Colin West interviews Shaylih Muehlman

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.

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Protecting Cultural Environments in Northern Wisconsin: Anthropology’s Contribution to a Tribal Initiative

By Joe Quick, with contributions from Larry Nesper

In 2012, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians engaged research specialists working in several different fields, including anthropology, the physical sciences, and law. Our assignment was to assemble a report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about air quality on the tribe’s reservation in northern Wisconsin. With this report, the tribe aims to redesignate its reservation’s air quality from Class II to Class I under the “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” provisions of the federal Clean Air Act. The air on the reservation today is too clean to be classified as Class II, and redesignation as Class I will help the tribe ensure that this status is formally recognized and protected. In fact, the tribe first initiated this process in the 1990s, but suspended its work due to the anticipated legal costs that it would incur if the redesignation were challenged by the State of Wisconsin. Now that five other tribes in the United States—including the Potawatomis in Wisconsin—have set a precedent by achieving this same redesignation, Bad River decided to reinitiate the process.

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Jerry Jacka from UT San Antonio interviews Jen Shaffer from the University of Maryland

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? Continue reading

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Alex Nading, nominee for 2012 Junior Scholar Award

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.

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Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution

Eugene N. Anderson reviews Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution:

Leslie Sponsel has defined a new field of inquiry: spiritual ecology. He traces spiritual views on the environment from early roots to modern advocates for religious, spiritual, or mystical approaches to environment. The first three chapters concern traditional societies. The first examines animism, a concept being rehabilitated after some years of relative eclipse. Sponsel then surveys the better-known studies of traditional societies and their views of their environments. The third chapter covers the “ecologically noble vs. ignoble savage” controversy. Sponsel dissects the popular culture views of the former and the various protests, ranging from politically conservative to academically searching. He compares these with the actual record, which reveals a tremendous variety and a lack of any “savages” or other stereotypic beings.

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Gathering Divergent Forest Honeys: Collections and Commodity Flows in the Philippines

By Sarah Webb

When I began researching honey collecting in the Philippines, I never anticipated that making visual collections of objects and images associated with marketing honey was going to become a powerful way of stimulating discussion about my study.  But the clues were there all along. Collections are things brought together, in so many senses of the term. Such assemblages have a capacity for telling stories about how different products make their ways through the world, and into our homes, bodies and lives. Honey collecting, like other forms of forest harvesting or hunting, tends to evoke ideas about a bound type of thing moving in one direction – out of the forest and into a market (wherever that might be).  But what happens when a ‘natural forest’ honey supposedly harvested on an island in the Philippines is manufactured and sold in Manila?  And when this honey’s association with nature and forest environments is hardly natural, but needs to be made apparent by literally rendering the final product green?  How do such commodities relate to the forest honeys actually being harvested by Indigenous experts as part of their livelihoods and lifeways, and being marketed by non-government organizations?  In attempting to discuss the issues that arose from my research, I found that bringing together a range of honey products that had different, yet related, trajectories could be a wonderful prompt for talking about the social and spatial disjunctures that often occur within efforts to add value to certain types of natural resources. Continue reading

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How Will New Models Shape Our Research?

In a recent article, Genes, Culture, and Agriculture: An Example of Human Niche Construction, Michael J. O’Brien and Kevin A. Laland propose a model for understanding human relationships with created or built environments, particularly those associated with agriculture. O’Brien and Laland combine niche-construction theory (NCT) and gene-culture coevolutionary theory (GCT) to suggest that as people created and settled into agricultural environments, they themselves changed genetically to suit the environment. From the Current Anthropology article: “Anthropologists have long known the power that culture exerts in shaping the human condition, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the interactions of genes and culture—literally, their coevolution—offer a faster and stronger mode of human evolution than either by itself.” (See article here.) For anthropologists wanting to learn more about niche construction theory, the March edition of The Quarterly Review of Biology will feature a major article, Niche Construction Theory: A Practical Guide for Ecologists.

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Cloaking, not Bleaching: the Back Story from Inside Bureaucracy

By Janis Bristol Alcorn

“… In other words, the way that bureaucracies work is by bleaching out local context and coming up with big simplifications.”   – Andrew Mathews, as quoted in his January 2013 interview with ENGAGEMENT

I would counter by positing that good bureaucracies do not bleach out local context. Instead, they create big, simplified umbrellas that cloak the complex, dynamic range of local circumstances and thereby give the staff of government bureaucracies the space to address local circumstances despite changes in political direction.   I base this assertion on twenty-five years’ experience working with USAID, and on the literature on good governance. Continue reading

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Genese Marie Sodikoff on forest conservation, Malagasy worker-peasants and biodiversity

ENGAGEMENT editor Rebecca Garvoille recently caught up with Genese Marie Sodikoff, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University, to discuss her new book, Forest and Labor in Madagascar: From Colonial Concession to Global Biosphere  (2012, Indiana University Press), and its broader contributions to forest conservation and socio-environmental justice debates in Madagascar. This interview is the fourth installment in an ENGAGEMENT series exploring how environmental-anthropological book projects inspire meaningful engagements in study sites across the globe.

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Q and A on Courtney Carothers and Catherine Chambers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALaurie: 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! Continue reading

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