Environment, culture and political ecology

This cluster of interests takes the social and political dimensions of environmental use as its point of departure. The range of issues addressed in our work includes the intersection between scientific and traditional knowledge in natural resource management, sustainability in rural and urban settings, the community-nature interface in primate conservation, the production and consumption of global commodities, and the political ecology of resource frontiers.

Faculty working in this area of research specialization include:

A. Kim Clark - A wide-ranging research project on public health and state formation in Ecuador (1900-1950) includes consideration of disease ecologies. One example of this research focus is the constellation of environmental, social and political-economic conditions that contributed to bubonic plague epidemics in Ecuador, and analysis of the cultural and political dimensions of plague eradication campaigns among subordinate groups.

Ian Colquhoun - Over the last decade, primatologists have focussed more and more attention on the conservation of nonhuman primate populations. An essential area of research in this regard, and one seeing much recent research activity, is ethnoprimatology -- the study of the interactions between humans and nonhuman primate populations. My interest in ethnoprimatology draws on my broader interests in comparative primate socioecology, my research experience in northwestern Madagascar, and my role as scientific advisor to the Black Lemur SSP (Species Survival Plan).

Dan Jorgensen - Much of my research has been devoted to understanding the impact of large-scale mining on rural people in Papua New Guinea. More recently, I have turned to three themes that grow out of this work: how government ideas about mining and customary land ownership provide contexts for configuring identities; the significance of mining in imaginary geographies at different scales; and the ways that impending mine closures figure in planners’ and local people’s views of the future.

Karen Pennesi - My work examines language use at multiple levels. The focus of my research is the mediating function of language in human relationships with nature. Currently, I am investigating the role climate forecasts play in rural communities of Ceará, Northeast Brazil. Traditional predictions have been made for generations by local "rain prophets" who make detailed observations of relationships in the ecosystem. My research exposes the struggle between science and indigenous knowledge for control over meaning that is crucial in establishing an authoritative position as 'weather expert'. I integrate theoretical dimensions of linguistic and ecological anthropology in analyses of how different evaluations of meteorologists' and rain prophets' communicative practices are tied to particular historical, social, environmental and epistemological contexts. An ethnographic and discourse-based perspective gets to the heart of communication issues emerging in these domains where science, cultural knowledge and subjective experience intersect. My current research is also theoretically linked to other projects on communication between science and the public, cultural aspects of natural resource management, vulnerability of rural populations to climate-related hazards, and environmental equity issues involving First Nations communities.

Adriana Premat - My research broadly focuses on the environment, agriculture, and food consumption as these intersect with issues of poverty and sustainability in urban Latin America. Specifically, my fieldwork research has centered on the urban agriculture movements that arose in Cuba and Argentina over the last decade in the context of economic restructuring, political instability, widespread food insecurity, rapid urbanization, and environmental degradation. Among other things, my work examines the extent to which different forms of macro-economic and political organization, and the particular set of rights and entitlements they imply, affect the way marginal populations practice and “imagine” urban agriculture.

Andrew Walsh - My current research focuses on the parallel rise and divergent fates of northern Madagascar's sapphire and ecotourist trades, and on the people they involve. Through research with Malagasy people living in a once booming but now declining small-scale sapphire mining community, I have been investigating the unique consumption patterns, worldviews and ecological and ethical dilemmas that make this place what it is. Through research with people living around a nearby protected conservation area, I have been investigating the developments and speculations inspired by the region's growing ecotourist trade.

Other Core Research Areas

Bioarchaeology and Archaeology

Identities and Mobility