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).

In the Trenches: Collaborative Conservation in a Contested West

For the last fifteen years, I’ve worked as a volunteer – a citizen anthropologist – in the collaborative conservation movement sweeping across the American West. I co-founded the Arizona Common Ground Roundtable in 1997. For the next five years, we (the Roundtable) sponsored forums across the state to bring ranchers, environmentalists, and sportsmen together to talk about the future of Arizona’s wide-open spaces. We found our common ground by paraphrasing political analyst, James Carville: “It’s land fragmentation, stupid!” Then I chaired the Ranch Conservation Task Force of Pima County’s visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP), which seeks to conserve both biodiversity and working ranches around the Tucson metropolitan area. For the last decade, I have served on Pima County’s Conservation Acquisition Commission (CAC). The CAC provides recommendations to the Pima County Board of Supervisors on how to spend the $170 million in Open Space Bonds that voters approved in 2004 to support the SDCP. Continue reading

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Microelectronic Disaster and the “Smarter Planet” Paradox

Less than 300 miles northwest of New York City, in the Empire State’s Southern Tier region, is the small community of Endicott. Nestled along the Susquehanna River, it is known as the “Birthplace of IBM.” International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)—born of a marriage between the Computing, Tabulating, and Recording Company and the International Time Recording Company—opened its first plant in Endicott in 1924. From the 1920s to the 1970s, the IBM-Endicott facility figured centrally in electronic innovations, and the surrounding community enjoyed relative prosperity. Since the 1980s, however, the area has experienced steady decline due to IBM’s disinvestment in the Endicott facility and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Continue reading

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From Conservation to Eco-Toilets to Organic Markets: The Evolution of a Chinese Environmental NGO

The story of Wildgrass is one of organizational adaptation to the dynamism of present-day China’s politics and its rapidly changing social and environmental needs. After four years of working with the organization, I consider my roll in Wildgrass as more of an “exchange” than an “engagement” because of our reciprocal relations. We’ve shared knowledge and influenced one another on multiple levels, providing me a unique perspective to view changes in the organization over time. Continue reading

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Laura Ogden engages with ‘Swamplife’

ENGAGEMENT editors recently connected with Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Florida International University, to talk about her new book, Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades (2011, University of Minnesota Press). During our conversation, Dr. Ogden explained some of the ways in which her work addresses issues of social and environmental justice beyond the confines of the academy. This interview is the second in an ENGAGEMENT series that explores how environmental-anthropological book projects have profound and important impacts on the world around us. The first interview was with Paige West. Continue reading

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The Lores of Local Food: Different Ways of Being Local and Eating Locally

Throughout the course of my research, I’ve seen how there is no one way to eat locally or to farm sustainably. These concepts and practices are quite fluid and change based on context, but also with the flash of a dollar sign. The “Loca-vore” movement is but one incarnation of many efforts to (re)connect to land and food, to foster food autonomy, to check out of the ConAgra-Monsanto complex, or to profit off of well-intentioned consumers’ desires to be more responsible or ecological with their purchases. Continue reading

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Paige West on coffee, commodities, and community engagement

ENGAGEMENT editor Rebecca Garvoille recently caught up with Paige West, the Tow Associate Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, to discuss her new book, From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012, Duke University Press), and its broader contributions to promoting social and environmental justice. In this interview, Dr. West recounts the multiple and inspiring ways her ideas and knowledge circulate far beyond her book (and academia) to effect positive change. This interview kicks off an ENGAGEMENT series, which explores how environmental-anthropological book projects have profound and important impacts on the world around us and inspire meaningful engagements in study sites across the globe. Continue reading

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Getting Goats—From skepticism to optimism in Northern Kenya

In the 1990s, before I became an academic anthropologist and researcher, I worked for about seven years in community development in Northern Kenya. The bulk of my work involved facilitating participatory development processes among communities of pastoralists in Samburu district. We tried to engage a broad swath of the community in self-analysis, identification of priority issues, planning and the implementation of interventions to improve their situation. The guiding principle was that local knowledge should be prioritized. We believed that the herding communities knew best about their own context and that their ideas should be used as the basis for community-led development projects. Continue reading

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Anthropology on Blair Mountain

I find it somewhat difficult to think and write about central Appalachia without falling into the use of essentialisms and stereotypes. Even though I am from West Virginia it is hard to escape the traditional narratives, the mountain-folksy caricatures, the one-dimensional portrayals of Appalachian culture. Those essentialisms are not really the Appalachia that I know, in fact I continue to have serious doubts whether ‘Appalachia’ is a real thing or not. Continue reading

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