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 Colin Hoag (choag@ucsc.edu), Chitra Venkataramani (chitra@jhu.edu), and Theresa Miller (theresa.miller@linacre.ox.ac.uk).

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.
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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.
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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.
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