- June 10, 2013
As part of an ongoing series profiling finalists for the 2012 Anthropology and the Environment Junior Scholar Award, Jim Igoe interviews Veronica Davidov about her research and writing on the eco-tourism-extraction nexus.
Jim: Can you talk a bit about your dissertation research in Ecuador and your more recent project in Russia, how they relate to each other, and how they both relate to your conceptualization of an eco-tourism extraction nexus?
Veronica: My dissertation was about ecotourism in the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador. I studied how indigenous Kichwa communities in the Amazonian provinces negotiated involvement with the ecotourism industry. I examined what kind of cultural space was produced on these tours, between the tourist fantasies and expectations of wildness and primitivism and Kichwa aspirations of being “modern” and participating in the global economy. I soon realized, however, that it was not possible to study ecotourism without also looking at oil extraction in the region. Although the imaginaries and representations of the Amazon generally posits these industries as having mutually exclusive trajectories, my ethnographic perspective revealed that they were actually entwined in a variety of ways. For one, it was the oil roads into the rainforest that made the ecotourism infrastructure possible at all. Secondly, indigenous resistance to oil development, and related global lobbying, played a part in the World Bank allocating funds for what were called indigenous ethnodevelopment programs, which is how funding for many ecotourism initiatives came about. Most clearly I could see how the two were entwined in Kichwa life histories—many of my informants engaged in ecotourism after years of working in the oil fields, and for them the two industries were connected through their bodies and their labor. Although I was not thinking in terms of an ecotourism-extraction nexus at this point, I had become cognizant of a discrepancy: these two industries were entangled through local geographies and life experiences but decoupled from each other in virtually all knowledge production about the area.
I became more clearly aware of a nexus in my second project, which focused on the impacts of privatization of nature on indigenous Veps of Karelia. If in Ecuador both oil extraction and ecotourism were “modern” industries, Russian Karelia was a place where both ecotourism—or a prefigurative version of it—and mining have existed side by side for a very long time, dating back to the reign of Peter the Great. The nexus there encompasses a long history of the region being simultaneously a leisure destination, famous for its nature, and a source of several rare, elite minerals. These minerals were utilized by the Russian royalty, then the Soviet state, and now by private transnational companies. So both industries have been a source of stable, desirable livelihoods for local communities for a very long time. The mining industry was a particular source of pride, as you had multiple generations of miners and stoneworkers extracting raspberry quartzite, an extremely rare decorative mineral that was quite cosmopolitan in its circulation, and used exclusively for prestigious objects and landmarks—from Napoleon’s sarcophagus, to Lenin’s mausoleum, to the Moscow metro. For the local Veps, there was no contradiction between these two identities of their region, and they viewed both industries as categorically similar, rather than different—and today they feel similarly vulnerable as a result of both industries simultanesouly being deregulated and privatized. So that was a very different incarnation of the nexus, but one that also challenged the narrative that ecotourism and extraction cannot possibly co-exist.
Jim: You have described the eco-tourism extraction nexus as part of a larger conservation-extraction nexus. Could you say a bit about the conservation-extraction nexus and then why you have chosen to focus on an eco-tourism extraction nexus?
Veronica: I think the conservation-extraction nexus is a concept that comes out of the literature on neoliberal conservation, that recognizes the false dichotomy between conservation, specifically neoliberal conservation, and extraction. This literature shows how neoliberal conservation and resource extraction are ontologically similar –they both ways of rationalizing and financializing nature. But much of the literature that looks at this broader conservation-extraction nexus is about the macro-level—recognizing the ideological convergences, the neoliberal foundations, and even the large-scale monetary flows and institutional alignments that enable both kinds of interventions. And at the same time, I think sometimes people still often think of conservation/ecotourism projects and extraction projects as taking place in different locales and at different sites within those larger scales. So, for me, the ecotourism-extraction nexus re-scales and concretizes the larger framework of the conservation-extraction nexus by showing that the same communities can be affected by extraction and ecotourism industries, and can participate in both, at various times, or even at the same time. So it’s a way—one of many—to study the conservation-extraction nexus empirically.
Jim: You have brought together an interesting group of scholars working on eco-tourism and extraction in an called The Ecotourism-Extraction-Nexus: Political Economies and (un)Comfortable Bedfellowsco-edited with Bram Buscher. Could you talk a bit about that process, what kinds of themes emerged from it, as well as telling us a bit about the collection and what readers can expect from it?
Well, Bram Büscher has been a total kindred spirit and wonderful collaborator on this topic. A few years ago I sent in an abstract for the Nature Inc. Conference he was co-organizing in The Hague, and the abstract was on the E-E Nexus, and he really liked the concept, it resonated with the work he was doing in South Africa, so that started a conversation. Then, when I presented on it at the Nature Inc. Conference, the same thing happened that seemed to be happening whenever I would talk about that research—I had people come up to me afterwards and say “oh, that is happening in my fieldsite!” So through such encounters, I kept getting the sense that there are all these places around the world, where increasingly ecotourism projects arise in close proximity to oil transport, mining, and other forms of extraction—but that no one was studying it! So Bram and I decided to reach out to scholars who were already working in these zones, and with our call for papers push them to say something on the topic. We put a call out for a European Association for Social Anthropologists meeting workshop, and we got great responses. For the most part, we got abstracts from people who were already working on some component of this—either the ecotourism part or the extraction part—but were inspired by the CFP to think through how these things co-existed in their fieldsites. So many of the volume contributors were also conference participants, and then some other people joined in, like Andrew Walsh, who was already working on ecotourism and sapphire mining in Madagascar, and Rob Fletcher, and Jamon Halvaksz. So we pitched the idea to Routledge, and they were very enthusiastic about it, and now, almost exactly a year after EASA, in August, our volume is coming out.
Veronica: The thing I am really happy about is that first of all have a broad geographical range represented in the volume, which shows that this nexus is really something global in scope—we have case studies from Madagascar and Ecuador and Russia and Papua New Guinea and Belize and Swedish Lapland and Costa Rica, to name just a few. The other thing that is really nice is, we ended up having a mix of more senior scholars, who have been working in their fieldsites for years –and saw how the gradual dynamics of these convergences evolved over time—and contributors who were finishing or had recently finished their PhDs, and wrote their chapters from the perspective of having just completed long-term fieldwork. So, I think the readers can expect a really diverse mix of perspectives, and they can learn about the different ways in which ecotourism and extraction co-exist—whether as compatible and flexible livelihoods for the locals, as Tim Smith writes in a chapter on Ecuador, or with ecotourism being politicized and mobilized to oppose extraction, as Elisabet Rasch describes happening in the Philippines, or with ecotourism projects even literally merging with extractive ones, with certain kinds of “artisanal” mining, becoming a part of ecotourism packages, as Luisa Rollins shows happens with larimar mining in the Dominican Republic. I hope that through showing these very different configurations of how ecotourism and extraction coexist, the volume problematizes the pervasive idea that they are “opposites,” this fiction of incommesurability.
Jim: Your article “From a Blind Spot to a Nexus: Building On Existing Trends in Knowledge Production to Study the Co-presence of Ecotourism and Extraction” was a finalist for last year’s Junior Scholar Award. What would you do you consider the key points and/or arguments that you make in that article?
Veronica: I think in many ways the article can be thought of as the companion piece to the volume. The volume is largely about theorizing and showing empirically the different ways in which such a nexus can arise and function, through case studies. And the article was for the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research, which is an annual review journal. So, framing this topic as a literature review gave me the opportunity to think through the question of why people don’t study ecotourism and extraction together, even though there are increasingly more and more places where the two coexist. Not only is this convergence understudied, people are resistant to it. Early on in pursuing this topic, I wrote a grant proposal to do a comparative study of the nexus in Ecuador and Cameroon, of ecotourism initiatives along the oil pipelines in both countries, and one of the anonymous reviews I got said: I am rather dubious about this project. I find it hard to imagine that landscapes ravaged by extraction of oil or other sub-surface minerals are commonly being selected as sites for ecotourism development. This response helped convince me that even among academics, certain assumptions about what extraction or ecotourism “do” to landscapes contribute to the seeming impossibility of contemplating them as co-occurring practices. So, in the article, through critically engaging with ecotourism literature and extraction literature, I was able to look at the trends and conventions in production of knowledge in these two bodies of scholarship. The argument I make is that certain epistemological frameworks and study designs currently used in scholarship of ecotourism and extraction create and reproduce blind spots, where one of the industries remains obscured. I also make recommendations for how study designs can incorporate a nexus perspective, looking at the two phenomena together.
Jim: What do you see as the potential contributions of the eco-tourism extraction nexus to theoretical and applied anthropology? Where do you see your research going next?
Veronica: Well, theoretically I think the ecotourism-extraction nexus contributes to what I think is an important task of anthropology—which is critically looking at how the spaces and convergences where familiar dichotomies become blurred. Clearly demarcated oppositions usually become much less clear, and much more messy—productively so–through an ethnographic lens, and the ecotourism-extraction nexus provides a new framework for problematizing these oppositions that are still so prevalent in most discussions of both “nature” and “development.” And in terms of applied anthropology, I think there are a number of ways this approach can have practical implications. For example, applied anthropologists are often involved in assessing the impacts of ecotourism, whether it works in meaningful ways, whether it achieves these different things it is supposed to achieve, be it conservation of biodiversity or environmental sovereignty of local communities. But applied anthropologists work in a political context, where ecotourism is generally treated as indicative of a paradigm shift from “wild nature” to sustainable development, or as a vehicle of rehabilitating previously “mismanaged” nature, while minimizing the scope of ecotourism projects expected to coexist with resource extraction activities. So there is this ideological framing bias, and it actually skews what kind of applied work, or policy research gets done, and the impact of ecotourism in areas concurrently affected by extraction industries, remains understudied. So the nexus concept, and the study design possibilities it entails, can reframe ecotourism as a subject of inquiry in a way that recognizes its structural dependence on global ideologies and institutions that often promote “unsustainable” development. And that, I think, can lead to empirical research that will procure data that is often located in the “blind spots” of academic and policy debates on sustainable development and efficacy of ecotourism.
As for where my research is going next—I have a number of projects in various stages of development, but specifically building on this topic, I plan to study other nexuses, where extractive industries co-exist with either institutional initiatives or livelihood strategies that are commonly imagined to be incompatible with extraction. Basically, I am interested in looking at situations that are not “supposed” to exist, and thus either get understudied or framed in this kind of sensationalist “isn’t it unusual?” way, and figuring out how to approach them as an anthropologist interested both in natural environments and in the production of knowledge about natural environments.
- June 3, 2013
Muehlmann, Shaylih. 2012. Rhizomes and other uncountables: The malaise of enumeration in Mexico’s Colorado River Delta. American Ethnologist 39(2): 339-353.
Dr. Muehlmann’s article is a wonderful and compelling account of how three distinct processes of enumeration interact to create a crisis narrative regarding the people, language, and ecology of the lower Colorado River Delta of northern Mexico. I have to admit that I was rather skeptical from the outset. I know a lot about the area and have personally interacted with many of the researchers who work in the region. I initially thought to myself, “C’mon now! How could counting residents, birds, fish and native language speakers really have negative consequences for people struggling to assert local control over natural resources?” As I read the paper, I got sucked into the story by Muehlmann’s clear prose and vivid imagery. Like all really good ethnographies, I felt like I was there. I felt like I was talking with Don Madeleno, catching birds in nets with Christian, or listening to the radio with Cruz’s family. So, my skepticism faded away and I became convinced that counting does matter.
I also work among indigenous fishing communities of a river delta and encounter many of the same issues. For five years, I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork among Yup’ik and Cup’ik First Alaskans in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta (Y-K Delta) of Western Alaska. People in the Y-K also struggle with fishing regulations that undermine their subsistence way of life. They are likewise frequently surveyed by health officials, census workers, fish and game managers, or anthropologists like myself. Some community members decline to be interviewed and tell me, “We’ve been surveyed to death!” Unlike the Colorado Delta, however, the Y-K Delta region remains a stronghold of Yup’ik language vitality. Moreover, Alaska Native groups have formally recognized political rights and actively participate in conservation decisions through management boards. The Y-K Delta region struggles but is far from a state of environmental or social crisis as the Mexican Colorado River Delta.
Nonetheless, reading “Rhizomes and other uncountables” has made me wonder the degree to which my own work among residents of the Y-K Delta may be inadvertently contributing to a similar form of countdown. I thank Shaylih Muehlmann for writing an article that compels all of us as ecological anthropologists to reflect on the myriad types of enumeration we routinely do as part of our fieldwork. We should ask ourselves if all our counting ultimately relegates the people we study and their experiences to “a realm that simply does not count” (p. 340).
Hi, Shaylih. I’m Colin and I really enjoyed reading your article. Congratulations on receiving the A&E Junior Scholar Award!
Thanks Colin! It’s nice to meet you.
I really was struck by your writing. You are able to blend anthropolo
gical theory and ethnographic material into an extremely compelling account. Could you talk a little bit about how you go about writing ethnographically?
For me the process of writing and the process of analyzing my material have always been necessarily inseparable. It’s very rare that I start out writing already knowing how to make sense of the ethnographic material I intend to address. So my descriptions of people and events are placed in the way they are in the text less for stylistic reasons and more as a result of my own process of trying to think through the issues that those people and events are raising. I find that if I begin with the ethnographic accounts as the basis of my writing it’s easier to start untangling the theoretical and political issues they speak to. This was particularly the case in writing “Rhizomes and Other Uncountables” because the issue of enumeration wasn’t one that I had ever considered before noticing peoples’ reactions to counting practices in my field-site. So trying to understand those reactions involved really thinking through and considering the ethnographic examples carefully.
Your paper discusses the ways in which enumeration undermines local struggles for control over natural resources, language, and livelihoods. But you also point out how it can simultaneously help and become a basis for demanding greater rights. Counting is such a simple thing but you illustrate its potential power. I was wondering how you first became drawn to counting as an important and illuminating theme?
Enumeration practices are such a taken for granted feature of both qualitative and quantitative research that it actually took a while for me to realize that they were particularly significant in the Colorado delta. I remember that after submitting the first draft of my dissertation, as a graduate student, my supervisors asked me to include the population of the village in the introduction. They wanted a number, which is of course standard. I hadn’t included that number because I had already encountered the hostility among villagers towards counting practices and especially the question of how many people lived there. But I didn’t know how to justify the omission of that information because I still hadn’t fully understood what the hostility and discomfort was about. So it was over the next several years, during my postdoctoral work, that I started paying more specific attention to the issue and deliberately collecting more examples of how counting practices were being experienced by local people over several different contexts.
In several passages you specifically write about your personal experiences while conducting research that really did make me feel like I was there in the Colorado Delta. Could you just briefly describe a typical day of fieldwork?
I spent most of my fieldwork in the delta following people around. In the extended field period when I was staying with local families I would wake up and spend the first few hours of the day hanging out and visiting with people. Then I would try to join in on any organized activities that were related to my research themes – fishing, meetings with local river users’ association, work projects, environmental workshops, and cultural events – those sorts of things. But most days were less eventful and I spent a lot of time just talking to friends and neighbors, eating, helping with the kids and sitting around.
Congratulations again, Shaylih. I see that you have several other articles about your work in Cucapá villages (I’m intrigued by your 2008 “Spread Your Ass Cheeks” paper . . . ), one book that is coming out soon by Duke University Press, and yet another in the works with the University of California Press. With all these publications, what’s next? Do you see yourself continuing to work in the Colorado Delta for the foreseeable future? What new directions do you see yourself going in?
Thanks again Colin. As for what’s next, that’s still an open question. I’ve already started to roam a bit farther from the delta in my more recent fieldwork projects but I’m sure I’ll always go back to the area. It’s a fascinating part of the world and I feel attached to the landscape as well as many of the people I’ve become close too over course of my research there. I also have a lot more to write about the delta and the river so you certainly haven’t heard the last from me on that intriguing region where the Colorado River used to meet the sea.
- May 26, 2013
Jerry Jacka from UT San Antonio interviewing Jen Shaffer from the University of Maryland, about her article:
2010. Shaffer, L. J. Indigenous fire use to manage savanna landscapes in southern Mozambique. Fire Ecology 6(2): 43-59.
I guess one of my concerns is what the future of environmental anthropology should look like. I too often worry that people haven’t taken Vayda and Walters’ critique of the lack of ecology in political ecology/environmental anthropology seriously enough. How do you feel about this critique and how do you think your work fits into it?
My experiences as a student and field practitioner have been fortunate in that many of my mentors and colleagues strive to put the ecology into ecological and environmental anthropology (or humans into the socio-ecological system for my non-anthropologist mentors and colleagues). However, from time to time, I’ve been frustrated reading the literature and didn’t know if it was just me or a wider issue. I reread the Vayda and Walters’ (1999) critique you mentioned, and then followed it up to see if anything similar had been written since that time. Walker (2005), a human geographer, made a similar critique.
There is value in, and a need for, exploring and critiquing the effects of environmental policies on human communities and the socio-ecological system. However, policies and politics are only one aspect of the socio-ecological system. People make decisions about resource use based on many factors, some of which exist outside cultural, political, and economic institutions. There are biophysical elements and ongoing processes – which humans influence to varying degrees – shaping the socio-ecological systems we find ourselves in and the decisions we make about resource use. This complexity and interconnectedness demands holistic study – traditionally, a hallmark of anthropology. Interdisciplinary team research, long-term, situated study of a place or a phenomenon, and participatory research involving local residents as partners are some ways to tackle this demand. None of this is easy or quick, and unfortunately we’re frequently called upon to deliver fast results on big issues like conservation, climate change, food & water security, etc.
I see a strong interest among both undergraduate and graduate students to learn more about socio-ecological systems in order to find/create sustainable solutions to some of society’s biggest problems. That gives me hope. Many of these students have a decent grasp on the socio-political, economic, and cultural aspects of the problems, but lack a good understanding of how these aspects interact with the biophysical components of the system – often because they have not taken the time or had the opportunity to learn about the ecology or other environmental science. This is something that can be addressed. I’ve also had a couple of anthropology students tell me they’ve avoided learning about the biophysical because they think they can’t do math, that the science will be too difficult, or that it doesn’t matter. The last reason, that it doesn’t matter, makes me very uneasy. Those students are rare in my experience. In general though, my conversations with students suggest to me that we ecological and environmental anthropologists need to do a better job of encouraging/supporting our students to think and work outside the comfort-zone of the disciplinary silo (perhaps even pushing the truculent ones).
The paper I submitted on fire and landscape management for the A&E Jr. Scholar competition is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. I am interested in the complexity of human-environment interactions within a socio-ecological system. This complexity of interactions varies through space and time. My research in southern Mozambique (the Maputaland forest-savanna mosaic) with contemporary communities is about understanding how Ronga peoples (and their non-Ronga neighbors) currently use and manage their resources and are shaped by this landscape. The work also explores local history to understand people’s interactions with this landscape in the past. This can inform our understandings of how people may act in the future, and assist with building adaptive capacity, sustainability, and otherwise preparing for future uncertainty. While I was working on the fire research for my dissertation, I was also gathering data on tree species distributions, traditional knowledge about flora and fauna, climate, fire and drought adaptation strategies, and community environmental history. My hope is to build on this foundation as I continue my research into human-environment interactions in this region with local residents, landscape managers, policy folks, and other academic researchers.
There was also some discussion when the judges met about how applicable people’s various approaches were outside of the context of their own sites. How would you respond to this?
This is definitely something I thought about as I wrote up my results for this paper. At one level, I wanted to show how humans, their activities, and the Maputaland landscape are intertwined through history. The landscape needs fire, and humans have been a major source of this fire – mostly burning small patches for various livelihood activities historically and currently. Burning for livelihoods was banned in this region to protect the biodiversity, but now scientists and policy makers are talking about developing fire regimes to protect the biodiversity because a lack of fire and large-scale wildfires create even more damage. I see this as a familiar story for fire dependent ecosystems around the world, and, along this line, received a number of emails from fire ecologists in the US, southern Africa, and Australia that were quite positive and encouraging.
At another level, fire ecologists use archaeological evidence, archival materials, and data from controlled burns and wildfires to model fire regimes for parks and reserves. This has definitely been the case in Kruger National Park. But why not ask the people that live in these ecosystems how, why, and where they use fire? And what changes to the fire regimes, and the effects of those changes, have local residents seen? I recognize that this isn’t always possible. The legality of burning makes answering these sorts of questions too risky for many people, in other cases, burn practices may have changed significantly from the way things were done 50, 100, 200 years ago (and if it has, why?). However, people’s fire knowledge is another legitimate source of information for the modeling and a way to bridge different fire management perspectives. I wanted to show the usefulness of ethnographic fieldwork in learning about local fire knowledge and use of fire to manage the landscape in which people live. I see this approach as helpful in bridging perspectives that use similar techniques to conserve biodiversity for different reasons. I think an ethnographic approach, similar to what I used, could be very applicable in other places in Africa and elsewhere.
Finally, what future plans do you have for your research/writing?
This past summer I went back to Mozambique to return my research results to the communities, Maputo Special Reserve (MSR) staff, and my colleagues at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM). As part of my trip, I asked community members and reserve staff about possible research questions we could work on together that were of importance to them. With colleagues at UEM we began to put together a framework that will inform future research on conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and environmental change, including future climate uncertainties, in communities adjacent/within MSR and three other conservation areas in Mozambique. I’m now working on a couple of research proposals with colleagues to fund our interdisciplinary team in developing ways to model human-environment interactions for the purpose of identifying crucial locations for wildlife conservation, ecosystem service protection, and sustainable livelihood support under projected climate changes.
 Walker, P. 2005. Political ecology: where is the ecology? Progress in Human Geography 29(1): 73-82.
- May 26, 2013
by Pamela McElwee, Rutgers University
The Junior Scholar Award of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association for 2012 had seven nominations. The award is for scholars beginning their careers, and is based on a nominated article that was published or in press in the award year. This year the judges for that award are highlighting the work of the nominated scholars.
One of 2012’s nominees was Alex Nading, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College, for his article “Dengue Mosquitos Are Single Mothers: Biopolitics Meets Ecological Aesthetics in Nicaraguan Community Health Work” (Cultural Anthropology 27(4): 572-596). Alex’s article analyzes participatory dengue eradication programs in Nicaragua as a form of exploratory learning about the natural world. Drawing on theorists such as Ingold, Bateson and Foucault, Nading argues that participants in the dengue programs experience transformation, which he labels as “ecological aesthetic,” in the assemblages created between people, places and insects. Such entanglements include pleasure and care, as experienced by the mostly female brigadistas whose job it is to search out breeding habitats for dengue-carrying mosquitos. Nading’s article also addresses the interlinkages between biopolitics and neoliberalization in the formation of dengue “technopolitics,” and the judges for this year’s competition found his article provides a unique bridge between work in environmental and medical anthropology.
Alex was recently interviewed by Stefanie Graeter, a graduate student at UC Davis, as part of a Cultural Anthropology feature on his article, and interested readers should look for more information. The featured discussion also includes video and additional readings, making it extremely useful for classroom work.
Congratulations to Alex again for an engaging and distinctive article.
- 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.
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