Anthropology today: An encyclopedic inventory. Edited by Alfred L. Kroeber, 700–713. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A comprehensive, interdisciplinary review of the state of the field in the mid-20th century, encompassing studies of the environment, population, the community, and ecology, and evolution.

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  • Frake, Charles O. 1962. Cultural ecology and ethnography. American Anthropologist 64.1: 53–59.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1962.64.1.02a00060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early critique of the lack of anthropological study of environmental relations, Frake argues that we cannot be satisfied with just cataloguing the components of a cultural ecosystem according to the categories of Western science but must describe the environment as the people themselves would according to the categories of their own ethnoscience. This study helped to lay the theoretical groundwork for the ensuing generation of studies of indigenous environmental knowledge.

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  • Marsh, George Perkins. 1965. Man and nature: Or, physical geography as modified by human action. Edited by David Lowenthal. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A true conservation classic and one of the first sustained critiques of the American belief in an inexhaustible natural resource endowment, Marsh presents separate chapters on human impacts on biological species, woods, waters, sands, and geography. His avowed purpose is to indicate the extent of human changes in the world, caution against interference with its spontaneous arrangements, and recommend restoration of disturbed harmonies. Originally published in 1864.

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  • Netting, Robert McC. 1968. Hill farmers of Nigeria: Cultural ecology of the Kofyar of the Jos Plateau. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

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    An early and now classic cultural ecological study by one of the most important scholars of smallholder agriculture (see also Netting 1993, cited under Social Organization). For Netting, an anthropologist, the term cultural ecology denotes that (i) the unit of study is a culturally defined population of human beings, (ii) the focus is on cultural rather than physical adaptations, and (iii) the approach is in debt to the theory and method of Julian Steward (b. 1902–d. 1972); see Steward 1963, cited under Canonical Works.

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  • Thomas, William L., Jr., ed. 1956. Man’s role in changing the face of the earth. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This impressive and extremely wide-ranging volume comes out of a 1956 symposium, sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation designed to build linkages between anthropology and other fields also interested in the subject of the anthropogenic environment, and bringing together seventy scholars, a virtual who’s who of scholars then working on this subject, which is reflected in the fact that Thomas’s junior editors were Carol O. Sauer, Marston Bates, and Lewis Mumford.

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  • Turner, B. L., II, William C. Clark, Robert W. Kates, John F. Richards, Jessica T. Mathews, and William B. Meyers, eds. 1990. The earth as transformed by human action: Global and regional changes in the biosphere over the past 300 years. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    The rationale for this volume was the doubling of global population since the assessment of the human transformation of the earth by Thomas 1956, and the lack of a “comprehensive and authoritative survey” (p. xi) of these changes since Marsh’s 1864 classic (Marsh 1965). This massive forty-two-chapter volume, which includes leading scholars among its contributors, contains sections on Changes in Population and Society, Transformations of the Global Environment, Regional Studies of Transformation, and Understanding Transformations.

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Textbooks

The texts that are still read in the field all date from the last quarter of the century and are divided into two groups: those that assess the first generation of extensive work in the field and help to define it and those that assess the subsequent maturation and diversification of the field and are able to take longer and wider perspectives. The first group includes Ellen 1982, which is written within the strong social anthropology tradition of the United Kingdom and develops a systems approach to the study of relations between social organization and environmental relations; Bennett 1976, which frames the field in terms of the human transformation of the global environment; and Netting 1977, which is the most accessible, case study-based introduction to the field. Works in the second group include Milton 1996, which asks what the field can contribute to global environmental thought, and Dove and Carpenter 2008, which historicizes the field by tracing its historical antecedents in early anthropological writings.

  • Bennett, John W. 1976. The ecological transition: Cultural anthropology and human adaptation. New York: Pergamon.

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    This deceptively titled book remains one of the most sophisticated discussions of the theoretical underpinnings of the field by a major figure in it. Ecological transition refers to the progressive incorporation of nature into human frames of activity, elimination of the isolated tribal systems traditionally studied by anthropologists, and forcing of anthropology into the historical present, which makes the case for cultural ecology on the grounds of public policy.

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  • Dove, Michael R., and Carol Carpenter, eds. 2008. Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    The only text examining the history of the field, consisting of reprints of historically significant readings, dating from early in the 20th century up to the present on the cross-cultural study of relations between people and environment, accompanied by an intellectual history and commentary. It is divided into five sections: (i) the nature/culture divide; (ii) the relationship between environment and social organization; (iii) methodological debates and innovations; (iv) politics and practice; and (v) epistemological issues.

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  • Ellen, Roy F. 1982. Environment, subsistence, and system: The ecology of small-scale social formations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511607738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This still timely textbook by one of the foremost ecological anthropologists in Great Britain is divided into two parts. The first part is a review of the most important theories regarding society and environment during the 20th century: determinism, possibilism, cultural ecology, human biology, and energetics and systems theory. In the second half of the book, Ellen develops his own systems and ecosystems model of the interface between social organization and ecological relations.

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  • Milton, Kay. 1996. Environmentalism and cultural theory: Exploring the role of anthropology in environmental discourse. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203205440Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In keeping with the maturation of the field, and the widening of its scope, this British social anthropologist is interested in demonstrating how anthropologists can employ culture theory to make a distinctive contribution to the wider, global environmental discourse, based on her thesis that culture—the unique province of anthropologists—plays a central role in human–environment relations.

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  • Netting, Robert McC. 1977. Cultural ecology. Menlo Park, CA: Cummings.

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    This short little book, by the late Robert McCormick Netting, is still one of the most satisfying introductions to the field, perhaps because it is grounded in case studies. Netting uses chapters on hunter-gatherers, northwest coast fishermen, East African pastoralists, and cultivators to introduce the theoretical antecedents of the field and to assess its strengths and weaknesses.

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Anthologies

Human ecology is inherently interdisciplinary in character. Most scholars contributing to this field have either reached beyond the confines of their own disciplines or collaborated with those in other disciplines. One result has been that long before interdisciplinarity was affecting the rest of academia, scholars in this field were producing edited volumes that brought together work from multiple disciplines, a trend that has continued, as seen in Haenn and Wilk 2005; Hutterer, et al. 1985; and Thomas 1956 (cited under General Overviews). In addition, wide-ranging and influential anthologies have been produced within anthropology, including Anthropological Society of Washington 1957, Burnham and Ellen 1979, and Vayda 1969. The earliest anthologies are the most wide-ranging; as the field of human ecology matured, such works became more focused. In recent years, important collections have also come out of the global South, as in Lopes and Begossi 2009.

  • Anthropological Society of Washington. 1957. Studies in human ecology. Washington, DC: Anthropological Society of Washington.

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    The articles in this volume, one of the first such in anthropology, came out of a 1955–1956 lecture series at the Anthropological Society of Washington, by five prominent scholars. They focus on the theme of culture as a screen between humans and the natural world and the need to progress beyond simple environmental determinism.

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  • Burnham, P. C., and Roy F. Ellen, eds. 1979. Social and ecological systems. London: Academic Press.

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    This influential and much-cited collection of papers, from a 1978 meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists, reflects the somewhat late entrance of British anthropology to the study of the ecology of social systems, and it is characterized by a skeptical stance toward some of the more dogmatic American claims for adaptive function and systematic rationality of socio-ecological systems.

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  • Haenn, Nora, and Richard Wilk, eds. 2005. The environment in anthropology: A reader in ecology, culture, and sustainable living. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    One of the most wide-ranging recent anthologies, reprinting both classic and recent works, from anthropology as well as related fields, covering theory, population, economic development, biodiversity, environmental management, indigenous peoples, and globalization.

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  • Hutterer, Karl L., A. Terry Rambo, and George Lovelace, eds. 1985. Cultural values and human ecology in Southeast Asia. Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia, No. 27. Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, Univ. of Michigan.

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    The original papers in this interdisciplinary volume stem from a 1983 conference at the East-West Center in Honolulu, focus on the human ecology of Southeast Asia and present research results from the pioneering Southeast Asian Universities Agroecosystem Network, a regional association of scholars in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, widely known by its acronym SUAN.

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  • Lopes, Priscila, and Alpina Begossi, eds. 2009. Current trends in human ecology. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars.

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    A wide-ranging and interdisciplinary sampling of papers presented at the XV International Meeting of the Society for Human Ecology, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007, edited by two Brazilian specialists in the behavior and ethnoecology of fisher-folk. This collection, with sections on human ecology and the environment, knowledge and management, and integrating human ecology, is distinctive in its approach to environmental degradation because it emphasizes the views of peoples who directly depend on natural resources and because it offers a perspective from the global South.

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  • Vayda, Andrew P., ed. 1969. Environment and cultural behavior: Ecological studies in cultural anthropology. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.

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    For a decade or more, this collection of mostly reprinted works, with some written for the volume, was a staple text in any course in cultural ecology, ecological anthropology, or human ecology. The volume, edited by one of the American pioneers in these fields, is divided between Systems in Operation and Origins and Development.

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Journals

Early work in this field was published in discipline-based journals, according to the discipline of the author. One journal that began publishing in the mid-20th century that provided a valuable space for this work is Economic Botany. Following the birth of the environmental movement in the 1960s, three pioneering interdisciplinary journals appeared—Ambio, Geoforum, and Human Ecology—followed by more specialized but still important journals—Agriculture and Human Values and AgroForestry Systems. The maturing of the field has produced a second wave of journals, amid continued evidence of the growing niche for journals catering to scholars working on society–environment relations, including Ecology and Society and Environment and Society: Advances in Research.

  • Agriculture and Human Values. 1984–.

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    This journal is published by the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. It publishes interdisciplinary research that examines the values, relationships, conflicts, and contradictions within contemporary agricultural and food systems and that addresses the impact of agricultural and food-related institutions, policies, and practices on human populations, the environment, democratic governance, and social equity. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • AgroForestry Systems. 1982–.

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    A peer-reviewed, international journal presenting original research results, critical reviews, and short communications on all aspects of agroforestry, including both biophysical and socioeconomic aspects. It covers agroforestry and other integrated systems involving trees and crops and livestock and has periodically published important papers in human ecology. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment. 1972–.

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    Published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 1972, the year the first United Nations Conference on the Environment was held in Stockholm. It publishes across all disciplines on the scientific, social, economic, and cultural factors that influence the condition of the human environment. Articles from back issues (1972–2010) are available online by subscription; recent articles (2010–present) are available for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ecology and Society. 1997–.

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    Formerly Conservation Ecology, this interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed journal is published by the Resilience Alliance. Its contents address the ecological, political, and social foundations for sustainable social-ecological systems. Articles are available online.

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  • Economic Botany. 1947–.

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    A unique peer-reviewed journal, published by the Society for Economic Botany, with a singular focus on the utilization of plants. It publishes articles on the botany, history, and evolution of useful plants and their modes of use, including cross-cultural differences in plant use, and the historical interaction of human beings and plants. With a wider scope than its title might imply, this journal has published many important papers in human ecology. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Environment and Society: Advances in Research. 2010–.

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    A peer-reviewed journal, published in association with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. It publishes critical reviews of the latest research literature in the field and surveys the literature regionally and thematically. Presenting the work of anthropologists, geographers, environmental scientists, and human ecologists from all parts of the world, it seeks to internationalize debates within environmental anthropology, environmental geography, and other environmentally oriented social sciences. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Geoforum. 1970–.

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    Geoforum is an interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed journal, albeit with a slight geographic bent, which focuses on the organization of economic, political, social, and environmental systems through space and over time. Areas of study range from the analysis of the global political economy and environment, through national systems of regulation and governance, to urban and regional development, local economies and urban planning and resources management. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Human Ecology. 1972–.

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    Founded in 1972 by a pioneering figure in human ecology and ecological anthropology, Andrew P. Vayda, this interdisciplinary and influential journal focuses on the interactions between people and environment, including social, cultural, and psychological factors in the maintenance of ecosystems; the effects of population density on health, social organization, and environmental quality; and adaptive problems in urban environments and the interrelationship between technological and environmental changes. Articles are available online for purchase or by subscription.

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History

An appreciation of the modern field of human ecology is aided by understanding three aspects of its history: its distant intellectual antecedents, not just centuries but millennia old; its differentiation from other approaches and fields of study in the 20th century; and the development of its key theories in a handful of works in the first half of that century.

Antecedents

Clarence J. Glacken writes that Western thinking about humans and the earth has been dominated by three persistent questions: “Is the earth, which is obviously a fit environment for man and other organic life, a purposefully made creation? Have its climates, its relief, the configuration of its continents influenced the moral and social nature of individuals, and have they had an influence in molding the character and nature of human culture? In his long tenure of the earth, in what manner has man changed it from its hypothetical pristine condition?” (Glacken 1967, p. vii). Glacken adds, “In exploring the history of these ideas from the fifth century BC to the end of the eighteenth century, it is a striking fact that virtually every great thinker who lived within this 2300-year period had something to say about one of the ideas, and many had something to say about all of them” (p. 713). The intellectual roots of human ecology lie in all three of Glacken’s questions but the second of them—the question of whether human society varies as its environment varies—has attracted the longest and most sustained interest. Still-influential studies of this question run from classical times through the Enlightenment. The most influential classical writings on what came to be known as climate theory were those of Hippocrates 1923. They resurface in the work of the great medieval Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun 1967 in the 14th century, and they were eloquently and powerfully re-presented to the public by Montesquieu 1752 in the 18th century. This environmental determinism was carried on by some of the 19th-century works in anthropology, most notably by Ratzel 1896–1898 in the author’s monumental three-volume comparative study of human societies, but it was increasingly repudiated in the 20th century. Largely outside this two thousand year-old tradition, but offering an illuminating comparison with it, is an older Vedic body of thought about humans and their world from the subcontinent, as examined through the ancient Sanskrit treatises by Zimmermann 1987.

  • Glacken, Clarence J. 1967. Traces on the Rhodian shore: Nature and culture in western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A magisterial survey, without equal, of the conceptual roots and development of thinking about the relation between nature and culture in the Western intellectual tradition, beginning with Greco-Roman sources and continuing through the European Enlightenment.

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  • Hippocrates. 1923. Airs, waters, places. In Hippocrates. Vol. 1. Translated by William H. S. Jones, 65–137. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Hippocrates (c. 460 BCc. 370 BC), best known for his work on human health and medicine, also examined their environmental determinants. His efforts to associate climate and health and climate and human character—which some have called “ethnographical”—represents one of the most famous statements ever made regarding the determinism of society by geography and climate, influencing thinking on this subject for over two millennia.

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  • Ibn Khaldûn. 1967. The Muqaddimah: An introduction to history. Translated by Franz Rosenthal. Edited by N. J. Dawood. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Known as the most important Islamic history of the premodern world, an influential portion of it examines the impact of climate on human society, based on division of the world into seven latitudinal zones, with the middle and temperate zones seen as promoting more praiseworthy social conditions. “The inhabitants of the zones that are far from temperate . . . are also farther removed from being temperate in all their conditions” (p. 168). Abridged edition from original three-volume work, originally published in 1958.

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  • Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, baron de. 1914. Of laws in relation to the nature of the climate. In The spirit of the laws. 2d ed. Translated by Thomas Nugent. Edited by J. V. Prichard, 188–198. London: Bell.

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    Montesquieu (b. 1689–d. 1755) presents the most influential statement of climate theory during the Enlightenment in Europe, based on what his translator calls an “anthropology-like” comparative global study of political-legal systems, his principal interest, and their purported correlation with different climates. He famously asserts that people living in very warm countries are too “hot-tempered” whereas those living in very cold countries are too “icy.” Originally published in 1752.

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  • Ratzel, Friedrich. 1896–1898. The history of mankind. 3 vols. Translated by Arthur J. Butler. London: Macmillan.

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    The 19th-century writer whose work had perhaps the greatest influence on this field was Friedrich Ratzel (b. 1844–d. 1904), who founded what came to be called the anthropogeographical school. Based on his systematic, worldwide research correlating cultures and geography, he sought to demonstrate that differences in habitat explained differences in culture—albeit with some allowance made for the relevance of other variables as well. Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 are available online.

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  • Zimmermann, Francis. 1987. The jungle and the aroma of meats: An ecological theme in Hindu medicine. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A brilliant rereading of two thousand- to four thousand-year-old Vedic texts, in terms of the divide that they construct between the civilized Aryan culture living in the semi-arid savanna (jangala) of western India on the one hand and, on the other hand, the barbarian societies living in the perennially wet forests of eastern India.

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The Wider Field

The term human ecology, which encompasses this field, was coined in 1921 by two members of the Chicago School of sociology, R. E. Park and E. W. S. Burgess, in Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Park and Burgess 1921). Bates 1953 notes five distinct ways in which the term was being used in the academic literature and university organizations, having variously to do with medicine, geography, sociology, anthropology, and human conduct or behavior broadly speaking. Prominent past contributors to the field have seen virtue in such diversity. Paul Sears wrote, “The merits of this label are rather in the encouragement it offers to workers in seemingly unrelated fields to become better aware of one another and of common interests and responsibilities” (p. 961). Paul Shepard famously wrote, “It will be healthiest perhaps when running in all directions” (p. 894). Sears also noted, “What is important is the work to be done rather than the label” (p. 961).

  • Bates, Marston. 1953. Human ecology. In Anthropology today. Edited by Alfred L. Kroeber, 700–713. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A comprehensive, interdisciplinary review of the state of the field in the mid-20th century, encompassing studies of the environment, population, the community, and ecology and evolution.

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  • Park, Robert E., and Ernest W. Burgess. 1921. Introduction to the science of sociology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A huge, sweeping classroom-oriented volume that reprints apposite excerpts from a wide range of disciplines and fields, beyond sociology and even beyond the academy, which bear on social organization and human life, in a systematic effort to put sociology on a scientific footing.

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  • Sears, Paul B. 1954. Human ecology: A problem in synthesis. Science 120.3128: 959–963.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.120.3128.959Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Written in response to a perceived socio-ecological crisis, involving the relationship between Homo sapiens and his physical, biological, and social environment. Sears writes, “Human ecology is not so much a specialty as a scientific activity which must draw upon a wide range of the specialities” (p. 961) motivated by the common “essential point” that people are functionally related to their environments in terms of their particular cultures. Available online by subscription.

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  • Shepard, Paul. 1967. Whatever happened to human ecology? BioScience 17.12: 891–894, 911.

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    Decrying the narrowing of human ecology to “that branch of sociology dealing largely with human geography” (p. 891), Shepard says that the central problem of the field is the relationship of the mind to nature and suggests three promising future directions: physiological studies of stress, the human implications of landscape and ecosystem ecology, and the study of nature and the mind as a feedback system. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Canonical Works

The first half of the 20th century saw a turn against the environmental determinism of Ratzel (see Ratzel 1896–1898, cited under Antecedents) and his predecessors. Anthropologists like Kroeber (Kroeber 1947) looked at the correspondence between natural and cultural areas but saw the relationship as one of “possibilism” versus determinism. Succeeding works relied on more systematic cross-cultural comparison as in Forde 1934 and a more sophisticated view of the relationship among environment, resource-use system, and culture, moving further away from simple deterministic views, most notably in Steward 1963.

  • Forde, C. Daryll. 1934. Habitat, economy and society: A geographical introduction to ethnology. New York: Dutton.

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    One of the few British anthropologists of his era interested in the environment, Forde (b. 1902–d. 1973) carried out global cross-cultural analyses of the relation between geographical causes and cultural effects, and on the basis of his findings he added to the critique of simplistic correlations between these two variables. He wrote, “Between the physical environment and human activity there is always a middle term . . . a cultural pattern” (p. 463).

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  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1947. Cultural and natural areas of native North America. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Kroeber (b. 1876–d. 1960), seeking to reverse anthropology’s neglect of environmental factors based on disillusion with earlier and overly deterministic theories, brought to its peak the study of the correspondence of cultural and natural areas in North America. He saw environment as a limiting but not determining factor, replacing determinism with “possibilism.” First published in 1939, based on research carried out in the 1920s.

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  • Steward, Julian H. 1963. Theory of culture change: The methodology of multilinear evolution. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Steward (b. 1902–d. 1972), coined the phrase cultural ecology in 1937 to describe a method for studying the role that the environment plays in cultural evolution, believing like his teacher Kroeber that anthropology was ignoring this subject. Regarded as the father of this field, his case studies from North America, South America, and the Caribbean have been lauded as pioneering efforts to study causal relations between culture and environment that avoid the weaknesses of geographic determinism. Originally published in 1955.

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Resource Use and Abuse

Much of the richest work in human ecology has focused on the use and abuse, purported or otherwise, of natural resources by non-Western peoples. Most of this work has to do with agriculture, which was the subject of many classic studies but yet remained theoretically marginal through much of the 20th century, which is ironic given the interest today in food, food production, and food security.

Swidden Agriculture

One of the most important topics in this field during the second half of the 20th century was swidden agriculture, long (and still) practiced in South and Southeast Asia, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa, and still a subject of study today, as seen in Cairns 2007. Swidden agriculture, the scholarly and less deprecatory term for shifting cultivation or slash-and-burn agriculture, refers to agricultural systems in which fields are cleared and prepared using sword, adze or axe, and fire and are cultivated for a shorter period and then fallowed for a longer one (Conklin 1975). The term swidden, which refers to the cultivated field, is derived from the old English swithen (from the Old Norse term sviona), meaning to singe, which attests to the ancient history of this system of agriculture in Europe as well (Weimarck 1968).

  • Cairns, Malcolm, ed. 2007. Voices from the forest: Integrating indigenous knowledge into sustainable upland farming. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.

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    One of the most comprehensive surveys of swidden agriculture in a generation, it focuses on links to and production for wider markets and the diversity and dynamism of swidden systems. The emphasis is on Southeast Asia and southern China but includes case studies from twenty-two countries.

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  • Conklin, Harold C. 1975. Hanunóo agriculture: A report on the integral system of shifting cultivation in the Philippines. Northford, CT: Eliott’s.

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    The most important critic of the prevailing negative view of swidden agriculture, Conklin suggests the possibility of an alternative rationale to that of modern, Western, agricultural development. He utilizes the language and conceptual paradigms of his audience in the policy and development community, providing exhaustive technical directions, specifications, diagrams, and alternatives. First published in 1957 (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

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  • Weimarck, Gunhild. 1968. Ulfshult: Investigations concerning the use of soil and forest in Ulfshult, parish of Örkened, during the last 250 years: Land and land-use. Lund, Sweden: Gleerup.

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    A fascinating historical account of swidden agriculture, known as “burn beating,” in northern Europe. It includes Carl Linnaeus’s (b. 1707–d. 1778) favorable comments on the practice, observed during his Scanian Travels in southern Sweden in 1749: “If the inhabitants . . . were not allowed to have burn-beating, they would want for bread and be left with an empty stomach looking at a sterile waste” (p. 56).

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Monographs

More of the early monograph-length cultural ecological studies focus on tropical forest swidden agriculture than on any other topic. The most influential and now-classic examples included Bartlett 1955–1961, a three-volume survey of the tropical literature on native land-use practices; Condominas 1977, an eloquent study of a swidden people in Indo-China; De Schlippé 1956, a study of swidden cultivation among the Zande of central Africa; Freeman 1970, a study of pioneering swidden agriculture among Iban in Sarawak; and Geertz 1963, a comparison of swidden rice and irrigated rice cultivation in Indonesia. Swidden agriculture was a focal point of conflict between local communities and colonial and post-colonial states (and a number of the classic works on swidden were commissioned by these states), purportedly because of its destructive character, but in reality because of its resistance to state extraction. Its study was important in the historical development of the stance of scholars in anthropology and geography as native advocates and champions of indigenous knowledge.

  • Bartlett, Harley H. 1955–1961. Fire in relation to primitive agriculture and grazing in the tropics: An annotated bibliography. 3 vols. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan, Botanic Gardens.

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    This now-forgotten masterpiece mined a large fraction of the literature on the tropics for data on swidden agriculture in tropical forests and the use of fire in tropical grasslands, which revealed that the reality of these practices had been accurately observed yet the policy implications were denied by colonial politics.

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  • Condominas, Georges. 1977. We have eaten the forest: The story of a Montagnard village in the central highlands of Vietnam. Translated by Adrienne Foulke. New York: Hill and Wang.

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    A pioneering and ethnographically nuanced description of a swidden system, its title reflects the fundamental difference between modern Western systems of agriculture that mine the soil and a system like swidden agriculture that mines the biomass atop the soil. First published in 1957.

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  • De Schlippé, Pierre. 1956. Shifting cultivation in Africa: The Zande system of agriculture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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    The first monograph-length study of swidden agriculture in Africa, it shows how the seemingly chaotic swidden fields made sense within a native system of classification. Like Conklin 1975, De Schlippe uses extensive quantitative data to illustrate the technical complexity of the native system.

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  • Freeman, Derek. 1970. Report on the Iban. New York: Athlone.

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    Perhaps the best ethnography ever written of a Bornean tribal people, as well as an analysis of the relation between social structure and settlement pattern on the one hand and a system of swidden agriculture on the other. First published in 1955.

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  • Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural involution: The processes of ecological change in Indonesia. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    One of the most influential studies in cultural ecology in the second half of the 20th century, this monograph is a sweeping historical comparison of the implications of systems of irrigated rice agriculture versus swidden agriculture for the development of society in Java (involuted) versus the outer islands of Indonesia (more entrepreneurial), respectively. Its comparison of irrigated rice and swidden is powerful but overdrawn because we now know that many people practiced both.

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Analytical Issues

Swidden studies contributed directly to many of the central theoretical and policy debates in the field of human ecology. Key examples include Bryant 1994, a study of colonial resource extraction in Burma; Padoch 1982, a study of settlement and resource-use among the contemporary Iban of Sarawak; Richards 1985, a study of indigenous agricultural development in West Africa; Carneiro 2008, a study of the carrying capacity of the tropical forest and critique of the thesis (Meggers 1971, cited under the Amazon) that swidden groups move because they exhaust the land; and Otto and Anderson 1982, an analysis of the forgotten Western heritage of swidden agriculture.

  • Bryant, Raymond L. 1994. Shifting the cultivator: The politics of teak regeneration in colonial Burma. Modern Asian Studies 28.2: 225–250.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00012397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Colonial British foresters in Burma planted their teak in cleared swidden fields of the Karen. Their reliance on a system that colonial policy opposed was ironic. It was economic in being one of the rare successful efforts by a colonial government to extract a surplus from hill swidden groups, and it was political in that it shifted land from Karen swiddens to British teak plantations—although it failed to exterminate the swidden system. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Carneiro, Robert L. 2008. Slash-and-burn agriculture: A closer look at its implications for settlement patterns. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 249–253. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A study of carrying capacity under swidden agriculture. Based on his study of the Kuikuru of central Brazil, Carneiro argues that swidden cultivation of manioc in the tropical forest can support up to five hundred persons in a nucleated settlement on a long-term, sustainable basis; thus, the move of any community below that size cannot be attributed to environmental degradation. Originally published in 1960.

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  • Otto, J. S., and N. E. Anderson. 1982. Slash-and-burn cultivation in the highlands south: A problem in comparative agricultural history. Comparative Study of Society and History 24.1: 131–147.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500009816Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The negative reaction of 20th-century observers to the timber-strewn, intercropped, and generally disorderly appearance of a swidden stemmed from an erasure of Western agrarian history. Otto and Anderson show that a swidden system based on a melding of Scots-Irish and Native American practices dominated the southern uplands of the United States through the 19th century and persisted in remnantal form well into the 20th century. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Padoch, C. 1982. Migration and its alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut von Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 98. The Hague: Nijhoff.

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    For a century the Iban of Sarawak were seen as the quintessential example of nomadic, despoilers of primary forest. Padoch shows that at least in hilly upriver areas, Iban mobility was due not just to the dynamics of swidden agriculture but also to the fact that long-term settlement exhausted proximate sources of valuable forest products, for which cash-cropping did not offer a good substitute in these regions.

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  • Richards, Paul. 1985. Indigenous agricultural revolution: Ecology and food production in West Africa. London: Hutchinson.

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    Arguing for a new relationship between science and small farmers, Richards examines the history of both swidden and irrigated, permanent-field agriculture in West Africa and concludes that native farmers have made numerous successful innovations that should be used as the basis for external developmental efforts instead of alien green revolution technology.

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The Amazon

The Amazon, as a region, has been a focus of work in this field unequaled in any other part of the world, which is a function of its convoluted history, its size, its resource wealth, and perceptions over the past generation of its being in crisis. Field studies there have contributed both to our understanding of the Amazon itself and to wider issues of theory and policy and include Hecht and Cockburn 1989 on deforestation, Sawyer 2004 on resource extraction, Meggers 1971 on the carrying capacity of the tropical forest, and Raffles 2002 on human agency.

  • Hecht, Susanna B., and Alexander Cockburn. 1989. The fate of the forest: Developers, destroyers, and defenders of the Amazon. London: Verso.

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    A seminal contribution to the field of political ecology and the literature on tropical deforestation generally and the Amazon in particular. It critiques the concepts of the isolated backwoodsman and subsistence-focused smallholder and suggests that blaming international capital, lack of political will, mistakes, irrationality, or poor policy misses the point, which is that the degradation and underdevelopment of the Amazon is socially constructed.

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  • Meggers, Betty Jane. 1971. Amazonia: Man and culture in a counterfeit paradise. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.

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    An influential though controversial work, Meggers claims that the luxuriant vegetation of the Amazon disguised the fact that the environment was actually relatively poor and could not support dense native populations nor, thus, complex native socio-political organization (which was contradicted by Carneiro 2008, cited under Analytical Issues).

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  • Raffles, Hugh. 2002. In Amazonia: A natural history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This book is a contribution to the revisionist literature that argues that much of the seemingly natural Amazon is in reality anthropogenic, but it is singular in focusing on human modification not of forests or the land but of waterways.

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  • Sawyer, Suzana. 2004. Crude chronicles: Indigenous politics, multinational oil, and neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Oil extraction by multinational companies is increasingly dominating domestic and international politics in the Amazon. This book is the leading work to date on the relationship among the national governments, the oil companies, and the indigenous groups who live atop the oil-bearing lands; it presents an ethnography of the tactics and strategies deployed by both indigenous peoples and oil companies.

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Environmental Discourses

As global environmental conditions worsened and as environmental consciousness increased in the course of the 20th century, research was increasingly devoted to the critique of reigning environmental paradigms, including those concerning this same worsening of conditions. Whereas scholars did not dispute the often manifest evidence of environmental degradation, they increasingly disputed the way that this evidence was being marshaled—by whom, about whom, and to what end. Influenced by the rise of post-structural theory in the social sciences and humanities, what came to be called discourses or narratives of environmental degradation began to be studied as social phenomena in their own right (Cronon 1992). One of the longest-standing and most heatedly debated aspects of land use in the tropics involves the succession of forests to grasslands. The preeminent work on this topic is by Fairhead and Leach 1996, which famously characterizes a discourse of deforestation in West Africa as a backwards “misreading” of environmental history. Other examples include, Braun 2002, a meticulous analysis of how a North American discourse of deforestation is constructed; Thompson, et al. 1986, a critique of the theory of Himalayan degradation; and Dove 2008, an intellectual history of grassland succession in Southeast Asia.

  • Braun, Bruce. 2002. The intemperate rainforest: Nature, culture, and power on Canada’s west coast. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    In this influential study of conservation battles in the rainforests of British Columbia, Braun begins by problematizing the seemingly innocuous phrase, “Save the rainforests.” He carries out close textual analyses of things like maps and photographs to ask what representational practices give statements such as “the forest is disappearing” their perceived status as truth, even when not supported by the objective reality.

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  • Cronon, William. 1992. A place for stories: Nature, history and narrative. Journal of American History 78.4: 1347–1376.

    DOI: 10.2307/2079346Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cronon, one of the founders of the field of environmental history, provides here one of the most cogent analyses of how environmental discourses work. Environmental narratives are intrinsically teleological forms. Where one chooses to begin and end a story profoundly alters its shape and meaning. If the tale is of progress, then the closing landscape is a garden; if the tale is of crisis and decline, the closing landscape is a wasteland. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Dove, Michael R., ed. 2008. Southeast Asian grasslands: Understanding a vernacular landscape: Canonical readings. Bronx: New York Botanical Gardens.

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    This volume examines systematic differences between official and folk views of fire-climax grasslands based on reprinted, canonical studies from the past half-century on Southeast Asia, which demonstrate that official disparagement of these grasslands is based on a tenacious set of beliefs that have persisted despite the contrary reality of constructive peasant management and use of the grasslands.

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  • Fairhead, James, and Melissa Leach. 1996. Misreading the African landscape: Society and ecology in a forest-savanna mosaic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139164023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on a case study from Guinea in West Africa, the landscape of which was interpreted as natural forest islands in a sea of human-precipitated savanna, Fairhead and Leach argue that the islands are actually portions of the savanna that have been tipped from grasslands into forest as the result of human activity and that the islands have been increasing not decreasing over time in association with increased human settlement.

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  • Thompson, Michael, Michael Warburton, and Tom Hatley. 1986. Uncertainty on a Himalayan scale: An institutional theory of environmental perception and a strategic framework for the sustainable development of the Himalaya. London: Ethnographica.

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    The authors of this seminal but often-overlooked study were asked by the United Nations Development Program to establish a “shared understanding of the problem” (p. 2) of Himalayan degradation among all of the development agencies involved. Instead, they argue that a shared understanding was neither possible nor useful and that the sociological and political reality of diverse perceptions of the problem needs to be recognized.

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Conservation and Development

Increasingly during the second half of the 20th century, work in human ecology, social ecology, cultural ecology, and ecological/environmental anthropology focused on explicit issues of conservation and development, with scholars in this field playing the role of mediators, interpreters, and advocates in the meeting, and often contest, between local peoples and extra-local governmental, and nongovernmental actors.

Common Property Resources

One of the first analytical foci for work in this area was common property resources, also sometimes called common pool resources. The commons is an ancient and much studied institution (Thompson 1975), but this new wave of research was stimulated in part by Hardin 1968, a controversial work on “the tragedy of the commons.” The first generation of academic work on this topic, exemplified by Guha 1989, a study of Indian forests, is synthesized in Ostrom 1990 and McCay and Acheson 1987. This emerging field became so important that it led to the establishment of its own professional association in 1984, the Common Property Network, which became in 1989 the International Association for the Study of Common Property, and then in 2006 the International Association for the Study of the Commons. The leading professional association devoted to the commons, with membership from political scientists, anthropologists, economists, historians, and natural resource managers, it is devoted to understanding and improving institutions for the management of resources held or used collectively by communities in developing or developed countries.

  • Guha, Ramachandra. 1989. The unquiet woods: Ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Guha, a leading public intellectual, environmentalist, and social ecologist of India, surveys the deeper historical and wider geographical tradition of peasant movements in defense of resource rights, which leads up to the Chipko movement in the 1970s.

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  • Hardin, Garrett. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162.3859: 1243–1248.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.162.3859.1243Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most widely read statement on the commons in contemporary times, this article argues that Malthusian pressures oblige individuals to despoil common property resources when acting out of self-interest, even if group interest would benefit from wiser stewardship.

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  • International Association for the Study of the Commons.

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    To promote development and exchange of knowledge pertaining to the commons, the International Association for the Study of the Commons maintains its own website, holds international conferences approximately every other year, and starting in 1986 publishes The Common Property Digest, renamed in 2006 to The Commons Digest, and also publishes The International Journal of the Commons, starting in 2007.

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  • McCay, Bonnie J., and James M. Acheson, eds. 1987. The question of the commons: The culture and ecology of community resources. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    This collection of original essays, edited by two leading scholars in the study of common property resources, examines and critiques Hardin’s thesis of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968) and also asks fundamental questions about what the “commons” means.

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  • Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511807763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Along with many other scholars of common property resources, Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her work, demonstrates the difference between open access resources (anyone’s resources) and common property resources (not anyone’s resources), suggesting that most cases in the world today fit the latter and not the former definition, and yet it is the former to which Hardin’s famous and thus misleadingly named thesis applies (see Hardin 1968).

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  • Thompson, Edward P. 1975. Whigs and hunters: The origins of the black act. New York: Pantheon.

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    Perhaps the most influential historical treatment of the commons ever written, this work by a preeminent historian looks at the closure of the English commons early in the 18th century and the attendant contest between landed elite and landless forest farmers.

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Community/Social Forestry

Whereas community management of forests—one of the most important common property resources—is ancient, it became the focus of a great new wave of policy and applied research attention beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. This movement was stimulated by ever-increasing needs for forestry protection and ever-greater evidence that the orthodox approach of keeping forests and local peoples apart was no longer working and that some devolution of control to local communities was necessary. A subfield was devoted to the study and development of on-farm forestry. Every major international and national donor became involved in this new sector, led by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Center for Research on AgroForestry, and the Center for International Forestry Research (Colfer 2005; Moeliono, et al. 2009). The Ford Foundation played a leading role in this sector in South and Southeast Asia; one of its most prominent and studied programs was India’s joint forest management, which seemed to show the near-miraculous self-recuperative powers of degraded landscapes once peasants and the state stopped fighting over them (Poffenberger and McGean 1996). Later, more in-depth works show the unanticipated complexity and costs as well as benefits, for both sides, of state-village collaboration, including Agrawal 2005 and Mathews 2011.

  • Agrawal, Arun. 2005. Environmentality: Technologies of government and the making of subjects. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    An application to the environment of Michel Foucault’s (b. 1926–d. 1984) concept of governmentality. Agrawal examines the historical shift in northern India from all-out opposition by villagers to state foresters to collaboration in community forestry schemes, which seem to represent decentralization of power on the one hand but on the other hand can be interpreted as the making of docile environmental “subjects.”

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  • Colfer, Carol J. Pierce. 2005. The complex forest: Communities, uncertainty, and adaptive collaborative management. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.

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    The results of a global study of how best to develop systems of adaptive collaborative management for forest-dwelling communities, encompassing the work of ninety scholars working at thirty different sites in eleven countries. The first half presents case studies from around the globe, and the second half presents the findings synthesized from these studies; it reads as a how-to manual for the conduct of global projects on peoples and forests.

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  • Mathews, Andrew S. 2011. Instituting nature: Authority, expertise, and power in Mexican forests. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Mathews describes how the science of forestry and bureaucratic practices came to Oaxaca in the 1930s and how the indigenous Zapotec people learned the theory and practice of industrial forestry as employees and then put these skills to use when they become the owners and managers of the area’s pine forests. This process led not to their becoming the subjects of state projects of governmentality, as in India, but rather to autonomy.

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  • Moeliono, Moira M. M., Eva Wollenberg, and Godwin Limberg, eds. 2009. The decentralization of forest governance: Politics, economics and the fight for control of forests in Indonesian Borneo. London: Earthscan.

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    A synthesis of more than a decade of applied research by social and natural scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research in the uplands of East Kalimantan, focusing on devolution of forest governance to local tribal communities. The length of time, amount of funding, and amount of scholarly attention make this work a cutting-edge study.

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  • Poffenberger, Mark, and Betsy McGean, eds. 1996. Village voices, forest choices: Joint forest management in India. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An assessment of two decades of work in joint forest management programs in India, documenting how reversion of degraded forest lands to local village control results in reforestation, simply as a result of village regulation of grazing and cutting and often with no other inputs or external resources.

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Non-Timber Forest Products

Concern over logging-driven deforestation and attendant disempowerment of forest communities around the world led to interest in forest uses by local forest communities, in particular nontimber forest products, whose value had been overlooked (Peters, et al. 1989). Especially in the Amazon, the idea of extractive reserves was developed (Schwartzman 1989), the products from which were to be sold, with minimal intermediaries, by means of rainforest marketing to consumers in industrialized countries. For a time there was a flood of studies of nontimber forest products, which has been succeeded by more limited but in-depth, focused studies such as Brondízio 2008. The basic premises of rainforest marketing also came to be questioned as in Dove 2011. The ubiquitous but historically inaccurate emphasis on isolation and resource-poverty disguises the fact that the overweening characteristic of these communities is their political not resource marginality and that their greatest need is not to be uplifted economically but to be empowered politically.

  • Brondízio, Eduardo S. 2008. Amazonian caboclo and the açaí palm: Forest farmers in the global market. Bronx: New York Botanical Garden.

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    Tells the story of the boom in the acai fruit economy—from a rural staple to a chic health food delicacy in national and international markets—and examines the development of the production systems and commodity chains required to supply the burgeoning demand for it. Brondizio also reconsiders the contested and stigmatized history of the social identity of the acai producers, the caboclos.

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  • Dove, Michael R. 2011. The banana tree at the gate: The history of marginal peoples and global markets in Borneo. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This study upends the prevailing view of resource-poor and economically marginal tropical forest dwellers. Based on analyses of production and trade in forest products, pepper, and natural rubber, this study replaces the image of the isolated tropical forest community that needs to be helped into the global system with the reality of communities that have been so successful and competitive that they have had to fight political elites to keep from being forced out.

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  • Peters, Charles M., Alwyn H. Gentry, and Robert O. Mendelsohn. 1989. Valuation of an Amazonian rainforest. Nature 339.6227: 655–656.

    DOI: 10.1038/339655a0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The premise of rainforest marketing that tropical forest resources have been neglected owes much to this widely cited study, which concludes that the theoretical value of sustainable exploitation of nontimber forest products in the Amazon exceeds that of exploiting the timber or converting the land to other uses. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Schwartzman, S. A. 1989. Extractive reserves: The rubber tappers’ strategy for sustainable use of the Amazon rain forest. In Fragile lands: Latin America: Strategies for sustainable development. Edited by John O. Browder, 150–155. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    Schwartzman, at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, DC, was a pioneer in advocating for the establishment of extractive reserves in the Brazilian Amazon, in particular to benefit the seringueiros or rubber tappers.

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Conservation and Development Projects

Early enthusiasm over extractive reserves and related projects led to the systematic design and implementation of integrated conservation and development projects, which had the explicit goal of simultaneously protecting the environment and promoting the socio-economic welfare of proximate human communities. The premise for such projects was that socio-economic inequity was fundamentally associated with environmental degradation, and so only by including socio-economic equity as a goal could conservation and restoration projects succeed. Nevertheless, these projects were often quite complex, and they were also subject to additional problems of local and national politics. Thus, many of them proved challenging, which led to a backlash from the conservation community (Brandon, et al. 1998), although many social scientists continue to endorse them (Brechin, et al. 2003). For some social scientists, the focus has progressed to more in-depth, focused, and theoretically oriented ethnographies of the relationships of particular societies with particular conservation programs, as seen in Haenn 2005, Tsing 2005, and West 2006, further elevating the prominence and legitimacy of this subject within the academy.

  • Brandon, Katrina, Kent H. Redford, and Steven E. Sanderson. 1998. Parks in peril: People, politics, and protected areas. Washington, DC: Island.

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    Part of the backlash against the integrated conservation and development projects model of conservation and development, more nuanced than some, edited by major figures in the debate. They acknowledge that biodiversity conservation is inherently political and that effective park protection requires understanding the social context, but they ultimately question whether incorporating local communities on equity grounds can achieve environmental conservation.

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  • Brechin, Steven R., Peter R. Wilshusen, Crystal L. Fortwangler, and Patrick C. West, eds. 2003. Contested nature: Promoting international biodiversity and social justice in the twenty-first century. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    Edited by an equally illustrious team on the other side of the debate, the case studies in this volume all argue that protected areas are irretrievably interwoven with local, national, and even international politics, and any successful conservation effort must openly come to terms with this reality, especially as it involves the rights of local communities.

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  • Haenn, Nora. 2005. Fields of power, forests of discontent: Culture, conservation, and the state in Mexico. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    One of the most thorough attempts to date to describe the challenges of community-based conservation, this book is a nuanced analysis of the intersection of national/international conservation agendas and local political-economic interests in southern Mexico. It especially illuminates the incommensurability of local and global views of environmental conservation and the challenges of translation between them.

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  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    An account of the relationships among the many different actors involved in the reshaping of the rainforests of Indonesia by capitalist interests in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to being innovative in her subject, approach, and writing, Tsing stands apart from many scholars in seeing this interaction not simply as oppression but as an “awkward engagement” (p. xi), in which collaboration sometimes wins out over contest.

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  • West, Paige. 2006. Conservation is our government now: The politics of ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Unusually detailed ethnographic account of the confrontation between the cosmology of a non-Western society and the worldview of international conservationists. West concludes that the problem is not simply that the natives value forest, plants, and animals in different ways from outsiders, rather they do not “value” them at all because they do not separate themselves from their environment in a way that makes such valuation possible.

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Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)

One of the most important policy programs to emerge from ongoing global debates about climate change is REDD (from reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation). REDD programs target still-forested areas that are under imminent threat of deforestation, they attempt to compensate the actors involved to avoid this deforestation, and they trade the benefits thereby obtained on international carbon markets. These REDD programs—which are being applied largely in tropical forest regions—are far from the first such external intervention in these forests and forest communities, and yet they rarely even acknowledge this earlier history. Scholars have begun to study the implicit premises and dilemmas of these proposals emanating from the global north to intervene in the behavior of forest-bound individuals (as well as private and public sectors) in the global South, as seen in Fearnside 1997; Santili, et al. 2005; and Angelsen 2008.

  • Angelsen, A. 2008. REDD models and baselines. International Forestry Review 10.3: 465–475.

    DOI: 10.1505/ifor.10.3.465Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of the problems of REDD: (i) it is a classic case of prisoner’s dilemma in game theory; (ii) it is an attempt to halt deforestation by bribing the bad guys instead of paying the good guys; and (iii) it is not easy because “buying carbon dioxide molecules in the forest is more difficult than buying bananas” (p. 473). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fearnside, Philip M. 1997. Monitoring needs to transform Amazonian forest maintenance into a global warming-mitigation option. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 2.2–3: 285–302.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02437209Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Prescient assessment of the challenges to REDD, taking Brazil as a case study: (i) REDD rewards bad behavior; (ii) it is difficult to ensure a link between intervention and forest protection and to balance the cost of monitoring against benefits; (iii) REDD does not address the institutional/political issues in deforestation; and (iv) most deforestation is from medium- to large-sized farms, not the small farmers targeted by REDD. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Santili, Márcio, Paulo Moutinho, Stephan Schwartzman, Daniel Nepstad, Lisa Curran, and Carlos Nobre. 2005. Tropical deforestation and the Kyoto protocol: An editorial essay. Climatic Change 71.3: 267–276.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-8074-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A normative policy statement from some of the leading scholars in the field regarding the contributions of tropical deforestation to climate change and how best to remedy this situation with REDD, given its various problems. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Development

In the mid-20th century, rural development was still considered to be an applied field, to which scholars contributed when they were not doing “pure” research. By the early 21st century, this situation has changed completely, development has been brought within the academic tent, and some of its foremost scholars work in the fields of human/cultural/social ecology and ecological/environmental anthropology.

Dams/Resettlement

One of the most important and ubiquitous development impacts of the 20th century involved the construction of dams for irrigation and hydro-electric power. Belief in the unalloyed good of these projects was long an article of faith in the multilateral banks and development agencies, buttressed by comments like the famous comments of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister, who, in response to the 1963 opening of Bhakra Nangal Dam, said that dams may be likened to temples (or mosques) and inspire our admiration and reverence. Social scientists like Elizabeth Colson focused their initial studies (Colson 1971) of this subject on the consequences of attendant resettlement of communities, whereas a second generation of researchers such as Amita Baviskar carried out more nuanced studies of all of the actors involved in dam-building (Baviskar 1995), eventually including the international development banks themselves, as in Goldman 2005, who also began to invest in social scientific studies of these projects (Cernea 1991).

  • Baviskar, Amita. 1995. In the belly of the river: Tribal conflicts over development in the Narmada Valley. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Focuses on one of the most controversial of the many hydro-electric projects funded by the World Bank, the Narmada Dam in Madhya Pradesh, India, and the opposition to the dam by the indigenous tribal people (adivasi). Baviskar finds that the environmental relations of the adivasi are not entirely harmonious and that their environmental politics are more complex than a simple opposition of development versus resistance.

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  • Cernea, Michael M. 1991. Involuntary resettlement: Social research, policy, and planning. In Putting people first: Sociological variables in rural development. 2d ed. Edited by Michael M. Cernea, 188–215. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The World Bank has always harbored within its own ranks some of its sharpest critics, including some leading social scientists. The sociologist Cernea was long one of the World Bank’s premiere analysts of the human impacts of bank projects and an advocate for building assessments of such impacts into project planning, and he specialized in the study of resettlement.

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  • Colson, Elizabeth. 1971. The social consequences of resettlement: The impact of the Kariba resettlement upon the Gwembe Tonga. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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    This pioneering study of dam-related resettlement is a longitudinal study of the Gwembe Tonga of Central Africa following their uprooting in 1957 and 1958 by a large hydro-electric dam built across the Zambezi River.

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  • Goldman, Michael. 2005. Imperial nature: The World Bank and struggles for social justice in the age of globalization. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    One of the most influential recent social science analyses of the World Bank, by a sociologist outside it, this work focuses on how the bank creates authoritative knowledge about the world, notwithstanding often contrary realities. It is based on a case study of hydro-electric development in Laos, which is proceeding apace despite the unhappy record of such projects in many other countries.

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The Development Process

Toward the end of the 20th century, scholars in this field increasingly widened the scope of their inquiries to include not only the subjects of development but also the process of development itself. Scholars influenced by the work of Foucault on power and knowledge questioned the fundamental economic and apolitical premises of development, as seen in Ferguson 1990 and Escobar 1995. These studies, increasingly buttressed by long-term, in-depth ethnographies of development projects, focus on patterns of contradictory and seemingly dysfunctional behavior, as Mosse 2005 does. As the political nature of development was increasingly revealed, the long-established neutral role of the scholar in studying them came to be reexamined as well (Kirsch 2002).

  • Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Arguing that development has been a mechanism of power in the management of the Third World, this work was central to theorizing the anthropology of development, by shifting the focus away from the subjects of development—peasants and tribesmen—toward the development actors themselves—international aid agencies, national governments, and the development scholars working with them.

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  • Ferguson, James. 1990. The anti-politics machine: “development,” depoliticization and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A case study of Lesotho, this book is a pioneering effort to apply Foucaultian concepts of power to development and is one of the most influential critiques of development of the past two decades. It begins by radically redirecting the question “Why does development fail?” to “Why does it persist?” The answer is that development programs are only incidentally about development and are really about expanding bureaucratic state power.

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  • Kirsch, Stuart. 2002. Anthropology and advocacy: A case study of the campaign against the Ok Tedi Mine. Critique of Anthropology 22.2: 175–200.

    DOI: 10.1177/03075X02022002851Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An explicit analysis of the role of the anthropologist in a conflict between an international mining company and local communities in Papua New Guinea, this study questions orthodox assumptions of a level playing field, commonalities of interest, and the propriety of the anthropologist’s role as neutral, honest broker versus advocate. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Mosse, David. 2005. Cultivating development: An ethnography of aid policy and practice. London: Pluto.

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    Based on decade-long work on a British development project in western India, this book is a central contribution to the new ethnography of development. One of its principal points is that development policies are necessarily different from development activities. Ideas that make for good policy, which legitimizes and mobilizes political and practical support, are not good guides to action; good policy is thus not implementable.

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Environment and Society

Whereas all of the literature in this essay deals broadly with the relationship between society and the environment, a subset focuses more specifically on how the environment affects societal dynamics, and vice-versa. A prominent dimension of this topic is the relationship between the environment and population growth; another concerns how the environment affects social organization, including gender relations; and a third topic is the political dimension of environmental relations, as taken up by the relatively new field of political ecology.

Population

The relationship between human population dynamics and food production is a long-standing topic of interest, including the way agricultural production limits population, beginning with Malthus 2008 (originally published in 1798), long-term historical studies of this relationship, as in Ladurie 1974, and modern critiques of it, most notably by Boserup 1965. Neo-Malthusian studies, such as Ehrlich 1968 and Meadows, et al. 1972, exerted great influence in the early stages of the environmental movement.

  • Boserup, E. 1965. The conditions of agricultural growth: The economics of agrarian change under population pressure. London: Allen and Unwin.

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    In this brief but extremely influential work, Boserup (b. 1910–d. 1999), a Danish economist, demonstrates that agriculturalists maximize returns to labor, and only intensify agricultural practices, which results in lower (thus more onerous) returns to labor, when forced to, typically by increasing population/land pressure. This undercuts the Malthusian thesis that agricultural production determines population growth, and also the assumption by agricultural development theorists that intensification follows innovation, not need.

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  • Ehrlich, Paul R. 1968. The population bomb. Rev. ed. New York: Ballantine.

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    One of the most influential neo-Malthusian analyses of its generation of the perceived threat of population/resource pressures, coauthored by Ehrlich’s wife, Anne Ehrlich, who is uncredited. Faulted for focusing on the availability versus distribution of food, ignoring the political causes of famine, and recommending draconian interventions. The Ehrlichs have also been resistant to subsequent evidence contrary to their thesis, like the trebling of India’s population since they wrote, with higher standards of living.

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  • Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy. 1974. The peasants of Languedoc. Translated by John Day. Edited by George Huppert. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    A unique study, from the French Annales school, of the long-term challenges to agrarian society of maintaining a population/resource balance. Over an eight hundred-year period in France Ladurie discerns three great phases of production expansion and then environmental/Malthusian contraction. Ladurie claims that by the 18th century, however, the modern agricultural economy had lifted the “Malthusian curse.”

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  • Malthus, Thomas R. 2008. An essay on the principle of population. Edited by Geoffrey Gilbert. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The most famous and still influential work on population growth in the English language. Writing against the 18th-century belief in unlimited human progress, Malthus (b. 1766–d. 1834) argues that exponential growth in population would inevitably outstrip arithmetic growth in food supplies, so that unless this growth is held back by social means (preventive checks), it will ultimately be held back by famine, disease, and war (positive checks). Originally published in 1798.

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  • Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. 1972. The limits to growth: A report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe.

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    Another influential neo-Malthusian study, which develops a computer model of the consequences of unchecked economic and population growth with a finite resource base. Critiqued for assuming exponential growth in demand for resources but only linear growth in technology for expanding the resource base and for underestimating the impact of price mechanisms on resource demand—but has still stood the test of time better than, for example, The Population Bomb (Ehrlich 1968).

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Social Organization

Much research in this field focuses on social organization to understand environmental relations, but some focuses on environmental relations to shed new light on how society works, including Barth 2008, a work on the environmental dimensions of ethnicity; Netting 1993, a work on the nature of the household as a unit of production; Mauss 2008; and Steward 2008, a work on social relations and the seasonality of natural resource management. A number of studies look specifically at gender relations, including Merchant 1989, a study of gender and environment in North American history; studies by Schroeder 1999 and Carpenter 2001 (cited under Sacred Cow/Cattle Complex), of the intra-household dimensions of natural resource management; and Rocheleau, et al. 1996, a global synthesis of work in this field.

  • Barth, Fredrik. 2008. Ecologic relationships of ethnic groups in Swat, North Pakistan. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 181–189. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    An elegant and unusual analysis of the relations between three ethnic groups and subsistence systems—agriculture, agriculturalist/transhumance, and transhumance—to illustrate the importance of environmental factors. Barth borrows the animal ecology idea of “niche” and analyzes the differences in social organization among the three groups to demonstrate how each group can exploit a part of the landscape that the others cannot. First published in 1956.

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  • Mauss, Marcel. 2008. Seasonal variations of the Eskimo: A study in social morphology. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 157–167. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A classic study of environment–society dynamics, the Inuit dispersed in the summer and gathered together in the winter, like the game they hunted but with the interesting twist that their summer and winter religion, law, and moral life completely differed. Mauss thus argues, contrary to ecological determinism, that although the natural environment does affect the organization of society, it cannot explain everything by itself.

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  • Merchant, Carolyn. 1989. Ecological revolutions: Nature, gender, and science in New England. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    A pioneering book in the field of ecofeminism, it documents the ways that European settlers transformed the Native American landscape of North America, by first a colonial ecological revolution and then a capitalist ecological revolution, paying particular attention to the role played by changing gender relations.

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  • Netting, Robert McC. 1993. Smallholders, householders: Farm families and the ecology of intensive, sustainable agriculture. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    The reigning textbook on what a farm household is and how it works, this global survey also challenges the popular belief that family-size agricultural production is archaic, persuasively arguing instead that smallholder production is often more economically efficient and less environmentally destructive than large-scale, industrial agriculture.

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  • Rocheleau, Dianne E., Barbara Thomas-Slayter, and Esther Wangari, eds. 1996. Feminist political ecology: Global issues and local experience. New York: Routledge.

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    An influential collection from leaders in this field, which attempts to bridge academic and activist and rural and urban perspectives, presenting case studies of the role of women in environmental struggles around the world. It is divided into section on Gendered Organizations, Gendered Resource Rights, and Gendered Knowledge.

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  • Schroeder, Richard A. 1999. Shady practices: Agroforestry and gender politics in the Gambia. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A pioneering study of the intersection of conservation and development planning and gender divisions within the household. On a landscape divided between male cultivation of cash crops in upland fields and female cultivation of subsistence crops in low-lying fields, the introduction of a conservation-oriented tree-planting project enabled men to displace the women’s gardens, reap the benefits of their investment in irrigation, and shift control from women to themselves.

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  • Steward, Julian H. 2008. The Great Basin Shoshonean Indians: An example of a family level of sociocultural integration. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 168–180. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Steward focuses on the organization of subsistence production labor, which he saw as standing between the environment and social organization. The primary winter food of the Shoshone, pine nuts, did not permit concentrated villages, because they were best gathered by families working alone, and they did not permit permanent villages because their location changed from year to year. First published in 1955.

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Political Ecology

Through much of the 20th century, work in human ecology was studiously apolitical in character. The landmark studies in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s crossed the boundaries between nature and culture, but the cultural element was local, community-based, and the role of wider national and international state and nonstate actors was absent. Power and politics were missing from these newly integrative analyses. This absence eventually provoked a counter-reaction in the form of first neo-Marxist and world system studies, and then in the emergence of the allied field of political ecology. A shift in focus occurred from natural resources to control over natural resources. It was dominated initially by geographers: Blaikie 1985 and Blaikie and Brookfield 1987 are the pioneering texts; Peet and Watts 1996 is an early synthesis of the field, and then a new generation of texts appeared including Zimmerer and Bassett 2003 and Robbins 2004. Political ecologists have critiqued the controversial new field of environmental security, with its Malthusian-like vision of resource-scarcity driven warfare around the globe—as in the works of Homer-Dixon 1999—with Richards 1996, arguing that it is not resource scarcity that causes conflict but conflict that makes resources scarce. In time, political ecology’s charge that politics was missing from human ecology was countered by the charge, notably from Vayda and Walters 1999, that in adding politics, political ecology had subtracted the ecology.

  • Blaikie, Piers M. 1985. The political economy of soil erosion in developing countries. New York: Longman.

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    With Blaikie and Brookfield 1987, the seminal work in the field of political ecology. A study of soil erosion in the Himalaya, Blaikie argues that patterns of soil erosion are linked to fundamental socio-political structures in society and thus a localized analysis of soil erosion alone will not enable us to understand it. All approaches to soil erosion are ideological, including that of the state, which is never simply neutral.

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  • Blaikie, Piers M., and Harold Brookfield, eds. 1987. Land degradation and society. London: Methuen.

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    Coedited by Brookfield, the doyen of Asia-Pacific geography, this work argues for seeking the causes and consequences of environmental perturbation and degradation beyond the local level. It is explicitly committed to seeing how disturbance is affected by (and also affects) relations with extra-local actors, which it terms “regional political ecology,” encompassing “the contribution of different geographical scales and hierarchies of socioeconomic organizations (e.g., person, household, village, region, state, world)” (p. 17).

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  • Homer-Dixon, Thomas F. 1999. Environment, scarcity, and violence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    A political scientist and leader in integrating military conflict studies and the study of the physical environment into the field of environmental security, Homer-Dixon sees environmental degradation and increasing population/resource pressure at the root of spreading global civil violence.

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  • Peet, Richard, and Michael Watts, eds. 1996. Liberation ecologies: Environment, development and social movements. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203286784Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edited by two prominent geographers and with a list of contributors who are leaders in the field, this work remains an influential reader in the development of political ecology, with chapters spanning the globe and focusing on the interrelation of social movements, development, and the environment and ultimately challenging us to rethink what we mean by development.

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  • Richards, Paul. 1996. Fighting for the rain forest: War, youth and resources in Sierra Leone. Oxford: International African Institute.

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    Writing against the Malthus-with-guns interpretation of violence in less-developed countries, Richards’s in-depth analysis of civil war in Sierra Leone demonstrates that it cannot be explained simply by local resource scarcity but rather is a product of international commerce in which Europeans and Americans have played a part.

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  • Robbins, Paul. 2004. Political ecology: A critical introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    One of the best textbooks in political ecology since Blaikie 1985 and Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; divided into sections on the history of the field—its conceptual and methodological challenges, its current research themes, and its future—and enlivened with case studies, material from Robbins’ own robust research program and, uniquely, interviews with leading scholars in the field.

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  • Vayda, Andrew P., and Bradley B. Walters. 1999. Against political ecology. Human Ecology 27.1: 167–179.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1018713502547Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A famous push-back against the emerging field of political ecology, Vayda and Walters dispute its purported tendency to assume a priori that political factors are most important in environmental explanation. They illustrate this point with a Philippine case study that shows that poor also abuse resources even when they have security of tenure, and they conclude with an appeal for research without a priori judgments. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Zimmerer, Karl S., and Thomas J. Bassett, eds. 2003. Political ecology: An integrative approach to geography and environment-development studies. New York: Guilford.

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    A collection intended to illustrate geographical approaches to political ecology, edited by two leading American geographers and with contributions spanning the globe and a wide range of topics.

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Ideational Factors

One of the things that separate the social sciences from the physical sciences, as Georgescu-Roegen 1971 discusses, is that the latter cannot ask the subjects of their study (e.g., electrons) why they behave as they do but the former can. This question is relevant because what human beings believe about their environment and their relations with it is a powerful determinant of the character of these relations. Gregory Bateson memorably put it, “We are not outside the ecology for which we plan—we are always and inevitably part of it. Herein lies the charm and the terror of ecology—that the ideas of this science are irreversibly becoming a part of our own ecological system” (Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Rev. ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972, p. 512; also see Bateson 2008). The study of this ideational dimension of ecology distinguishes human ecology from all other ecologies. Important work in this area has included studies of local knowledge of the environment, the role that religion plays in environmental relations, and theoretical analyses of the nature/culture divide.

  • Bateson, Gregory. 2008. Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 457–461. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A pioneer in theorizing about the role that the human mind plays in human ecology, Bateson was especially interested in the role of consciousness in environmental adaptation. He argued that the conscious mind logically cannot comprehend the environment in which it exists, producing a double bind: What seems wise to the mind may be actually be unwise for the environment that sustains it.

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  • Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. 1971. The entropy law and the economic process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Following a century of scholarly musings about the implications of the laws of thermodynamics for the understanding of human society, Georgescu-Roegen, a Romanian-born economist, helped to synthesize and focus this work to develop the discipline of ecological economics.

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Local/Folk/Native/Indigenous Knowledge

The call in Frake 1962 (cited under General Overviews), among others, for analysis of the environment and environmental relations in the linguistic and cognitive terms of the local society (see Ellen and Reason 1979) over time led to the development of the subfields of ethnobotany, ethnobiology, ethnoecology, and indigenous environmental knowledge.

  • Ellen, Roy F., and David Reason, eds. 1979. Classifications in their social context. London: Academic Press.

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    An early collection on the general topic of human systems of classification, which helped to define the parameters of work in this area, this wide-ranging collection compares systems of folk and scientific classification, in both historic and contemporary times, in both Western and non-Western societies.

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Ethnobiology

The most important work in this field initially focused on folk knowledge and classification of plants, a subject for which some groundwork was laid during the colonial era (see Burkill 1935, Rumphius 2011). This division came to be called ethnobotany (Berlin, et al. 1974; Conklin 1954) which is now a robust field of study with its own journal, professional society, and numerous academic programs. Ethnozoology, perhaps reflecting the lesser diversity and economic importance of the fauna on which humans depend, has received much less attention, although with important exceptions including Bulmer 1967 and Ellen 1993. In recent years, some scholars have subsumed all work on native classificatory systems for living things under the subfield of ethnobiology, as seen in Anderson, et al. 2011 and Medin and Atran 1999.

  • Anderson, E. N., Deborah Pearsall, Eugene S. Hunn, and Nancy J. Turner, eds. 2011. Ethnobiology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118015872Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive assessment of the current state of ethnobiology, defined—following the Society of Ethnobiology—as the study of relationships between particular ethnic groups and their native plants and animals, this collection features review articles on all the major subfields within ethnobiology, from archaeoethnozoology to ethnomycology to agroecology, and covering ethical issues and practices as well as archaeological, ethnological, and linguistic approaches.

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  • Berlin, Brent, Dennis E. Breedlove, and Peter H. Raven. 1974. Principles of Tzeltal plant classification: An introduction to the botanical ethnography of a Mayan-speaking people of Highland Chiapas. New York: Academic Press.

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    One of the canonical works of ethnobotany by three scholars who went on to become leaders in the field, which directly addresses the implications of differences between Linnaean and non-Linnaean systems of plant classification and argues that universal human cognitive processes underpin all folk systems of classification.

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  • Bulmer, Ralph. 1967. Why is the cassowary not a bird? A problem of zoological taxonomy among the Karam of the New Guinea highlands. Man, new ser., 2.1: 5–25.

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    This article had a huge impact in the 1960s as perhaps the first study to suggest that there are alternatives to the Western, Linnaean system of classification of animals—in which cassowaries are birds—and that other systems were available, such as this New Guinean system—in which cassowaries are not birds. Available online for purchase or by subscription; online-only access with registration.

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  • Burkill, Isaac H. 1935. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2 vols. London: Crown Agents for the Colonies.

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    Along with Rumphius 2011 and George Watt’s 1889–1896 A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India (7 vols., London: Allen), this two-volume dictionary is one of the great works of natural history of the colonial era. Like Rumphius’s work but unlike Watt’s, it focuses mostly on plants. Like the Ambonese Herbal, it delves deeply into native uses of and names for every plant mentioned, and thus it stood as a model for subsequent work in economic botany.

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  • Conklin, Harold C. 1954. “The relation of Hanunóo culture to the plant world.” PhD diss., Yale Univ.

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    Perhaps the most heavily cited ethnobotanical work of all time, Conklin shows that the Hanunóo, a group of swidden cultivators on Mindoro Island in the Philippines, recognize and name over 1,600 plant types in their environment and have economic uses for more than 90 percent of them, which remains one of the most powerful demonstrations of native environmental knowledge ever made.

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  • Ellen, Roy F. 1993. The cultural relations of classification: An analysis of Nuaulu animal categories from central Seram. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511470530Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on two decades of fieldwork in eastern Indonesia, Ellen argues—contra Berlin, et al. 1974—that formal hierarchies of taxa do not universally exist and that systems of classification are inherently social and context dependent.

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  • Medin, Douglas L., and Scott Atran, eds. 1999. Folk biology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    An example of the second generation of research in this field, this collection of papers by prominent scholars reaches across an unusually broad spectrum of disciplines—anthropology, cognitive and developmental psychology, biology, and philosophy of science—and asks new questions about how human beings perceive, categorize, and reason about living kinds.

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  • Rumphius, Georgius Everhardus. 2011. The Ambonese herbal: Being a description of the most noteworthy trees, shrubs, herbs, land- and water-plants which are found in Amboina and the surrounding islands according to their shape, various names, cultivation, and use: Together with several insects and animals. Translated by E. M. Beekman. 6 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This publication was one of the seminal natural historical works of the 17th century (now available for the first time in English). As brilliantly presented and interpreted by E. M. Beekman (b. 1939–d. 2008), it shows the important contribution that native practices and knowledge made to colonial science. Rumphius (b. 1627–d. 1702) was in many respects a practicing ethnobotanist, centuries before this field was defined. First published in 1741.

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Ethnoecology

The subfield of ethnoecology represented a broadening of ethnobotanical and ethnozoological inquiry to encompass native knowledge and use of the entire ecosystem including forests, grasslands, and soils (Conklin 2008, Nazarea 1999, Sillitoe 1993).

  • Conklin, Harold C. 2008. An ethnoecological approach to shifting agriculture. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 241–248. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Based on field evidence in the Philippines, Conklin argues that calculations of productivity are more complicated, the boundary between cultivated and fallow periods is more complex, there is more regional variation, and the system is less environmentally destructive than popularly supposed. The problem is not swidden cultivators’ lack of knowledge of the environment but our lack of knowledge of the swidden cultivators.

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  • Nazarea, Virginia D., ed. 1999. Ethnoecology: Situated knowledge/located lives. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    The only recent collection of papers focused on ethnoecology, these articles from social and natural scientists, academics, and practitioners, based on case studies from around the globe, focus on indigenous environmental knowledge and its relevance to current challenges of sustainable development.

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  • Sillitoe, Paul. 1993. Local awareness of the soil environment in the Papua New Guinea highlands. In Environmentalism: The view from anthropology. Edited by Kay Milton, 160–173. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203449653Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the rare examples of an effort to apply ethnoecological methods to the study of soils; Sillitoe finds that the Wola do not factor soil type into selection of garden sites, which is a function of the fact that soils are generally similar, with any crucial variations difficult to perceive, and the fact that low population/land density allows them to use natural forest fallows to restore fertility.

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Indigenous Knowledge

Whereas anthropologists, rural sociologist, geographers, and others had studied local systems of knowledge since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the concept and study of indigenous knowledge, including indigenous environmental knowledge, only emerged in the 1980s, exemplified by Brokensha, et al. 1980, precipitated by a global reversal in the political weighting of indigeneity. Whereas status as an indigenous, typically minority ethnic group had long been disadvantageous politically, toward the end of the 20th century shifting political currents worldwide suddenly empowered many indigenous groups, giving them greater not less access to resources and leading to a tendency to claim versus disavow indigenous identity. The embrace of indigenous identity and knowledge even by global organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank contributed to an efflorescence of literature on this topic, focusing on issues such as intellectual property rights, as in Brush and Stabinsky 1996, and spirituality and sovereignty, as in Grim 2001. But just as quickly questions were raised about the validity of these concepts. Krech 1999, a very influential and hotly debated study, critiques the popular view of Native Americans as conservationists spiritually in tune with their environment. Based in part on evidence from world system studies that showed that even apparently isolated communities have usually been caught up in global historical processes, Agrawal 1995, in another influential study, problematizes the idea of a historic divide between indigenous and nonindigenous knowledge. Li 2008 tries to restate the idea of indigeneity in terms of articulation, but Hirtz 2003 argues that indigeneity is inherently a product of modernity. These developments, pro and con, are reviewed in Ellen, et al. 2000.

  • Agrawal, Arun. 1995. Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Development and Change 26.3: 413–439.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7660.1995.tb00560.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first critiques of the concept and use of indigenous knowledge in development, which disputes the purported historic separation of indigenous and Western knowledge and argues that any effort to protect, systematize, and disseminate indigenous knowledge is inherently political because it will differentially benefit particular social groups and individuals.

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  • Brokensha, David, Dennis M. Warren, and Oswald Werner, eds. 1980. Indigenous knowledge systems and development. Washington, DC: Univ. Press of America.

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    The first collection of papers to argue for the incorporation of indigenous knowledge into developmental planning and intervention.

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  • Brush, Stephen B., and Doreen Stabinsky, eds. 1996. Valuing local knowledge: Indigenous people and intellectual property rights. Washington, DC: Island.

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    As the concept of indigenous knowledge began to be recognized and as the private sector increasingly sought to utilize such knowledge of local flora and fauna in commercial ventures, disputes arose regarding the economic value and legal status of the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples. This collection explores the prospects for recognizing such rights and thereby promoting both cultural survival and biological conservation in biologically rich areas.

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  • Ellen, Roy F., Peter Parkes, and Allen Bicker, eds. 2000. Indigenous environmental knowledge and its transformations: Critical anthropological perspectives. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.

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    One of the first collections of papers, based mostly on Asian case studies, to examine the uses as well as abuses of the concept of indigenous knowledge, focusing on problems of translation, representation by outsiders, and the politics of playing the indigenous card.

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  • Grim, John A., ed. 2001. Indigenous traditions and ecology: The interbeing of cosmology and community. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    An eloquent defense from a diverse group of indigenous and nonindigenous scholars and environmental activists of the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, based on the linkage between their spiritual lives and their environmental relations even in a modernizing world.

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  • Hirtz, Frank. 2003. It takes modern means to be traditional: On recognizing indigenous cultural communities in the Philippines. Development and Change 34.5: 887–914.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2003.00333.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A radical statement of a paradox of indigenous indigeneity, namely that it is in fact articulated by modern means, and that recognition as indigenous people is thus embedded in the emergence of world society and its forms of communication and institutions. So the perceived contrast between traditional and modern is invalidated by the very use of modern means to assert this difference. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Krech, Shepard, III. 1999. The ecological Indian: Myth and history. New York: Norton.

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    A famous and controversial assault on the idea of the environmental Native American. Krech acknowledges that American Indian society did have indigenous environmental knowledge and that they did think ecologically but argues that these traits did not invariably translate into more sustainable ways of behaving toward the natural world. Even when and where American Indian conserved resources, they were not intentionally conservative, he claims, so they cannot be called conservationists.

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  • Li, Tania Murray. 2008. Articulating indigenous identity in Indonesia: Resource politics and the tribal slot. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 339–362. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Instead of dismissing of claims to indigenous identity as opportunistic and inauthentic, Li reinterprets them in terms of Stuart Hall’s framework of articulation, which is a process of simplification as well as connection, in which fuzziness is a handicap. The clearest ethnic identities, counter-intuitively, can often be traced to histories not of isolation but of confrontation and engagement, and modern articulation of such identity carries political perils as well as benefits.

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Knowledge Circulation and Contest

As the study of indigenous knowledge matured and as indigenous identity and rights themselves became increasingly politicized, scholars began to look more at the political dimensions of the construction of knowledge, as well as the construction of ignorance, as seen in Doolittle 2010, Harwell 2000, Mathews 2009, Tsing 2008, and Zerner 1994. Zerner 1994 presents one of the first studies of the external valorization and appropriation of an indigenous mechanism of natural resource management. Tsing 2008 presents an innovative analysis of the way external actors valorize perceived indigenous environmentalists; and Doolittle 2010 studies how indigenous leaders exercise authority in the new international fora of climate change conferences. Mathews 2009 studies the circulation of knowledge between the state and indigenous peoples, and Harwell 2000 looks at the noncirculation of knowledge between indigenous forest communities and a central government relying on the more easily manipulated data from satellites.

  • Doolittle, Amity. 2010. The politics of indigeneity: Indigenous strategies for inclusion in climate change. Conservation and Society 8.4: 256–261.

    DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.78142Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first published analyses of the role that indigenous people and indigenous knowledge are playing in the politics of global climate change fora. Doolittle shows that indigenous leaders exercise power at international conferences by invoking claims to indigenous environmental knowledge as well as shared histories of political and economic marginalization.

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  • Harwell, E. E. 2000. Remote sensibilities: Discourses of technology and the making of Indonesia’s natural disaster. Development and Change 31.1: 307–340.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-7660.00156Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the devastating 1997–1998 forest fires in Indonesia, which examines the way that the government biased all fire-related research to shift responsibility for the fires from parastatal plantations—the real culprits—to poor farmers and El Niño. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Mathews, Andrew S. 2009. Unlikely alliances: Encounters between state science, nature spirits, and indigenous industrial forestry in Mexico, 1926–2008. Current Anthropology 50.1: 75–101.

    DOI: 10.1086/595003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of how the now largely discredited desiccation theory of the Mexican forest service has escaped state control. It has been embraced by local peasant forest management groups and is now being used to build alliances with national environmental groups, critique state environmental projects, and undermine or temper official claims to expertise and knowledge. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2008. Becoming a tribal elder, and other green development fantasies. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 393–422. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A radical critique of simplistic representations of Bornean nature and tribal culture, Tsing examines maps, newspaper articles, photographs, and land claims to show how powerless indigenous people act out the fantasies of the powerful in a way that gives them (the powerless) agency. This analysis was influential for emphasizing not contest but collaboration, which “offers possibilities for building environmental and social justice in the countryside” (p. 395) and gives reason for hope. First published in 1999.

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  • Zerner, Charles. 1994. Through a green lens: The construction of customary environmental law and community in Indonesia’s Maluku islands. Special issue: Symposium: Community and identity in sociolegal studies. Edited by Frank Munger. Law and Society Review 28.5: 1079–1122.

    DOI: 10.2307/3054024Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first studies of the way that the waxing political capital of traditional resource knowledge and management—here the traditional community-based system of management of marine resources called sasi—have drawn the attention of local, national, and even international actors and been reinvented and strategically deployed in new political discourses, resistances, contests, and collaborations. Available online for purchase or by subscription; online-only access with registration.

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Ethnoclimatology

The latest focus of ethnoscientific studies of the world—meaning studies of native systems of knowledge of the natural world—is climate, which is driven by the surge of interest in climate studies over the past decade. Yet the ethnoclimatological studies that have come out are still disproportionately few in number, reflecting a bias in the field toward global versus local studies and ignorance of the existence much less utility of folk knowledge of and adaptation to climate and its perturbations. Exceptions include Sillitoe 1994, a review of a non-Western society’s system of knowledge pertaining to climate; Cruikshank 2001, a study of a native knowledge of a glacier-dominated landscape; and Orlove, et al. 2002, an analysis of native basing of rainfall predictions on stellar observations. All of these studies explicitly compare native beliefs with Western scientific meteorological knowledge. An interesting departure is Jankovic 2007, an ethnographic treatment of the recent and decidedly nonmodern meteorological beliefs of a historic west European population.

  • Cruikshank, Julie. 2001. Glaciers and climate change: Perspectives from oral tradition. Arctic 54.4: 377–393.

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    Analysis of native Inuit oral traditions concerning climatic fluctuations in the Arctic, which illuminates a part of the world short on written records and also offers us lessons about the importance of human agency, human choice, human responsibility, and the consequences of human behavior.

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  • Jankovic, Vladimir. 2007. Gruff boreas: Deadly calms: A medical perspective on winds and the Victorians. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13.1 (suppl): S147–S164.

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    A revelatory article, focusing on Victorian era views of wind in Great Britain. Jankovic shows that classical beliefs in medical meanings of wind persisted into Victorian times but have now vanished. This article denaturalizes contemporary, Western views of weather by showing their relative recency. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Orlove, Benjamin S., John C. H. Chiang, and Mark A. Crane. 2002. Ethnoclimatology in the Andes. American Scientist 90.5: 428–435.

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    Analysis of the scientific basis for beliefs in the Andes that the timing and quantity of rain can be deduced from changes in the appearance of the Pleiades. One of the first times that a scientific explanation has been offered for a folk meteorological practice, this suggests that scientists and farmers can learn from one another, especially since these El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) related folk beliefs long pre-dated scientific work on ENSO.

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  • Sillitoe, Paul. 1994. Whether rain or shine: Weather regimes from a New Guinea perspective. Oceania 64:246–270.

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    A detailed description of native views of wind, rain, seasons, and so on in Papua New Guinea, which Sillitoe terms ethnometeorology. Study of such views affords us an opportunity to compare indigenous statements with quantifiable data, offers other cultures’ perspectives on issues concerning the climate of our shared world, and perhaps offers us lessons about controlling our behavior if not the weather. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Religion

Whereas studies of local, folk, and indigenous knowledge often include analyses of religious beliefs, there is also a related body of scholarship that focuses more directly on religious belief and the extent to which religious practices may play an integral and intentional role in regulation of society’s environmental relations. Such studies seek to break down the wall that scholars have erected between the mundane, everyday world and the other-worldly domain of the spirit by showing that even the most other-worldly seeming beliefs and practices can have practical environmental functions. These efforts were part of the larger, revisionist effort within anthropology and allied sciences to demonstrate that non-Western cultures were not as irrational as often supposed.

Ritual Regulation

A wave of studies in the mid-20th century sought to reinterpret particular bodies of religious belief and practice, particularly those that seemed most impractical to Western observers, including the potlatch and other ritual feasting (Rappaport 1984), and later green revolution-era agricultural ritual (Lansing 1991).

  • Lansing, J. Stephen. 1991. Priests and programmers: Technologies of power in the engineered landscape of Bali. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Lansing shows in this computer-based analysis how water temple rituals in Bali attain the conflicting goals of optimal use of irrigation water (requiring staggered schedules) and overloading of pest population (requiring synchronized schedules) by a sophisticated system of timing of water delivery throughout island-wide drainages.

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  • Rappaport, Roy A. 1984. Pigs for the ancestors: Ritual in the ecology of a New Guinea people. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    The most famous and influential reinterpretation of a tribal system of ritual in light of environmental relations, arguing that the Maring ritual cycle helps to maintain biotic communities, to redistribute land among people and people over land, to mobilize allies for warfare and limit the frequency of fighting, and to redistribute pork surpluses through the population, especially to those in most need of it. First published in 1968.

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Sacred Cow/Cattle Complex

African cattle complexes and Indian sacred cows have long been archetypes of irrational resource use in the eyes of Western observers and, for this reason, objects of study. Herskovits 1926 initiated this tradition of study with dramatic examples of a boundary between the livestock and agricultural spheres (a division recognized in the biblical divide between the tiller Cain and the herder Abel): “To eat milk and meat on the same day is regarded as dangerous throughout this region [of the Suk] while if anyone chews raw millet he may not drink milk for seven days” (p. 516). The early writers on the cattle complex were intrigued by cultural norms that elevated cattle to an unusual position vis-à-vis humans, as reflected in men saying that they would rather starve than sell their cattle or committing suicide when their cattle die or are stolen or confiscated (Herskovits 1926). Related concepts include Evans-Pritchard 2008, which uses the term cattle idiom; Harris 2008, which uses the term sacred cow; Ferguson 1990 (cited under Development Process), which uses the term bovine mystique; and Carpenter 2001, which studies pardah.

  • Carpenter, Carol. 2001. The role of economic invisibility in development: Veiling women’s work in rural Pakistan. Natural Resources Forum 25.1: 11–19.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1477-8947.2001.tb00742.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The women’s livestock sector balances the public and risky sector of the household economy with a private and risk-averse sector. Invisibility is crucial to protecting this sector from outside influences, and this invisibility is culturally constructed through the institution of pardah, referring to the veiling and seclusion of women. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. 2008. Interest in cattle. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 118–137. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Compelling description of the usefulness of cattle—furnishing everything from skins for beds to scrota for bags to dung ashes for tooth powder—the intimacy afforded by bathing in their urine, picking ticks from their bellies, and sleeping by their sides; and the use of a cattle-based idiom of several thousand expressions to articulate all dimensions of Nuer life. First published in 1940.

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  • Harris, Marvin. 2008. The cultural ecology of India’s sacred cattle. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 138–153. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A study of the possibility that ritual could have material—economic and ecological—functions for society, which argues that the irrational, noneconomic, and exotic aspects of the Indian cattle complex had been greatly overemphasized by observers at the expense of rational, economic, and mundane interpretations. This study was influential in drawing the attention of anthropologists back to the material dimensions of life and stimulating the development of cultural materialist approaches. First published in 1966.

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  • Herskovits, Melville J. 1926. The cattle complex in East Africa. American Anthropologist, new ser., 28.1: 230–272.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1926.28.1.02a00050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The cattle complex consists of affection for and identification with cattle and dislike of killing them except in rituals; their association with birth, death, and marriage ceremonies; and the fact that they are the chief form of wealth and the most prominent measure of power, prestige, and status. A defining characteristic of the complex is the ritualized and gender-based separation of the livestock sphere from everyday, more practical, subsistence concerns. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Article continues in American Anthropologist new series 28.2: 361–388 and American Anthropologist new series 28.3: 494–528, also available for purchase or by subscription.

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Sacred Forests

Whereas the studies that came out in the 1960s and 1970s arguing for the direct ecological functions of various aspects of culture have fallen out of favor, one particular argument that continues to enjoy some support concerns religion-based protection of forest, the so-called sacred forests. In contrast to arguments that various other aspects of culture have conservation functions, the apparent fact that the environment of such forests has been protected by religious doctrine comes closer to meeting the test of a purposive and effective commitment to conservation. Perhaps for this reason, whereas anthropological interest in this subject dates back to the work of Frazer 1981 (first published in 1980), in the past two decades there has been an efflorescence of studies of sacred forests—typically islands of relatively more mature and diverse vegetation—some like Sponsel 2010 (cited under Sacred Ecology) emphasizing their conservation potential, others like Sheridan 2008 focusing on the confluence between religion and politics, and still others like Dove, et al. 2011 arguing that this concept directs attention away from the vast majority of lands on which people live, notably grasslands and savannas, as Dove 2008 (cited under Environmental Discourses) argues.

  • Dove, Michael R., Percy E. Sajise, and Amity A. Doolittle, eds. 2011. Beyond the sacred forest: Complicating conservation in Southeast Asia. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Scholars from Southeast Asia and the United States rethink the translation of environmental concepts between East and West, the meaning of conservation, and the ways that conservation policy is applied and transformed in the everyday landscapes of Southeast Asia.

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  • Frazer, James G. 1981. The golden bough: The roots of religion and folklore. New York: Avenel.

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    Frazer’s famous global survey of myth and folklore, which was revolutionary in drawing out the linkages between contemporary and ancient, modern and “primitive” beliefs, begins with the sacred grove of Diana Nemorensis in Italy and throughout reveals the prominence of trees and forests in supernatural belief. First published in 1890 in two volumes as The golden bough: A study in comparative religion (London: Macmillan).

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  • Sheridan, Michael. 2008. The dynamics of African sacred groves: Ecological, social, and symbolic processes. In African sacred groves: Ecological dynamics and social change. Edited by Michael J. Sheridan and Celia Nyamweru, 9–42. Oxford: Currey.

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    The premise of political ecology—that environmental relations cannot be understood without placing them within wider relations of power and politics—has led to rethinking of the idea of the sacred forest as reflected in the work of Sheridan, who regards such forests not as places exempt from politics but as, indeed, places of power.

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Sacred Ecology/Spiritual Ecology

As challenges to sustainable environmental management mounted in the latter quarter of the 20th century and many conventional approaches to conservation failed to meet expectations, environmentalists began to look for sources of insight, ethics, and political support beyond conventional environmental science and policy circles. Religion was increasingly identified as such a source, the premise being that embedded in many, if not most, of the world’s different religious traditions is respect for the living environment, which can be tapped by an ecumenical, apolitical environmental movement (Tucker and Grim 1994, Berkes 2008, Sponsel 2010).

  • Berkes, Fikret. 2008. Sacred ecology: Traditional ecological knowledge and resource management. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.

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    A survey of the field, with case studies from northern aboriginal groups, that examines relevant local knowledge, resource management systems, social institutions, and worldviews of indigenous peoples, by a leading contributor to the field.

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  • Sponsel, Leslie E. 2010. Religion and environment: Exploring spiritual ecology. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 1:131–145.

    DOI: 10.3167/arrs.2010.010109Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the leading anthropological contributors to spiritual ecology contextualizes it within the long tradition of anthropological studies of religion and the environment and provides a useful review of this literature. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John A. Grim, eds. 1994. Worldviews and ecology: Religion, philosophy, and the environment. Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis.

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    Edited by two of the pioneers and current leaders in the field, this collection is divided between surveys of the ecological thinking in the principal global as well as traditional religions (e.g., Christianity, Native American thought) and contemporary ecological thinking (e.g., deep ecology, eco-feminism).

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Nature and Culture

The study of the relationship between society and environment, between culture and nature, inevitably problematizes the terms in this dichotomy, as discussed in Williams 1980. Human ecological studies have contributed to this analysis through reinterpretations of “natural” landscapes as anthropogenic, as seen in the work of Posey 2008 and Balée 1993 in the Amazon and Fairhead and Leach 1996 (cited under Environmental Discourses) in West Africa. There has been a political context to this scholarship involving the natural resource rights of native peoples worldwide. With few exceptions, modern states (like colonial states before them) classify any land not being cultivated and any forest-covered land as abandoned or “natural” and thus belonging to the state. Any demonstration that forest-covered lands are altered or actively managed undermines this vision and strengthens native claims to such lands. Where the interpretation of landscapes as natural empowers the state, therefore, the revelation that it is cultural can empower local communities. This political dimension has helped to drive social scientists over the past half-century to study indigenous forest management. But there is also another, conflicting political context to such research, involving the politics of conservation. Modern conservation has long been based on a distinct separation of nature and culture, as illustrated by the U.S. park model, which has been exported around the globe. Nature is what modern conservation has conserved. But if nature is really culture, how do we justify conservation; what does conservation even mean? These questions led to the warring volumes of Soulé and Lease 1995 and Cronon 1995. Most recently, these questions have been extended to urban environments as well, as in Rademacher 2011, while others like Sivaramakrishnan and Vaccaro 2006 have asked how the processes of post-industrial globalization have affected our understanding of nature.

  • Balée, William L. 1993. Indigenous transformation of Amazonian forests. L’Homme 33.126–128: 231–254.

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    Another prominent contributor to the revisionist view of some Amazonian forests as anthropogenic in nature, who argues that human activity has increased not decreased the diversity of some forests, often as a result of conservation practices of which the people involved may not be conscious.

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  • Cronon, William, ed. 1995. The trouble with wilderness, or getting back to the wrong nature. In Uncommon ground: Rethinking the human place in nature. Edited by William Cronon, 69–90. New York: Norton.

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    Influential critique of the modern concept of nature, arguing that much of what modern conservationists see as wilderness has a human history, and thus the eviction of native peoples from protected areas is not preservation but creation of (human-less) nature. The conservation of nature completely separate from culture is bad for both and doomed to fail; only the environments in which we live can be conserved.

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  • Posey, Darrell A. 2008. Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: The case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 89–101. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Shows how the Kayapó utilize, conserve, and even create what otherwise appear to be natural islands of vegetation in savanna by means of often mundane daily activities that contribute to enriched afforestation. This research helped to make Kayapó into an iconic group of “primitive environmentalists” and contributed to the more general movement toward the study of indigenous environmental knowledge and promotion of indigenous resource rights. First published in 1985.

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  • Rademacher, Anne M. 2011. Reigning the river: Urban ecologies and political transformation in Kathmandu. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    An example of a new generation of studies of urban ecology that links cities to their histories and hinterlands, their politics and cultures, as well as their bio-physical settings. Rademacher uses the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers in Kathmandu as a lens to examine how urban nature and culture are mutually produced, reinforced, and changed, interweaving recent political and environmental transformations in Nepal.

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  • Sivaramakrishnan, K., and Ismael Vaccaro. 2006. Introduction: Postindustrial natures: Hyper-mobility and place-attachments. Social Anthropology 14.3: 301–317.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0964028206002643Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A cutting-edge commentary on the place of nature in today’s world. Due to processes of industrialization and globalization, the idea of nature is challenged by the tensions between hyper-mobility and place attachment on the one hand and on the other hand by the necessity to bring nature into proximate crowded spaces of human relations (following Cronon 1995) while preserving it as a source of external human values. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Soulé, Michael E., and Gary Lease, eds. 1995. Reinventing nature? Responses to postmodern deconstruction. Washington, DC: Island.

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    The results of a conference convened in response to the advance of the development of the constructivist concept of nature as anthropogenic in character, which it pushes back against because of its perceived problematic implications for environmental conservation.

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  • Williams, Raymond. 1980. Ideas of nature. In Problems in materialism and culture: Selected essays. By Raymond Williams, 67–85. London: Verso.

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    An early and still-influential rethinking of the idea of nature, which argues that it contains a great deal of human history and that what is often being argued in the idea of nature is the idea of man. Argues that the idea of intervening in nature is premised on the idea of nature as separate from humans, and yet this idea of separation is a function of increasing interaction.

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Environmental Perturbation and Change

The field of human ecology has been greatly influenced by the historic shift in thinking about the opposition between harmony and equilibrium on the one hand and disturbance and disequilibrium on the other hand. For much of the 20th century—and although some scholars argued against this position—scientific views of nature were dominated by the climax and steady-state assumptions of scholars such as Frederic Clements (b. 1874–d. 1945) and later Howard Odum (b. 1924–d. 2002). But in the final quarter of the 20th century, heralded by Vayda and McCay 1975, a new paradigm emerged, one called the “new ecology” by Scoones 1999; which disputes assumptions of equilibrium, as in Botkin 1992; takes disturbance to be important and regards stasis not change as something to be explained, as Worster 1990 tells us; sees neither nature nor culture alone but nature-society hybrids, as in Zimmerer 2000; and emphasizes dynamic, historical, and partly unknowable relations between society and the environment. As a result of these developments, human ecologists began to treat perturbation less as something that disturbs the ethnographic object and more as an object itself; from being seen as something outside the system under study, disturbance came to be seen as something inside the system. This development led to a generation of studies that encompass such subjects as natural disaster, famine, refugees, and illness and human suffering. Due to limitations of space, the remainder of this subsection covers just the work on natural disasters and the related topics of Hurricane Katrina, El Niño-Southern Oscillation, and climate change.

  • Botkin, Daniel B. 1992. Discordant harmonies: A new ecology for the twenty-first century. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A comparison of what science now understands about disequilibrium with the tenacious myths and metaphors about natural balance and climax communities that continue to shape how we see the natural world, especially in the context of conservation.

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  • Scoones, I. 1999. New ecology and the social sciences: What prospects for a fruitful engagement? Annual Review of Anthropology 28:479–507.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.28.1.479Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An assessment of the impact of the post-equilibrium paradigm on the social sciences, given the extent to which deep ecology, ecofeminism, and sustainable development rely on stable, equilibrial notions of natural and social order. Scoones concludes that the vast majority of social science and also popular thinking continues to make use of metaphors of balance, regulation, and harmony in thinking about human–environment relationships. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Vayda, Andrew P., and Bonnie J. McCay. 1975. New directions in ecology and ecological anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 4:293–306.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.04.100175.001453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early and prescient analysis of the limitations of static equilibrium premises in both ecology and ecological anthropology, and the promise of shifting to a post-equilibrium view of the world, focusing on hazards research, especially natural hazards. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Worster, Donald. 1990. The ecology of order and chaos. Environmental History Review 14.1–2: 1–18.

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    A summary of the post-equilibrium shift from one of the world’s leading environmental historians, who characterizes it as a change from a study of equilibrium, harmony, and order to a study of disturbance, disharmony, and chaos. Recognition of disorder in nature has made it more possible to see human impacts on nature as other than strictly negative, but it has also made it more difficult to justify conservation interventions in nature. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Zimmerer, Karl S. 2000. The reworking of conservation geographies: Nonequilibrium landscapes and nature-society hybrids. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90.2: 356–369.

    DOI: 10.1111/0004-5608.00199Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An assessment of the extent to which an equilibrium model still dominates conservation planning in the fields of resource management, protection, and restoration from a leading American geographer. Zimmerer argues that the regulated land use and managed environments of many conservation landscapes actually represent nature-society hybrids, whose statuses are politically contested. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Disaster

When the anthropologist Raymond Firth wrote his study of the impact on Tikopia of two cyclones in the late 1950s (Firth 2008), he noted, “There are hardly any investigations by anthropologists of the sociology of such critical situations” (p. 202). The exceptions included a few studies of famine in Africa and a few studies of volcanic eruption and little else. Stimulated in part by the post-equilibrium shift in the scientific paradigms as well as the waning tendency to dichotomize culture and nature, the years since have seen growing and sustained interest in anthropology and other human ecological disciplines in such topics as fire, flood, and now climate change as well as episodic interest in topics such as deforestation, desertification, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, and species extinction. Today’s scholars of disaster, such as Eric Waddell (Waddell 2008), normalize the concept of environmental perturbation; characterize disaster in terms of departure from the normal, as in Erikson 1976; and examine the self-interest of the state in exaggerating the separation of disasters from the normal, as Kenneth Hewitt (Hewitt 1983) does. Indeed, scholars such as Ben Wisner and Henry Luce (Wisner and Luce 1993) explicitly reject a benign view of the state’s role in disaster management, and seek the explanation of disastrous impact in wider political-economic structures, as in Worster 1979, especially as to why some groups in society are more vulnerable than others, as Shaw 1992 does.

  • Erikson, Kai T. 1976. Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek flood. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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    A path-breaking analysis of the lived experience of a disaster and its impact on the sense of community, Erikson argues that most of the traumatic symptoms experienced by the Buffalo Creek survivors are a reaction to the loss of communality, the shock of being ripped out of a meaningful community.

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  • Firth, Raymond. 2008. Critical pressures on food supply and their economic effects. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 202–222. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Famous analysis of the response to hurricane-precipitated famine among the inhabitants of the Polynesian island of Tikopia in the early 1950s. Firth found that social conventions about food distribution continued to operate and so concluded that this disaster was a “normal” one. Firth saw such disasters as a special opportunity, an “empirical test of the power of integration of the social system” (p. 202). First published in 1959.

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  • Hewitt, Kenneth. 1983. The idea of calamity in a technocratic age. In Interpretations of calamity, from the viewpoint of human ecology. Edited by Kenneth Hewitt, 3–32. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

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    An important early work on the discursive means by which disasters are conceptually separated from normal everyday life, Hewitt argues against the modern tendency to see calamity as accidental or unplanned side effect. He suggests that we view disasters as a reflection not of the breakdown but of the functioning of central, government institutions, which entails looking at disaster or perturbation as an ongoing part of society, not as a break in it.

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  • Shaw, Rosalind. 1992. “Nature,” “culture” and disasters: Floods and gender in Bangladesh. In Bush base, forest farm: Culture, environment and development. Edited by Elisabeth Croll and David J. Parkin, 200–217. London: Routledge.

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    One of the first studies of the role of social differentiation in disasters, Shaw argues that the hazardous nature of flooding is differently constituted for men and women, for urban and rural dwellers, and for poor and wealthy. She shows that floods not only have varying consequences for these different segments of society but also that their very nature as hazards is constituted by such differences.

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  • Waddell, Eric. 2008. How the Enga cope with frost: Responses to climatic perturbations in the central highlands of New Guinea. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 223–237. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Analyzing traditional mechanisms for coping with extreme frosts, Waddell, like Firth (see Firth 2008), was a pioneer in arguing for the normalcy of disaster, arguing that it is a fact of life. He demonstrates a theoretically important relation between magnitude of perturbation and magnitude of response and provides an early critique of the government premise that native communities lack the capacity to cope with disaster. First published in 1975.

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  • Wisner, Ben, and Henry R. Luce. 1993. Disaster vulnerability: Scale, power and daily life. GeoJournal 30.2: 127–140.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00808129Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Early contribution to the study of disaster vulnerability, which critiques conventional assumptions of the benignity and rationality of the state, which had not been seen as a partisan actor favoring this or that group with resources that reduce vulnerability or promote recovery. But Wisner and Luce argue that the modern state distributes risk unevenly among its citizens and thus is a major cause of disaster vulnerability. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Worster, Donald. 1979. Dust bowl: The southern plains in the 1930s. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An early contribution to rethinking the role played by society in so-called natural disasters, Worster argues against viewing the dust bowl as an accident, a product of limited technological errors, saying instead that its origins are deeply embedded in the wider political-economic system and that the dysfunctional social forces that produced the Great Depression also produced the dust bowl.

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Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 stimulated both popular and scholarly debate about the causes and consequences of disasters. Its impact on New Orleans, in particular, raised questions about the social and political dimensions of disaster that Americans were used to asking about other societies, especially in the Third World, but not about their own country. These inquiries included questions about the intersection of life and politics in what is termed biopolitics (Giroux 2006), the role of capital in perpetuating crises (Adams, et al. 2009), and, indeed, most of disaster orthodoxy (Ethridge 2006).

  • Adams, Vincanne, Taslim Van Hattum, and Diana English. 2009. Chronic disaster syndrome: Displacement, disaster capitalism, and the eviction of the poor from New Orleans. American Ethnologist 36.4: 615–636.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2009.01199.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors document wholesale shifts of government funding from institutions of social welfare and public works to those of free-market privatization, which they term “disaster capitalism,” and which have helped to keep New Orleans in a state of continued disruption. “Chronic disaster syndrome” refers to the social conditions that maintain this disruption and are tied to larger political and economic arrangements that appear to promote but ultimately prevent recovery from disasters. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ethridge, Robbie. 2006. Bearing witness: Assumptions, realities, and the otherizing of Katrina. American Anthropologist 108.4: 799–813.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2006.108.4.799Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on her participation in relief efforts in New Orleans, Ethridge critiques assumptions in relief agencies that social contracts between government and people are binding, infrastructures are durable, disaster zones are fathomable, social orders disintegrate in disasters, victims are passive, and “every little bit helps.” She concludes that in the United States, as around the world, aid is often premised on ill-founded assumptions about beneficiaries and local conditions. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Giroux, Henry A. 2006. Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, class, and the biopolitics of disposability. College Literature 33.3: 171–196.

    DOI: 10.1353/lit.2006.0037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on the work of Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and others on biopolitics, Giroux argues that the poor inhabitants of New Orleans were rendered invisible and disposable; refugee camps have become a key institution and social model of the new millennium; and extended states of emergency represent a fundamental structure of control over mistrusted populations. Available online by subscription.

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El Niño-Southern Oscillation

A special category of climate-related disaster that has attracted considerable scholarly attention in recent years involves the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which involves periodic fluctuations in ocean temperature in the tropical eastern Pacific ocean and air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific, leading to extreme weather events (e.g., drought or flooding) in nearby countries. Interest in the impact of the ENSO cycle is heightened by efforts to use ENSO as a historic proxy for future climate change. Studies of ENSO encompass distant prehistory, as in the prehistoric studies of the Peruvian coast by Billman and Huckleberry 2008 and Burger 2003 (both cited under Climate Change: Adaptation and Collapse), and in the wider studies of Central and South America in Sandweiss and Quilter 2008. More recent history is covered by Grove and Chappell 2000 in a collection that gives an overview of the field and by Davis 2001, whose influential study concerns the colonial era. Harwell 2000 (cited under Knowledge Circulation and Contest) and Puri 2007 examine contemporary ENSO events in Borneo; Broad and Orlove 2007 looks at Peru, and Eakin 2006 (cited under Local-Extralocal Linkages) looks at Mexico. Studies of the more distant past tend to focus on the link (or lack of link) of the cycle to cultural changes, whereas more contemporary studies focus on issues of meaning and politics.

  • Broad, Kenneth, and Ben Orlove. 2007. Channeling globality: The 1997–1998 El Niño climate event in Peru. American Ethnologist 34.2: 285–302.

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    An analysis of the public discussion of the 1997–1998 ENSO event in Peru, which was variously attributed to French or Chinese nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific as well as unspecified interventions by the United States and Europe to keep Peru underdeveloped. In contrast to earlier models of globalization, the authors emphasize the agency of actors in Peru in articulating certain global linkages in their efforts to explain the event, while rejecting others. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Davis, Mike. 2001. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño famines and the making of the Third World. London: Verso.

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    A path-breaking work that problematizes the view that India and China have always had famines. Davis argues that the burden of structural adjustment in the late Victorian world economy was shifted from Europe and North America to South and East Asia, which fatally undermined traditional capacity to respond to ENSO-related perturbations.

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  • Grove, Richard H., and John Chappell, eds. 2000. El Niño: History and crisis: Studies from the Asia-Pacific region. Cambridge, UK: White Horse.

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    This collection, edited by a leading environmental historian and geomorphologist, represents a sampling of the state of the field of ENSO studies, with contributions from many different disciplines, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region from prehistory to the present.

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  • Puri, Rajindra K. 2007. Responses to medium-term stability in climate: El Niño, droughts and coping mechanisms of foragers and farmers in Borneo. In Modern crises and traditional strategies: Local ecological knowledge in island Southeast Asia. Edited by Roy F. Ellen, 46–83. New York: Berghahn.

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    Intriguing analysis of the treatment of ENSO in local systems of classification for seasons and climate in eastern Borneo, which is distinguished from the approach of many Western scientists by not focusing on discrete and extreme ENSO events.

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  • Sandweiss, Daniel H., and Jeffrey Quilter, eds. 2008. El Niño, catastrophism, and culture change in ancient America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Excellent collection of papers, focusing on Central and South America, that seeks to correlate geophysical indicators of severe ENSO events with archaeological evidence of cultural shifts, to test the existence of a causal relation.

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Climate Change

Over the past decade, global climate change has come to dominate studies of environmental perturbation and change. Scholarship on the topic was initially dominated by work in the natural sciences, and the work by social scientists that has appeared on climate change has been dominated by prescriptive, policy-oriented tomes, dozens if not hundreds of which have been published. Finer-grained, locally specific studies of human ecology like those that dominate this essay are scarcer. A number of insightful introductions to the humans dimensions of climate change have now been published by archaeologists and anthropologists, the earliest of which were wide-ranging overviews such as McIntosh, et al. 2000 and Strauss and Orlove 2003, becoming more focused and specialized in recent years as in Orlove, et al. 2008 and Crate and Nuttall 2009.

  • Crate, Susan A., and Mark Nuttall, eds. 2009. Anthropology and climate change: From encounters to actions. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast.

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    A summary of the state of the field of climate studies in anthropology, with sections on prehistory, current case studies of society and changing climate, and the linkage of research to policy.

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  • McIntosh, Roderick J., Joseph A. Tainter, and Susan Kech McIntosh, eds. 2000. The way the wind blows: Climate, history and human action. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    An important volume with case studies from around the world, which helped to outline the field of study for prehistorians, focusing on climate change and human response and the implications for contemporary events.

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  • Orlove, Benjamin S., Ellen Wiegandt, and Brian H. Luckman, eds. 2008. Darkening peaks: Glacier retreat, science, and society. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    One of the first efforts to synthesize work from around the world in both the social and natural sciences on deglaciation, which along with sea-rise is one of the most salient and also worrisome threats from climate change.

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  • Strauss, Sarah, and Ben S. Orlove, eds. 2003. Weather, climate, culture. Oxford: Berg.

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    A uniformly excellent collection, edited by leaders in the field, which sets as its goal the delineation of human relations with weather as a field of study. With global coverage by scholars in a number of different disciplines, it divides consideration of meteorological phenomena into three temporal scales, with sections titled Days, Years, and Generations.

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Adaptation and Collapse

Anxiety regarding the possible impacts on contemporary society of global climate change has fueled academic interest in the role that such change may have played in historical examples of societal collapse, but the picture that has emerged is a complex one. Many scholars claim to have found evidence of successful adaptation to climate change, demonstrating that human communities are not passive victims when faced with such challenges but can exercise their own agency (Burger 2003; Billman and Huckleberry 2008; Cruikshank 2001, cited under Ethnoclimatology). The importance of culture in successful versus unsuccessful responses to climate change is also the focus of study in McGovern 1994 and McIntosh 2000. Finally, some scholars have problematized the very concept of adaptation versus collapse, as in Weiss 2000 and Orlove 2005.

  • Billman, Brian R., and Gary Huckleberry. 2008. Deciphering the politics of prehistoric El Niño events on the north coast of Peru. In El Niño, catastrophism, and culture change in ancient America. Edited by Daniel H. Sandweiss and Jeffrey Quilter, 101–128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A critique of simplistic arguments for causal linkages between El Niño events and political change. The authors find resilient prehistoric political systems, as evinced by long periods of political stability, during the second millennium BC on the north coast of Peru, despite strong El Niño events and related disasters occurring at least once a generation.

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  • Burger, Richard L. 2003. El Niño, early Peruvian civilization, and human agency: Some thoughts from the Lurin Valley. In El Niño in Peru: Biology and culture over 10,000 years: Papers from the VIII annual A. Watson Armour Spring Symposium, May 28–29, 1999, Chicago. Edited by Jonathan Hass and Michael O. Dillon, 90–107. Fieldiana: Botany 43. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.

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    This article is a study of the engineering measures undertaken by the coastal societies of Peru during the second millennium BC, to protect themselves from flash floods and debris flows occasioned by severe El Niño events. Burger claims that these measures, as discerned in the archaeological record, were preemptive, anticipating potential threats from future El Niño events and thus reflect the role that human agency played in shaping a culture’s destiny.

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  • McGovern, Thomas H. 1994. Management for extinction in Norse Greenland. In Historical ecology: Cultural knowledge and changing landscapes. Edited by Carole L. Crumley, 127–154. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

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    Fascinating analysis of the extinction of Norse settlement in Greenland during the Little Ice Age, rejecting the simplistic explanation “It got cold and they died.” Because the Norse lived alongside Inuit communities that did not die out but in fact prospered, McGovern argues that Norse culture rendered them incapable of adopting native views of the environment and technologies for fully exploiting it and so doomed them.

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  • McIntosh, Roderick. 2000. Social memory in Mande. In The way the wind blows: Climate, history and human action. Edited by Roderick J. McIntosh, Joseph A. Tainter, and Susan Kech McIntosh, 141–180. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Arguing that short-term, synchronous analyses of climate and society can be misleading, McIntosh examines Mande culture and climatic variability in West Africa over the past several millennia. Over this time scale, climate crises appear as not stochastic but chronic phenomena, which lead not to the collapse of cultural systems but to opportunities for cultural elaboration, based on appropriate cultural values and memory.

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  • Orlove, Ben. 2005. Human adaptation to climate change: A review of three historical cases and some general perspectives. Special issue: Mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change. Edited by Nico Stehr and Hans von Storch. Environmental Science and Policy 8.6: 589–600.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2005.06.009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of three cases of societal collapse—Maya, Vikings, and the US dust bowl—that reflects the difficulty of adapting to climate variability. Orlove also problematizes the concepts of adaptation—it is not easy to measure reduction in harm versus increase in benefit or to identify the human community involved, and harm versus benefit may depend on time scale—and collapse—what looks harmful locally may look less harmful regionally due to migration. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Weiss, Harvey. 2000. Beyond the younger Dryas: Collapse as adaptation to abrupt climate change in ancient west Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. In Environmental disaster and the archaeology of human response. Edited by Garth Bawden and Richard M. Reycraft, 75–95. Anthropological Papers 7. Albuquerque: Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Univ. of New Mexico.

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    The Holocene-era, abrupt onset, three-hundred-year duration, radical increase in airborne dust, major aridification, cooling forest removal, land degradation, and alterations in seasonality, abruptly reduced agricultural production from the Aegean to the Indus. This change led to imperial collapse, followed by the abandonment of sedentary agriculture and habitat-tracking as social adaptation to the changed environmental circumstances. Under these circumstances, collapse was thus adaptive.

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Local-Extralocal Linkages

Early studies of climate change focused on the globe and its climate. As social scientific studies of climate change have matured, there has been increasing interest in differentiating the global landscape on which these changes are playing out. This focus encompasses analysis of North–South politics, as in Lahsen 2004, a pioneering work with Brazilian climate scientists; Broad and Orlove 2007 (cited under El Niño-Southern Oscillation), a study of national versus international views of ENSO events in Peru; Doolittle 2010 (cited under Knowledge Circulation and Contest), a study of the indigenous politics of knowledge in international climate conferences; and Eakin 2006, an analysis of the interaction between changes in global climate and changes in the global economy.

  • Eakin, Hallie C. 2006. Weathering risk in rural Mexico: Climatic, institutional, and economic change. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    A rare, book-length treatment of the relation between climatic perturbation and political-economic perturbation, based on an ethnographic analysis of the impact on Mexican farmers of the El Niño events of the late 1990s and the contemporaneous neo-liberal restructuring of the country’s agricultural policies.

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  • Lahsen, Myanna. 2004. Transnational locals: Brazilian experiences of the climate regime. In Earthly politics: Local and global in environmental governance. Edited by Sheila Jasanoff and Marybeth L. Martello, 151–172. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    A critique of the notion of a monolithic, transnational epistemic community of climate scientists by one of the foremost analysts of the North–South politics of climate change, based on long-term fieldwork in Brazilian institutions. Lahsen concludes that not only does the transnational epistemic community appear internally fractured along geopolitical lines but important fractures also reveal themselves at the national level and even within the subjectivities of individual scientists.

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Methodology

Human ecology is distinguished not only by its subject, but also by its methodologies. Unlike some of the natural sciences, it is by practicality and ethics a nonexperimental science. It also tends to be much more descriptive than most of the natural sciences, relying heavily on qualitative in addition to or instead of quantitative method and analysis. Its defining characteristic, like most of the social sciences but unlike any of the natural sciences, is that its subjects—fellow human beings—can and must be asked for their own explanations of their behavior (see Georgescu-Roegen 1971, cited under Ideational Factors).

Research

Of the many dozens of books and hundreds of articles on methods in this field, some like Bernard 2011 comprehensively cover the research process from inception to completion; others focus on aspects of field methods peculiar to this field such as Conklin 1960 and Whyte 1993 on participant observation, Chambers 1983 and Beebe 1995 on rapid rural appraisal, and Nader 1972 on “studying up” (the socio-economic hierarchy) while still others like Emerson, et al. 1995 focus on the special mechanics of recording ethnographic data.

  • Beebe, James. 1995. Basic concepts and techniques of rapid appraisal. Human Organization 54.1: 42–51.

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    Whereas most articles on rapid rural appraisal are normative endorsements, and a few are critical, this unusually insightful piece strikes a balanced tone, offering advice on how to employ this methodology while avoiding its pitfalls. Even so, Beebe advises that rapid appraisal cannot substitute for long-term, basic research methods. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Bernard, H. Russell. 2011. Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. 5th ed. Lanham, MD: Altamira.

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    This comprehensive and authoritative text offers in-depth discussions of research design and proposal writing, issues of sampling, interviewing and participant observation, writing field notes, and qualitative and quantitative analysis of data.

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  • Chambers, Robert. 1983. Rural poverty unperceived. In Rural development: Putting the last first. By Robert Chambers, 1–27. London: Longman.

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    A brilliant, pioneering critique of data gathering in development programs, which Chambers branded “rural development tourism” because of systemic biases: spatial (urban, tarmac, road-side communities), project (communities with projects), person (elite, male, project participants), seasonal (dry season ), diplomatic (pleasant subjects), and professional (tunnel vision). Chambers helped develop rapid rural appraisal to minimize these biases while working within the time and resources constraints of development programs.

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  • Conklin, Harold C. 1960. A day in Parina. In In the company of man: Twenty portraits of anthropological informants. Edited by Joseph B. Casagrande, 119–125. New York: Harper.

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    This brief description of one day of the author’s fieldwork on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, excerpted from his journals, is a primer on how to do participant observation, written by one of the field’s greatest all-time experts. Conklin’s interactions with his informants are mostly quite casual; he alters his schedule to take advantage of people’s own comings and goings, and he makes their interests his interests.

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  • Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. 1995. Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226206851.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The gathering of data through participant observation of human subjects is both simple and deceptively complex. The real-time notation of such observations is called ethnographic fieldnotes. This astute and useful text offers chapters on how to make such notes in the field, how to write them up into more formal records, and finally how to analyze them when the fieldwork is done.

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  • Nader, Laura. 1972. Up the anthropologist: Perspectives gained from studying up. In Reinventing anthropology. Edited by Dell H. Hymes, 284–311. New York: Pantheon.

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    Another pioneering work not focused on human ecology but impacting it, Nader advocates studying the colonizers rather than the colonized, the culture of power rather than the culture of the powerless, the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty. Studying “up” leads to asking many common sense questions in reverse: for example, instead of asking why some people are poor, asking why other people are so affluent.

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  • Whyte, William Foote. 1993. Street corner society: The social structure of an Italian slum. 4th ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226922669.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although the subject of this sociological classic (an urban community in Boston’s North End) is not a human ecological one, its fifty-four-page Appendix on field methods was a pioneering description of the dynamics of social science fieldwork at the community level, and it remains one of the most insightful ever written on participant observation. First published in 1943.

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Boundaries

An important and often problematic question in human ecological research is how the unit of study is bounded for the purpose of the study. Early anthropological and human ecological studies, in some cases influenced by the concept of the ecosystem in ecology (Rappaport 1984, cited under Ritual Regulation) treated the local community as autonomous, as self-sufficient. This view came to be faulted for ignoring the influence of the wider political-economic context (Blaikie 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987, both cited under Political Ecology) and thereby constructing a false vision of the self-sufficiency and sustainability of the local community (Netting 2008). Some scholars have taken this critique one step further to examine the way that particular conventions of bounding resource systems are politically deployed, as in Yapa 1993 and Dove and Kammen 1997. Scholars such as Alf Hornborg (Hornborg 1996) have linked sustainability to context-dependent versus context-erasing perspectives. Finally, others working in this field have examined the vexing question of the boundary between observer and observed, and the implications that this boundary has both for the validity of observation and for the efficacy of intervention (Bateson 2008, cited under Ideational Factors; Ingold 2008).

  • Dove, Michael R., and Daniel M. Kammen. 1997. The epistemology of sustainable resource use: Managing forest products, swiddens, and high-yielding variety crops. Human Organization 56.1: 91–101.

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    Combining perspectives from anthropology and physics, this article is a study of boundary drawing and the treatment of failure in natural resource management systems, based on the comparative study of three systems in Indonesia: mast fruiting, swidden cultivation, and green revolution agriculture. The first two contain mechanisms for addressing failure, which suggests that their boundaries are realistically conceived; the last does not, which suggests that its boundaries are unrealistically narrow. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hornborg, Alf. 1996. Ecology as semiotics: Outlines of a contextualist paradigm for human ecology. In Nature and society: Anthropological perspectives. Edited by Philippe Descola and Gísli Pálsson, 45–62. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203451069Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the principal attractions of human ecological study, Hornborg argues, is its rootedness in specific local contexts. Whereas the totalizing institutions and knowledge systems of modernity have led to disembedded and degrading views of the world, human ecology can offer local and sustainable perspectives on livelihoods. An example is the universal rationality of the green revolution versus indigenous knowledge of land and resources.

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  • Ingold, Tim. 2008. Globes and spheres: The topology of environmentalism. In Environmental anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 462–469. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Ingold argues, in this fascinating analysis, that the iconic photo of the earth from space has, counter-intuitively, sharpened our sense of a boundary between ourselves and our planet. The concept of the global environment that this photo fostered, far from marking humanity’s reintegration into the world, signaled the culmination of a process of separation, which is at root of many contemporary environmental problems. First published in 1993.

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  • Netting, Robert McC. 2008. Links and boundaries: Reconsidering the Alpine village as ecosystem. In Environmental Anthropology: A historical reader. Edited by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, 309–318. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A critique of Netting’s own study of a Swiss mountain village in terms of the ecosystemic fallacy. His earlier assessment of self-sustaining interdependence of physical environment, subsistence techniques, and human population was based on overemphasis on stability and underemphasis on flows across village boundaries: namely, the import of metals, salt, cash, wives, manufactured goods, new crops and foods, and the export of cattle, cash, and labor. First published in 1990.

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  • Yapa, Lakshman. 1993. What are improved seeds? An epistemology of the green revolution. Special issue: Environment and development: Part 1. Edited by Richard Peet and Michael Watts. Economic Geography 69.3: 254–273.

    DOI: 10.2307/143450Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Yapa seeks to explain the persistence of hunger despite modern agricultural technology’s apparent successes, the paradoxical coexistence of food scarcity and high yields. He argues that the green revolution erected a boundary between production and consumption, focusing science on the production side while ignoring issues of distribution, which thereby separated those who benefit from green revolution technology from those who pay its costs. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/25/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199830060-0050

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