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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Book Series
  • Journals
  • Blogs and Multimedia Web Sites
  • History of Environmental Anthropology
  • Historical Ecology
  • Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE)
  • Religion/Sacred Ecology
  • Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK), Ethnoecology

Ecology Environmental Anthropology
Patricia K. Townsend
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0223


The term environmental anthropology only came into common use in the 1990s. In the upsurge of environmental awareness surrounding the 1992 Rio Summit, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) formed a Task Force on the Environment that worked from 1991 to 1995 and gave rise to a new section of the AAA, the Anthropology & Environment (A&E) Society. The chair of the task force and the founding president of the A&E Society was Emilio F. Moran, an ecological anthropologist, the second president was Carole Crumley, a historical ecologist. Beginning in 2003 the society granted its Julian Steward Award annually to an outstanding monograph in the field, several of which are so indicated in this article. The society quickly attained a membership of several hundred because environmental anthropology was not seen as a new subdiscipline so much as a recognition that anthropologists who identify with various subdisciplines do work that has an environmental dimension. Anthropologists already identified as “ecological anthropologists,” “human ecologists,” or “cultural ecologists” sometimes reserved the term “environmental anthropologist” for those who worked in applied fields or studied environmental organizations and movements. In this article, environmental anthropology is used in the broad sense that has become common, to study environmental issues from the methods of any of the subdisciplines of anthropology: cultural, biological, archaeological, linguistic, and applied. This term has unfortunately led to slighting closely related work from scholars who identify as environmental historians, geographers, political scientists, or economists. Except for a few classic works, this article is limited to work published since the mid-1990s when the field was first recognized by this term.

General Overviews

It is surprisingly difficult to find a broad overview of environmental anthropology because authors tend to reflect the subdiscipline with which they identify. Most of these emphasize cultural anthropology, the exception in its breadth being Brondízio and Moran 2013. Arcury 1995 and Johnston 2010 emphasize applied anthropology. Concise overviews are Milton 1997 and Orr, et al. 2015. For an introduction to core theoretical issues, see Kottak 1999, Descola 2013, and Ingold 2000, written by significant figures in environmental anthropology in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, respectively.

  • Arcury, Thomas A. 1995. Applied anthropology in environmental education. In Special issue: Anthropological contributions to environmental education PLUS Washington Watch; A quiet revolution to protect the environment. Edited by Dorothy Biard. Practicing Anthropology 17.4: 3–4.

    DOI: 10.17730/praa.17.4.f4520g0608jx5482

    Brief introduction to a special issue of Practicing Anthropology, a publication of the Society for Applied Anthropology. The papers offer a benchmark for the involvement of anthropologists in environmental education in the era when environmental anthropology began expanding rapidly.

  • Brondízio, Eduardo S., and Emilio F. Moran. 2013. Introduction to human-environmental interactions research. In Human-environment interactions: Current and future directions. Edited by Eduardo S. Brondízio and Emilio F. Moran, 1–24. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-4780-7_1

    Editorial introductions to this collection of papers give a broad overview of environmental anthropology that contrasts older work written from the perspectives of cultural determinism or environmental determinism with the contemporary understanding of interactions between environment and humans. The contributions, from geographers and anthropologists of all subfields, are divided among health, land-use change and management, political ecology, and historical ecology.

  • Descola, Philippe. 2013. The ecology of others. Translated by Geneviève Godbout and Benjamin P. Luley. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm.

    A brief theoretical work in which Descola challenges anthropologists to rethink the dualistic, anthropocentric ways that they separate nature and culture and begin to analyze humans and nonhumans by the relationships they have with each other.

  • Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.

    A collection of Ingold’s essays in which he attempts to overcome the split between talking about humans “as organisms within systems of ecological relations and as persons within systems of social relations” (p. 3). This theoretical goal is pursued with material from his work among hunters and gatherers and herders. He compares the skills involved in making objects such as string bags and birds’ nests, comparisons that dissolve the distinction between innate and acquired skills, nature and culture.

  • Johnston, Barbara Rose. 2010. Social responsibility and the anthropological citizen. Current Anthropology 51.Suppl. 2: S235–S247.

    DOI: 10.1086/653092

    An environmental anthropologist reflects on the intersection of her research career with advocacy for specific remedies for environmental problems. The cases discussed in depth are the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal and a cooperative agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency that provided technical assistance to communities in twenty states.

  • Kottak, Conrad P. 1999. The new ecological anthropology. American Anthropologist 101.1: 23–35.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1999.101.1.23

    Recognizing the recent broadening of the field of ecological anthropology to include applied and public anthropology, rather than renaming it as “environmental anthropology,” Kottak refers to it as “the new ecological anthropology.” He also responds to critiques of earlier studies in ecological anthropology for being too functionalist and assuming homeostasis.

  • Milton, Kay. 1997. Ecologies: Anthropology, culture and the environment. International Social Science Journal 49:477–495.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2451.1997.tb00039.x

    A broad review of major issues in environmental anthropology. After a brief history, Milton reviews theoretical developments in the 1990s, grouping them into two strands: a challenge to extreme cultural relativism and challenges to the nature-culture divide.

  • Orr, Yancey, J. Stephen Lansing, and Michael R. Dove. 2015. Environmental anthropology: Systemic perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 44:153–168.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-014159

    A short overview of developments in environmental anthropology since 1980 organized around three themes: systems ecology, political ecology, and cognitive science.

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