Engagement Blog

ENGAGEMENT is a blog published by the Anthropology & Environment Society featuring first-hand accounts by anthropologists and other social scientists who have been directly engaged in work on environmental problems. For more information on ENGAGEMENT or to submit a contribution, please contact blog editors Janna Lafferty (jlaff004@fiu.edu), Chris Hebdon (chris.hebdon@yale.edu) and Micha Rahder (mrahder@ucsc.edu).

Engagement as Life Politics in the Colombian Amazon

On August 19, 2013, small farmers and miners, healthcare and transportation workers, educators and students, indigenous communities, afro-Colombians, and popular sectors at large mobilized across seventeen departments of Colombia in a National Agrarian and Popular Strike that was temporarily suspended in September. After failed negotiations with the State, the strike continues, and centers around the following demands: 1) suspension of the free trade agreement with the United States; 2) participation of small miners in mining policy and an end to a national development model fueled by extractive industry; 3) the recognition of the political and territorial rights of rural communities; 4) constitutional reforms to combat the privatization of health, education, and fuel; 5) a radical transformation of U.S.-Colombia antidrug policy, and 6) peace with social justice that commences with a long-awaited integral agrarian reform, and national constitutional assembly. Continue reading

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Cynthia Fowler’s “Ignition Stories”: Anthropological explorations of fire ecology and social justice

ENGAGEMENT Blog editor Micha Rahder recently spoke with Cynthia Fowler to discuss her recent book, Ignition Stories: Indigenous Fire Ecology in the Indo-Australian Monsoon Zone (2013, Carolina Academic Press), and its broader contributions to fire management and social justice debates in Indonesia and around the world. This interview is the latest in an ENGAGEMENT series that explores how environmental-anthropological book projects have profound and important impacts on the world around us. Continue reading

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Engagement in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor

By Felipe Montoya-Greenheck

Sometimes engagement in the field grabs you when you are busy grading papers at your desk, and then it doesn’t let go, or rather, because of the urgency of the matter, one cannot let go. My recent post as director of the Las Nubes Project at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, put me in charge of a research, education, and community action program centered in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor in southern Costa Rica. In 1998 a tract of rainforest, the Las Nubes Forest Reserve, bordering the Chirripó National Park was donated to York. While emailing and facebooking with community members, researchers in Costa Rica, and my own Master’s students to plan participatory research projects in the corridor, communications began to pile up confirming the dreaded news that ten new hydroelectric dams were being planned for the watersheds on the Pacific side of the Chirripó mountain, two of which were located on the river that runs through the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. Continue reading

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Up the Financier: Studying the California Carbon Market

By Patrick Bigger

My research is about how regulatory and financial performances are intertwined, as events in the market (and in other financial markets, most notably the deregulated electric power market in California) are brought back to bear on rule-making, and then how rule-making impacts how the market and the associated regulated industrial processes are enacted. [...] I’d be really happy if scholars of other markets could find parallels to my work that demonstrated that all markets, not just environmental ones, were as much about the state as they are about finance, and not just in the way that Polanyi wrote about them. Continue reading

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Preservation’s Loss: The Statutory Construction of Forests in Cook County, IL

By Natalie Bump Vena

Why did the State of Illinois establish a Forest Preserve District in northeastern Illinois, where forests made up a small fraction of the landscape? And what were the ecological consequences of doing so? With jurisdiction in the county that encompasses Chicago, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, IL today manages 69,000 acres of protected land, mostly located in the city’s suburbs. At the turn of the twentieth century, civic and political leaders dreamed of establishing this system of open land as a natural retreat for Chicagoans who could not otherwise afford to leave the teeming metropolis. To begin realizing that vision, Chicago’s City Council hired Architect Dwight Perkins to compile a report for an enlarged park system in 1903. Perkins in turn asked Landscape Architect Jens Jensen to recommend land to include in what they called an “outer belt park.” They published the report in 1904. Continue reading

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An Anthropology of the Uncontainable

By Robin Nagle

I recently published an ethnography called Picking Up. It’s based on a decade of research with New York City’s Department of Sanitation and it tries to answer a simple question: what’s it like to be a sanitation worker and why should anyone care? Continue reading

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Leslie Sponsel on Spiritual Ecology, Connection, and Environmental Change

ENGAGEMENT editors recently connected with Leslie Sponsel, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i, to talk about his recent book, Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution (2012, Praeger), and its broader contributions to environmental movements and policy decisions around the world. This interview is the latest in an ENGAGEMENT series that explores how environmental-anthropological book projects have profound and important impacts on the world around us. Continue reading

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Designing Sacred Lands

After four unsuccessful attempts, in June 2012 UNESCO approved a new World Heritage Cultural Landscape: the subaks and water temples of Bali. An innovative management plan empowers the elected heads of subaks and villages to manage the World Heritage as a Governing Assembly, with assistance from government departments. Implementation of this management system has been delayed, but it has been endorsed by UNESCO as a promising model for democratic adaptive management.
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O-yama: Mountain Faith and Uncertainty in Late Capitalist Japan

Every year in July a small group of people gather on the summit of Ontake-san, a 3,067-meter volcanic mountain in the central Japanese prefecture of Nagano, to ceremoniously open it for the summer season. They do so with prayers to the gods, or kami, who dwell on the mountain. After Shinto priests have welcomed the kami with chants and offerings, representatives of several local constituencies come forward to offer prayers; included among them are employees of Japan’s national Forestry Agency and officials from local government and business offices. Continue reading

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Making Peace with Nature: The Greening of the Korean Demilitarized Zone

By Eleana Kim, University of Rochester

Through my ongoing research on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), I am engaging with broader questions about the “nature” of militarized landscapes and the production of their ecological value. In this piece, I examine how South Korean state and NGO projects configure the DMZ as a unique site of biodiversity that could provide the basis for sustainable development and also peace on the Korean peninsula. These projects, however, often depend upon a branding of the DMZ as a bounded space of pristine nature, disregarding the more complex social and political landscapes of the inter-Korean border region, of which the DMZ is just one part. This tendency to fetishize the DMZ and its “nature,” moreover, disguises the ways in which global capitalism, development, and militarization are affecting other parts of the border region, areas where the majority of what is known of the “DMZ’s biodiversity” exists. Continue reading

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