Tag Archives: engagement

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. Continue reading

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Settler Colonial Nature in the Everglades

Americans live in a settler colonial society, and this shapes how we understand and engage nature. In the vast expanse of slow-flowing water and drained agricultural lands known as the Florida Everglades, thinking about settler colonialism helps make sense of Burmese python hunts and Seminole water rights, of scientific restoration models and National Park policies. Doing so informs my own ethnographic research on the relationship between peoples’ sense of belonging and the ways that they value water in the Everglades. Continue reading

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Campus Food Projects: Engines for a More Sustainable System?

Back in 2005, as Emory University embraced sustainability as part of a new strategic plan, it was the physicians on the visioning committee who insisted on including food as a priority. Recognizing that environmental, economic, health, and social justice concerns intertwined with food, the committee encouraged local sourcing of vegetables, fruits, dairy, and poultry from farms with sustainable certifications. Imported items (bananas, coffee, tea) could contribute to campus goals by embracing products with Fair Trade or organic certification. Continue reading

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Sustainability and Food Production in the Hoosier Heartland: Learning through Local Engagement

Once a booming agricultural and factory town, Muncie, Indiana, is today a post-industrial rustbelt city grappling with questions about its economic and environmental futures. As heavy industries left town, Muncie’s economy has flagged, leaving some 24% of its residents at or below the poverty line. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 2007 that one-third of the city’s former industrial sites were brownfields that posed risks to human health and safety. In spite of these challenges, Muncie residents are transforming and revitalizing their city. In particular, they have shown renewed and growing interest in sustainably produced foods as a boon to overall health, safety and environmental restoration. Innovative partnerships have enabled Ball State University (BSU) professors and students to directly contribute to these community efforts. Inspired by Robert and Helen Merrell Lynd’s pioneering community study, Middletown, BSU professors and students are expanding this tradition of conducting engaged, local research to benefit the region. The result has been the transformation of former brownfields into public wetlands. Also through direct civic engagement, student volunteers have helped remove 70,000 pounds of trash from the White River watershed over the last six years. As significant as these restoration efforts are for the community, local residents are also finding ways to combine sustainable economic development with environmental restoration. Continue reading

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Andrew Mathews on forestry, bureaucracy, and engaged scholarship

ENGAGEMENT editor Rebecca Garvoille recently caught up with Andrew S. Mathews, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to discuss his recent book, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests (2011, MIT Press), and its broader contributions to forest policy and socio-environmental justice debates in Mexico. This interview is the third installment in an ENGAGEMENT series exploring how environmental-anthropological book projects inspire meaningful engagements in study sites across the globe. Continue reading

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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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