- March 4, 2013
Laurie: I really appreciated the way this article captured and clearly conveyed broad historical trends and patterns that crossed space, at the same time that it attended to variations within these patterns. Both the arguments and the language in which they were presented were refreshingly clear!
This paper did a wonderful job of synthesizing a large literature and linking theoretical and policy issues to ethnography, referencing not just the author’s own work but also studies conducted by others. The article places efforts to privatize fishing access in the historical contexts from which they emerged, examining early profit-maximization rationales and more recent environmental rationales, with the assertion that the emergence of conservation-based arguments in favor of privatization have enlisted broader support for such programs in recent decades. I appreciated the carefulness of the literature review: the authors combined identification of broad trends related to the implementation of projects to privatize resource access with attention to variations in the ways these trends have played out in different places and contexts, especially in terms of the relative degree to which access rights have themselves become commodities. The paper also attends to the ways that privatization programs have opened new possibilities for resisting privatization, discussing some of the divergent forms resistance has taken.
Since this was the only co-authored paper submitted to the competition this year, it seems especially important to inquire into the origins and process of this collaboration. How did this co-authored paper come about, and towards what intellectual and career objectives has it propelled you? Given that the article is primarily a review article, how does it articulate with each of your research programs?
Catherine: I am currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Courtney is my advisor. This co-authored paper came about as the result of many conversations between Courtney and myself as I was developing a dissertation research proposal. Courtney’s expertise in the theoretical literature and her work in Alaska offered a solid ground for my similar research interests in Iceland. Being able to work on a paper with my advisor while still engaged in my dissertation research has given me a great learning experience. As reflected in the article, fisheries literature spans a wide range of disciplines, so it is important for early career researchers like myself to learn how to make our work meaningful to the different disciplines we draw on. For me, this collaboration on a review article is an example of how social scientists can work in teams to cover theoretical and empirical work both broadly and deeply. This article forms a basis for much of my ongoing research in Iceland, and I will be able to draw on the points made in further publications resulting from my research.
Courtney: Since I began researching the social impacts of fisheries privatization in Alaska in 2002, I have become increasingly frustrated with the simplistic and inaccurate stories often told by scientists and policy advocates about fishery systems. Students come into my classes having learned for many years that inevitable tragedies of resource overuse and degradation are bound to occur without resource privatization. Students play games in their introductory classes where they (are taught to) race to outcompete each other for beans or m&ms. These games become the common-sense models upon which students start to understand fishery and other resource systems. What they often do not learn is the social and cultural diversity and complexity that typifies fisheries systems across the globe. Many of these fisheries systems are under threat from large-scale privatization. Now that environmental groups are heavily promoting privatization, more and more people are advocating for privatization without understand the social transitions and dispossessions that often accompany it.
What Cat and I try to do in this paper is to present a broad look at these social transitions in diverse regions across the globe. We hope the paper will serve as an important teaching tool exposing students to the complexity of the privatization issue. After years of seeing headlines about how privatization saves fisheries, we were encouraged to see a recent piece in the Seattle Weekly politicizing this issue of fisheries privatization (http://www.seattleweekly.com/2013-01-09/news/sharecroppers-of-the-sea/). Researching and writing the paper was also very helpful to direct us to future objectives in our research programs. We can better understand commonalities and differences across systems and identify future research questions and advocacy priorities.
This is the second in a series of interviews with the runner-ups to the junior scholar prize. It is done by the judges with the finalists. The article referenced is:
Carothers, C. and C. Chambers. 2012. Fisheries privatization and the remaking of fishery systems. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 3: 39-59.
The Junior Scholar Prize Winner Shaylih Muehlmann interviews the 2012 Rappaport Prize Winner, Sarah R. OsterhoudtJanuary 14, 2013
The 2012 winner of the Rappaport Student Paper Prize from the Anthropology and the Environment section is Sarah R. Osterhoudt who is a student in the combined doctoral program in Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Her winning paper is entitled “Clear Souls | Clean Fields: Environmental Imaginations and Christian Conversions in Northeastern Madagascar.” In this lucidly written essay Osterhoudt analyzes the experiences of rural Malagasy farmers who are in the process of converting to Christian religions from prior systems of ancestor belief. She argues, compellingly, that in this process, shifts in religious ideologies are profoundly connected to shifts in environmental imaginations and practice. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in the village of Imorona in Northeastern Madagascar Osterhoudt argues that ideas of what it means to be a good farmer and what it means to be a good Christian have become intertwined in local experiences of religious conversion which reconfigure understandings of the role of central environmental elements such as stones, rice fields, and forests. By considering local experiences of religious conversions jointly with changing understanding of environmental meanings, the paper offers a unique perspective on the interconnections between environmental and religious ideologies.
Interview with Sarah Osterhoudt
In your essay you mentioned that you first lived in Imorona, Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2005-2007. What inspired you to return to the village as a doctoral student in 2010?
When I was planning my doctoral research, I knew I wanted to return to Madagascar, but I wasn’t sure if I would go back to the same village where I lived as a volunteer. In some ways it was tempting to go somewhere where I could see things with a completely new perspective. But then I decided that the history I had with Imorona was a great foundation for my research. Plus I really liked the region, and was excited at the chance to go back.
In what ways was your experience being there as a graduate student different from your experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer?
I was a little worried about how it would be going from being a volunteer to being a student. But the role of student is respected in Imorona, as it is throughout Madagascar. So, once I explained to people I was back to do research, people overall accepted me in this new role. I also involved people in the community as research assistants, so I think that also helped people understand better what I was doing and to feel a part of my research.
You mention in your essay that when you first began your doctoral research you were not interested in the issue of religious conversion but soon realized that it was too important to ignore. Was it difficult for you to recalibrate your research focus to include such very different themes from those you set out to study?
In some ways it was difficult, but it other ways it was a pretty smooth transition. As I mention in the paper, people were often inviting me to church events, so having opportunities to conduct good ethnographic research on Christianity wasn’t difficult. It was harder to intellectually transition to this new subject, as I thought of myself primarily as doing environmental work. But I soon realized that the two areas actually had a lot of overlaps – once I saw this, I began to enjoy my research on religion.
I was interested in your description of what the shift from ancestor beliefs to Christian beliefs implied for the prospects of watching over ones fields in the afterlife. You describe that people who had converted to Christianity believed that when they die their souls would leave the village and go to heaven where they could not keep watch over their fields. But Christian imaginaries often include the idea of “looking down from heaven” as well. Did you find that anyone had incorporated this Christian trope of looking from above to accommodate ancestor beliefs about watching over ones fields in the afterlife?
That’s a great question, and I did find people thinking of heaven and the afterlife this way. Many new converts to Christianity described the afterlife as a blend of ancestral and Christian ideas, where people could move back and forth between a Christian heaven and ancestral realms. I think one difference may be the degree to which they intervene with the living – as ancestors they are actively involved in on-going village life, but as Christians this usually isn’t as much the case.
Could you tell us more about how this essay fits into the your larger doctoral project?
My dissertation examines how agricultural landscapes are places where people cultivate both materials and meanings. I look at ways local agricultural environments help people approach different forms of cultural change – Christianity is one such change. I also look at the ideologies of conservation and development. I found that these viewpoints all present certain ideas and moralities, and farmers in the region select and combine certain parts of each framework as they re-imagine their place in the world.
- December 14, 2012
Press Release: 14 December 2012
The Anthropology & Environment Society has awarded its Junior Scholar Prize to Univ. of British Columbia anthropologist Shaylih Muehlman. The prize is given annually to an early‐career scholar for an exemplary article in the area of environmental anthropology.
Muehlman won for her 2012 article Rhizomes and Other Uncountables: The Malaise of Enumeration in Mexico’s Colorado River Delta, in American Ethnologist 39(2): 339‐353.
James Igoe (Dartmouth), chair of the award committee, writes that “Rhizomes and Other Uncountables” examines how pressures to measure and manage water in the along the Colorado Rivershed have led to the breaking up the system into countable components. This has had significant material and symbolic consequences for residents of the Colorado River Delta as they deal with disappearing water, imminent extinctions, and loss of speakers of endangered languages.”
The Anthropology & Environment Society is a major section of the American Anthropological Association. The announcement was made at the annual convention by president Glenn Stone (Washington Univ.).
For further information, contact Glenn Stone at email@example.com.
- January 17, 2012
Anthropologists work in communities where climate change is already affecting local economies and people’s lives. On the recommendation of the Anthropology & Environment section, the American Anthropological Association has formed a task force to explore the cultural impacts of global climate change. The task force is headed by Prof. Shirley Fiske from the University of Maryland.
Prof. Fiske writes:
Anthropologists are working in communities and arenas where climate change is affecting the people with whom we work, either directly via the environment, or through institutions and programs as a result of global governance related to climate change. As humans and cultures, we have been down some of these paths before (adjusting to swings in climate) with critical lessons, as archaeologists are showing us.
Climate change research by Shirley Fiske and task force member Sarah Strauss is profiled here.
In a related development, an important film currently in production will help bring home the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities around the world. The Change, a documentary being filmed by Ironbound Films, follows research by Task Force member Prof. Susie Crate. It also shows how her teenage daughter becomes engaged with a set of issues not on most teenagers’ radars.
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