In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Readers and Textbooks
  • Bibliographic Essays and Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Contemporary Monograph Series
  • Journals
  • Organizations

Anthropology Environmental Anthropology
Tracey Heatherington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0041


Environmental anthropology deals broadly with culture and environment. Early anthropologists were interested in human relations with the environment as factors in cultural development. With the rise of environmental movements and ecological paradigms during the 20th century, anthropologists, too, adopted new perspectives. The growing acknowledgment of urgent environmental problems and resource governance issues has supported a burst of expansion in the field since the 1990s. Environmental anthropology currently subsumes a considerable range of theoretical approaches and themes. In Europe and Australia, for example, the field is often more strongly affiliated with the humanistic disciplines, while in North America it is frequently allied with the sciences. Much of the work done in environmental anthropology today takes a problem-centered approach that assumes various interdisciplinary engagements, and it is not meant to be taken in isolation. This field of specialization can, however, be generally distinguished from cognate fields such as environmental sociology, environmental history, and environmental archaeology by its general emphasis on insights derived from ethnographic traditions, methods, and perspectives. Above all, environmental anthropology is premised upon the recognition of important cross-cultural differences in the ways that people perceive, use, and care for the world around them.

Readers and Textbooks

Several excellent textbooks and readers in environmental anthropology have now appeared, establishing a basic survey of the field. Textbooks written in English have been published by presses in Britain and the United States, tending to privilege perspectives on the field from the scholars based in these countries. All of them reference some key foundational concepts from cultural ecology and ecological anthropology, but they vary in the degree to which this is explored, and also in the extent to which other theoretical approaches and various thematic issues are represented. Townsend 2000 is the most accessible and short introductory work, offering a succinct outline of developments in the field. Both Sutton and Anderson 2010 and Moran 2006 are comprehensive introductory textbooks in ecological anthropology, while Bodley 2008 is an introductory-level textbook in cultural anthropology that takes environment and development issues to be central. Milton 1996 and Bodley 2008 both explicitly relate environmental anthropology to interests in globalization; Milton’s work is adapted to more-advanced undergraduates and graduates. Also suitable for advanced undergraduates are Haenn and Wilk 2006, which is a collection of articles articulating an anthropological approach to ecological sustainability, and Dove and Carpenter 2008, which consists of a set of essays illustrating the historical development of environmental anthropology as a field.

  • Bodley, John H. 2008. Anthropology and contemporary human problems. 5th ed. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

    An introductory textbook that explores ecological destruction and environmental crisis in relation to ethnocide, genocide, food systems, population growth, consumption, poverty, indigenous cultures, and the author’s own understanding of “problems of scale.” Suitable for beginning undergraduates.

  • Dove, Michael R., and Carole Carpenter, eds. 2008. Environmental anthropology: An historical reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A compendium of essays written by leading scholars, organized with introductions to present the development of debates and dialogues between them. A very rich source of intellectual history, suitable for advanced undergraduates.

  • Haenn, Nora, and Richard Wilk, eds. 2006. The environment in anthropology: A reader in culture, ecology and sustainable living. New York and London: New York Univ. Press.

    A compendium of essays summarizing intellectual foundations and presenting a very engaging selection of key contemporary issues. Includes excellent attention to gender. Suitable for advanced undergraduates.

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

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203205440

    One of the first anthropological texts to explore theories of globalization, culture, and environment. Still worth reading. Rooted in British social anthropology and discourse theory, the book explores the concept of culture in relation to ecology in an effort to better understand the implications of cultural diversity for environmentalism. Suitable for advanced undergraduates.

  • Moran, Emilio F. 2006. People and nature: An introduction to human ecological relations. Blackwell Primers in Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A textbook that engages seriously with natural-science approaches to suggest how both archaeology and sociocultural anthropology can contribute to understanding ecological relationships. The author is noted for his work in ecosystem theory. Suitable for beginning undergraduates and particularly useful for interdisciplinary courses.

  • Sutton, Mark Q., and E. N. Anderson. 2010. Introduction to cultural ecology. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

    A textbook providing a comprehensive technical introduction to foundational concepts in ecological anthropology. The result of collaboration between two senior scholars representing biological and sociocultural anthropology. It seeks to distinguish cultural ecology from human biological ecology, within an explicitly scientific framework. Suitable for beginning undergraduates.

  • Townsend, Patricia. 2000. Environmental anthropology: From pigs to policies. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

    A straightforward, short introduction to the history of environmental anthropology in the 20th century. Organized to highlight case studies and global perspectives, it briefly reviews cultural ecology, ethnoecology, the ecosystem concept, and theories of human–animal relations. It provides a lively sampling of contemporary issues. Very readable and suitable for beginning undergraduates.

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