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.

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Designing Sacred Lands

By Steve Lansing

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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Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture, And Ecovillages

Edited by Joshua Lockyer and James R. Veteto

In order to move global society towards a sustainable “ecotopia,” solutions must be engaged in specific places and communities, and the authors here argue for re-orienting environmental anthropology from a problem-oriented towards a solutions-focused endeavor. Using case studies from around the world, the contributors—scholar-activists and activist-practitioners— examine the interrelationships between three prominent environmental social movements: bioregionalism, a worldview and political ecology that grounds environmental action and experience; permaculture, a design science for putting the bioregional vision into action; and ecovillages, the ever-dynamic settings for creating sustainable local cultures.

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O-yama: Mountain Faith and Uncertainty in Late Capitalist Japan

By Eric J. Cunningham

MOUNTAIN OPENING

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.

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Jim Igoe interviews Veronica Davidov

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.

Veronica Davidov

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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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