A collection of critical abstracts of relevant chapters from The Environment in Anthropology (Second Edition): A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living, edited by Nora Haenn, Allison Harnish, and Richard Wilk. These reviews are distributed across all the themes of this project, but this is where you can find all of them in one place.
False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking Some West African Environmental NarrativesBy James Fairhead and Melissa LeachSocial and environmental policies in the Kissidougou region of Guinea have been enacted to counter the perceived causations of environmental degradation at the local, regional and global level. Researchers and policy makers working in the area argue that the Kissidougou area once consisted of dense humid forests but today has been reduced to patches of forest because of rapid population growth and a breakdown of traditional forms of social organization. Policies meant to address these perceived causes have resulted in major social and economic changes for local groups in the region. Fairhead and Leach examine historical aerial photographs, past military maps and accounts, and oral histories to determine the changing environment of the region. They found that actual social-environment relations and vegetative change contradict the assumptions of causation built into current social and environmental policies. The findings suggest that local land use can be environmentally beneficial and that effective regional environmental management has traditionally consisted of a unique network of relations. Fairhead and Leach argue that new policies should be created that decrease external resource management in favor of local control. However, the article does not address local practices that are potentially harmful to the environment. It also fails to analyze possible motives of researchers and policy makers in developing and enacting current policies.
Smallholders, HouseholdersBy Robert NettingThe assumptions held by ecologists that the capitalist system is inherently unsustainable and the alternative view that small-scale cultivators are sustainable guides the policies and direction of groups within the environmental movement. Netting’s study compares small-scale cultivators with larger industrial agricultural operations in terms of their tendencies to operate as environmentally sustainable and socially just systems. Netting argues that the characteristics and practices that determine whether an operation is environmentally sustainable must be demonstrated in each case. In an analysis of small-scale cultivators, the study finds that environmental deterioration may still occur due to overuse of land and the growing use of high-yielding seeds, chemicals and machinery. However, the practice of monoculture agriculture associated with large-scale commercial and industrial enterprises was found to be less biologically stable and energy-efficient compared to small-scale cultivator practices. Therefore, small-scale farming that focuses on labor and land management was argued to be a possible solution to environmental degradation. The study didn’t thoroughly analyze all of the possible data associated with environmentally sustainable, socially just practices in its comparison of small-scale and large-scale agriculture. The practices of small-scale cultivators that were critiqued were those commonly associated with large-scale cultivators, such as overuse of land and the use of chemicals.
The Beneﬁts of the CommonsBy F. Berkes, D. Feeny, B. J. McCay, and J. M. AchesonHardin’s book, The Tragedy of the Commons, has made the notion that common-property models are inherently susceptible to overexploitation an accepted truth. His arguments have resulted in the nationalization and privatization of land resources. However, the article finds that Hardin mistakes common-property with open-access by assuming that there is no property rights enforced. Several case studies are analyzed that demonstrate common-property characteristics not considered in Hardin’s arguments. The article finds that resources within open-access communities are controlled and regulated by social pressure, as well as institutions, and that community-wide cooperation is common. The authors argue that privatization and nationalization are not the only solutions and can sometimes cause more harm than good. Therefore, they propose that the most viable policy solutions will involve a combination of property-rights and institutional arrangements. However, the article does not cover the appropriateness of these different property-rights regimes to certain situations. Political, social, and economic motivations behind the implementation of privatization and nationalization policies are also not discussed.
Ethics Primer for University Students Intending to Become Natural Resource Managers and AdministratorsBy Richard J. McNeilIn the article, Richard J. McNeil argues that it is important for researchers to begin building their understanding of the various ethical frameworks in order to better understand the ethical basis of people’s arguments and the conclusions that they reach. He points out that humans tend to employ a number of ethical theories in a consistent manner. By drawing on classic texts of bioethics, ethics, and morality, a brief overview of the fundamental principles and theories on ethics is provided to better grasp peoples’ ethical frameworks. He explains that there are five ethical theories, including Consequentialism, Rule-based, Rights-Based, Intuitionism, and Virtue Ethics. Beyond a theoretical knowledge of ethics, however, he highlights a more recent issue regarding who or what deserves to be included within moral and ethical considerations. In order to understand this issue, ethical concepts are elaborated upon, including the notion of moral considerability, moral agent, moral subject, moral community, and moral extensionism. Even then, certain situations arise where it is difficult to make a decision between two or more choices of actions. These situations are known as ethical dilemmas and are discussed, namely those between, truth and loyalty, the individual and the community, between short-term and long-term interests, and finally between justice and mercy. While the purpose of McNeil’s piece is provide a foundational understanding of the theories and concepts of ethics, he also introduces concepts that are confusing without going into detail. For instance, he states that people can use different theories and reach similar conclusions, and also states that people can use the same theories and reach different conclusions. He also recommends occasionally seeking consultations with philosophers as if philosophers are readily available and regularly offer their services in understanding the ethical dimension of a wide range of issues.McNeil’s article on the fundamentals of ethics provides an intellectual foundation for understanding and analyzing the ethical reasoning behind the actions and decisions taken by individuals living in the United States who are choosing to practice sustainable-living in their homes and communities.
The Concept and Method of Cultural EcologyBy Julian StewardThe field of cultural ecology provides important methodological tools to better identify and explain how some cultural features and patterns arise out of the local environment. However, the issue persists of determining whether environmental adaptations prescribe particular cultural features or if there is still leeway for variability. Julian Steward employs the methodologies of cultural ecology and the concept of the “cultural core” to identify how cultures adjust to their local environmental features (29). He argues that the “complexity and level of the culture” must be considered in the concept of environmental adaptations and emphasizes three fundamental procedures (34). The first procedure involves examining the way that exploitative and productive technology interconnects with the environment. For instance, environmental features are more important in simpler cultures than in those that are more developed. The second procedure requires analyzing the behavior patterns associated with the specific exploitative technology used in a specific region. Local resources and natural features utilized for transportation largely determine social organization of exploitative activities. Finally, the third procedure involves determining how much, if at all, behavior patterns associated with exploitative activities influence secondary cultural features. For instance, cultural and environmental conventions may only be subjectively associated with other cultural features or be better explained by history. Steward argues that cultural patterns can only be understood as an amalgamation of environmental adaptations of the cultural core within the context of a level of each culture’s social coordination. As a foundational piece, Steward puts forward a epistemological argument and doesn’t provide any specific examples that demonstrate her arguments in practice.Cultural ecology’s focus on how particular technologies are used and influence cultural behavior and patterns within different environments is important consider in the analysis of how the self-sustainability community operates within the various regions of the United States. The three fundamental procedures that Steward puts forward can serve as a useful and relevant methodological approach examining how sustainable practices and renewal technologies are adopted and utilized in the United States.
A View from a Point: Ethnoecology as Situated KnowledgeBy Virginia D. NazareaSeeking to understand how environmental components are interpreted and categorized locally is an essential first step in dispelling the assumptions of the superiority of Western scientific traditions that have lead to confusion and misguided policies. However, Virginia Nazarea argues that debates within ethnoecology to determine whether environmental classificatory systems are obtained at the perceptual level and whether perception is guided by culture are not at odds. Furthermore, she argues that such undertakings ignore the role of other areas of human experience on perceptual frameworks, as well as the role that classificatory systems themselves play, both in policy and the practical everyday experiences of people within a society. Nazarea draws from a wide variety of earlier papers by Hunn, Ellen, Conklin, Meinig, and Bourdieu to support her applied methodological and theoretical approach to ethnoecology. She argues that ethnoecology needs to shift more focus in developing integrated models that reveal the plans of action that are inherently derived from perceptually-shaped environmental classificatory systems. Within that investigation the influential role of historical and political power structures needs to be taken into consideration. In addition, the perceptual position of the researcher “taken from a point, from a determinate position in an objective social space” must also be acknowledged (106). Transforming the very perception of classificatory models from static to dynamic systems situated in a much wider context. Nazarea does not discuss any specific examples outlining how these various factors work in a culture. Instead, she only puts forward a basic theoretical foundation for moving forward.The article serves as both a challenge and a framework for analyzing the classificatory systems of the sustainable living community within the United States. It provides valuable theoretical and methodological approaches to investigate deeper the action plans of self-sustainability practitioners.
The Environment as Geopolitical Threat: Reading Robert Kaplan’s “Coming Anarchy”By Simon DalbyDalby’s article serves as a critical review of Robert Kaplan’s article, “Coming Anarchy.” In Kaplan’s article, the environment is identified as a grave security threat, a concern growing in popularity and which has significant implications for geopolitical discourses and subsequent policy direction. Dalby points out that Kaplan’s arguments tend to ignore the interconnectedness of broader social, economic and political process that underpin much of the local violence, poverty, and environmental degradation that persists within underdeveloped countries. Nevertheless, the assumptions are widely shared amongst policymaking circles of developed countries and are shifting attention away from humanitarian efforts towards policies of national security and isolationism. In order to understand the argument that is causing this shift, Dalby analyzes Robert Kaplan’s popular cover story from the February 1994 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine. In it, Dalby finds an argument that blames environmental stresses for widespread social collapse. The magazine reinforces this theme with images of war, disease, crime, and overpopulation in third world countries and suggests of similar potential dangers spilling into developed countries. To Dalby, the presence of consumer advertisements provides an ironic contrast, which implies that the issue, while global, is divided across clear lines between the developed and the underdeveloped worlds. While these contrasts exist throughout Kaplan’s article, Dalby argues that the legacies of the colonial past as well as the roles of broader economic and political processes are completely left out of the discussion. Instead, the focus shifts away from international relations in order to discuss ethnic violence and environmental degradation in isolation. Dalby, however, doesn’t elaborate the extent to which international policies shape the local problems that are discussed by Kaplan. As such, alternative policy arrangements are not put forward or discussed.Dalby’s critique of Kaplan’s argument identifying the environment as security threat serves to ground any discussion of self-sustainability practices within wider international contexts. His discussion on the role of international relations provides valuable insights towards identifying the interconnectedness and implications within the local environment and social order.
The Growth of World UrbanismBy Charles RedmanThe archaeological record can demonstrate the growth and decline of great civilizations in the past and offer opportunities to evaluate the problems and develop solutions to resolve similar issues faced today. At the same time, the archaeological record is incomplete and gathering all the relevant data is difficult or impossible. Charles Redman examines several recent archaeological projects of past civilizations in Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, as well as the Hohokam culture of North America as useful case studies into human-environment interactions of the past. He found that in all three civilizations population growth, agricultural innovation, urbanization, social organization, and political centralization were key factors in both their growth and decline. As these societies found innovative ways to operate within their environments and develop both economically and socially, the very processes began to transform the human-environment interaction. While systems grew progressively more complex, short term political interests and economic growth began to play a key role in decision-making processes. The rise of elites meant their needs took precedence over the rest of society and the adaptability to potential threats was significantly reduced. However, growth amongst human populations is argued to be a dynamic variable that is responsive to a number of factors that support its growth, stability and decline. Technology is identified as one of the influential factors to population growth, enhancing the productivity of a local environment and supporting population growth. Redman, however, does not explore alternative theories of the growth and decline of past civilizations that provide plausible explanations of the same phenomenon. He also doesn’t sufficiently point out that several arguments at least partially hypothesized due to the incomplete archaeological record of the societies.
Economic Growth and the EnvironmentBy Theodore PanayotouThe perceived relationship between economic growth and environmental quality has important implications for a country’s economic development policies. Competing theories of whether the environment is negatively impacted at a degree parallel to economic growth, inversely to economic growth, or at a shifting rate that increases and then decreases according to an economic threshold each imply very different policy approaches.Panayatou examines the third hypothetical relationship, known as the Economic Kuznets Curve (EKC), which argues that economic growth and environmental quality share an inverted, U-shaped relationship. A number of studies testing for different pollutants are explored and compared with one another. Panayatou finds a wide range of variability depending on the particular pollutant being examined. He argues that income-environment relationships may be influenced by policy the presence or absence of policy interventions.Panayatou also states that it’s important to consider the temporal nature of development and the effect that may have on the income-environment relationship. According to the EKC, both a low-income country that is perpetually underdeveloped and a country experiencing rapid development can have irreversible consequences to the quality of local environments.Panayatou briefly mentions introducing other factors, such as “the scale of economic activity,” “the composition or structure of economic activity,” and “the effect of income on the demand and supply of pollution abatement efforts” (321). However, it is unclear whether he is calling for replacing or improving the EKC model.
The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development” and Bureaucratic Power in LesothoBy James Ferguson with Larry LohmannGovernmental and nongovernmental agencies spend massive amounts of money and effort on development projects every year in order to provide aid and assistance to countries in the developing world. However, despite consistent efforts, many of these projects persistently fail to achieve their goals. Ferguson and Lohman examine development projects within the African country of Lesotho over the past several decades as well as international reports of the region that helped shape the policy actions of the projects. They find that reports on Lesotho portray the country as a “traditional subsistence peasant society” that bears little resemblance to the present or historical situation of Lesotho (414). Ferguson and Lohmann argue that a one-size-fits-all narrative of developing countries allows development agencies to formulate initiatives as a universal framework.Development planners operating in Lesotho also regarded their role as apolitical and actively chose to ignore the presence of elites or institutional corruption within internal government institutions. A project in Lesotho to promote the commercial productivity of the country’s livestock contradicted the deeply embedded social and economic role of livestock. As a result, the project was met with resistance and incited social discord. Ultimately, development projects in Lesotho had the unintended consequence of aiding the government in building a much stronger presence in the regions targeted by development projects.Pointing out the futility of development projects initiated by agencies of the developed world, Ferguson and Lohman seem to suggest that what is required is the dismantling of larger, systemic political and economic inequalities and injustices in the world. While this may be seen as idealistic, grassroot solutions that start at the individual level but have far reaching consequences to the current power structures can affect positive change. Smallholder practices in the American context can disrupt environmentally damaging market practices while demonstrating the viability of certain practices in developing countries.
Friction: An Ethnography of Global ConnectionBy Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing The advent of issues at the global level has served as an impetus that has connected a broad and diverse range of people from around the world through global movements. According to Tsing, these cultural interactions are consistently producing new and unpredictable cultural forms between different cultures. However, she argues that popular assumptions regarding the domination of simpler societies by imperial powers, followed by their inevitable integration into a global culture are inadequate in explaining the complexity of these interactions. In fact, Tsing contends that every culture is “shaped and transformed in long histories of regional-to-global networks of power, trade, and meaning.” She points out that it has been more difficult, however, to argue that this dynamic works in both directions in the interactions between the powerful and the less powerful.In order to confront this challenge, Tsing proposes a new theoretical foundation that will more readily accept the unpredictable nature of the shared spaces of global interactions. In order to do so, she employs the concept of friction, which she describes as the “awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” that she believes ultimately shapes all human cultures. Extending the metaphor, Tsing also notes how roads facilitate travel while limiting choice, corresponding to the historical trajectories of cross-cultural interactions. Furthermore, she explains that friction in a more literal sense is disruptive and can lead to unexpected consequences in the objectives and trajectories of global powers.By utilizing the concept of friction as a theoretical framework for studying global interactions, Tsing argues that these encounters can be studied as “sticky engagements” operating in the real world rather than as predictable truths and outcomes.While Tsings’ argument of the relevance of the metaphorical concept of friction is convincing to me, the small chapter, “An Ethnography of Global Connection,” gives short shrift to real-world examples that demonstrate how the concept can be applied. However, I believe it does exactly what it intends to do, which is to promote friction as a theoretical framework for analyzing and understanding global interactions across different cultures. Tsing furthers our understanding of how and why popular assumptions still persist even within academia today. In Smallholders, Householders, Robert Netting discusses the many misconceptions regarding both small-scale intensive agriculturalists around the world, as well as the inevitable result of their interaction with market economies. Netting’s work is in a way a collection of case studies that demonstrates how global powers perceive of practices of smallholder households, how smallholder households persist even with the introduction of market economies, and how, ultimately, Western society can and should learn from them.
Bottled Water: The Pure Commodity In the Age of BrandingBy Richard Wilk Over the past few decades water has been transformed from a relatively free resource into an important consumer good through ingenious marketing that has successfully employed the “historically grounded cultural meanings” of water. Despite the growth in bottled water as a commodity, Richard Wilks points out that bottled water has been tested and proven in many cases to be no different in either taste or quality than regular tap water. This reality has made the idea of bottling water politically, ecologically, economically, and morally offensive for many people, yet its presence is ubiquitous in modern societies. On the other hand, Wilk’s explains that public utilities, including tap water, have become synonymous with dysfunctional bureaucracies and are viewed as mysterious and potentially dangerous risks. Even while findings by scientists and risk analysts show minimal and progressively shrinking risks associated with public utilities.Wilk’s examines the advertising and labeling of bottled water, as well as conducts several marketing and consumer surveys in order to better understand the role that marketing has had in the rise of the bottled water industry. He finds that many of the marketing devices of modern consumer culture have been employed for bottled water products in order to increase their perceived value. For instance, images and metaphors of nature are often used in the labeling and packaging of bottled water to elicit thoughts of pristine and natural environments. At the same time, marketing of water also tends to emphasize the use of state-of-the-art technology to enhance and filter the water. Other brands use scientifically-generated additives in order to make health claims and market a wide range of benefits for drinking a particular brand.The various price-points of bottled water promotes distinctions of social class, while other marketing techniques target a specific age and gender with benefits and packaging particularly suited to that demographic. Exotic and distant locations across both time and space are also evoked in order to increase a sense of exclusivity and exoticism. Taken together, all of these marketing practices have served to transform people’s perception of water from a relatively free resource and a human right, to a valuable commodity to be bought and sold. These two notions of water are inherently contradictory and give rise to resistance of water as a commodity, as well as political activism that seeks to raise a greater awareness of global inequality in the access to clean and safe drinking water.However, Wilke’s argues that the rise of bottled water is as much the failure of governments to be transparent and open to public scrutiny as it is to the marketing of the bottled water industry. Fundamentally, he believes the issue is one of trust and mistrust of powerful forces in both government and private industry, neither of which people have any control over.The demonstrated opacity and lack of real choice between water providers points to a greater need for transparency and real choice. The solutions could potentially include greater accountability of government and private industry, as well as greater personal control over individual and family sustenance. In Smallholders, Householders,Robert Netting makes the case of the self-sufficiency through maintaining the means of production by small-scale intensive agriculturalists across the globe. These solutions don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but the example of smallholder, householders’ lifestyle is instructive in both the concerns of consumers today and a possible policy path forward in government and private interactions with citizens and consumers.
Endangered Forests, Endangered People: Environmentalist Representations of Indigenous KnowledgeBy J. Peter BrosiusResistance to logging companies by indigenous Penan communities in Malaysia in the early 1980s drew international attention and positioned them as iconic representatives for many environmental campaigns across the globe. However, Brosius points out that representations of indigenous knowledge portrayed by the environmental movement has raised serious concerns for the consequences of the appropriation and deployment of indigenous knowledge. Brosius argues that environmentalist’s deliberately transform the substance and complexities of both ethnographic accounts and interactions with indigenous peoples into discourses laden with Western-centric values in order to serve as persuasive arguments for environmentalist agendas.To illustrate how environmentalist discourse transforms indigenous knowledge, Brosius conducts a comparative analysis between an ethnographic account of the Penan that he himself wrote, titled “River, Forest and Mountain: The Penan Gang Landscape” and several texts written by ethnobotanist Wade Davis and environmental activist Thom Henley, including the book Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rainforest. He discovers a number of inaccuracies in their retelling of his ethnographic accounts regarding Penan resource management and their concept of Molong that indicates ownership of particular trees. No distinction is made between Eastern and Western Penan traditions, they misconstrue the practice of Molong as being a system of direct inheritance, and they include a number of other objects, plants and spaces within the concept, all while infusing their rhetoric with an air of mysticism and spirituality.Davis and Henley also draw on Brosius’ ethnographic account of the Penan’s rich vocabulary used for talking about their landscape, including the naming strategy of environmental features that preserves certain histories, genealogies, and identities. What Brosius finds in Davis and Henley’s retelling is a complete transformation from the original account into “an obscurantist, essentializing discourse which in fact elides the substantive features of that knowledge.” Finally, in their rhetoric of medicinal plants, Davis describes the Penan’s belief system surrounding their use of medicinal plants as a “magico-religious belief” coupled with a deep-rooted knowledge that can be potentially important to Western medicine. Brosius has found in his own return visits the surprising frequency in which the loss of medicinal plants is brought up by Penan people, which signifies the full-circle adoption of environmentalist rhetoric as their own rallying cry against deforestation.In fact, Robert Netting also confronts many assumptions and politically-motivated representations of small-scale intensive agriculturalists around the world in his book Smallholders, Householders as well. Smallholders are either held up as utopian, egalitarian societies that practice communal traditions and enjoy full equality or backwards traditionalists that practice economically irrational subsistence lifestyles. The fundamental issue of “who talks for whom and who constructs representations of whom” that Brosius points to as critical to the futures of indigenous peoples is equally true for the small-scale intensive farming communities and their particular form of livelihood.
The Power of Environmental Knowledge: Ethnoecology and Environmental Conﬂicts in Mexican ConservationBy Nora Haenn In the development of agricultural and environmental policies that involve a number of diverse stakeholders it is important to examine the ways in which different meanings associated with the environment frame debates and contribute to conflicts. The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Southeast Campeche is a protected tropical area in Mexico that involves a number of diverse stakeholders including farmers, environmentalists, researchers and government agents. Haenn argues that many of the conflicts over the Calakmul Reserve are caused by the different sets of meanings and definitions that each participant operates under.Haenn examines the various conflicts that arose in the Calakmul Reserve by drawing on Nazarea’s emphasis on the importance of understanding “ethnoecologies as situated knowledge within overlapping power structures.” Over a 14 month period of participant observation in the Calakmul region, as well as text analysis of various policy and research papers on Calakmul, Haenn explores how divergent constructs have incited conflicts. What she found was that despite similarities in land classification systems between subsistence farmers, or Campesinos, and the scientific research community, two fundamental difference between the two systems exist. First, the Campesinos viewed the forests as places of work and used forest growth as identifiers of past human activities. Conversely, policy and research papers defined forest growth in the complete absence of human activities. Secondly, changes within the forests are intimately tied to short-term market conditions for the Campesinos, while researchers and environmentalists attribute the long-term absence of human disturbance to overall forest health. These conflicts of understanding lead the Campesinos to believe that there were ulterior motives in the setting aside of land and motivated them to resist conservation efforts.Government agents like Calakmul’s ﬁrst Reserve Director, Deocundo Acopa, viewed the differing positions between the Campesinos and the more affluent researchers and environmentalists from the perspective of a power struggle between the powerful and the powerless. At the same time, as the Director of a government-funded agency, Acopa was tasked with winning the support of the Campesinos for the ruling political party, the PRI. Interestingly, the Campesinos learned how to take advantage of the resulting vagueness of the conservation policies at Calakmul. They adopted the rhetoric of environmentalism and conservation in order to gain new economic and political benefits while maintaining their use of land for subsistence livelihood.Haenn’s observation that Campesinos viewed forest regeneration as part of the necessary cycle of the forest/human activity relationship is interesting because it not only implies a temporary use of land, but a symbiotic relationship between human activity and the environment. This, coupled with their observed respect for protected areas, such as archaeological sites, leads one to believe that some form of localized sense of sustainability does exist and can be utilized to seek common grounds in environmental management projects. As Haenn points out, “it would not be surprising if this environmentalism built on notions of work to stress political autonomy and secure access to natural resources.” The protestant work ethic evident in early American history correlates with the Campesinos, and smallholders, notions of work. Yet, while industrialization and technology have isolated Americans from Nature, the conceptual structures of work of both Campesinos and Smallholders are still fundamentally linked with the environment. In this way, a policy approach that recognizes the livelihood strategies practiced by Campesinos and informed by the research on smallholder, householders conducted by Robert Netting could form the foundation of both effective conservation and economic security of both parties.
Ester Boserup’s Theory of Agrarian Change: A Critical ReviewBy David GriggAccording to Grigg, the Theory of Agrarian Change, put forward by Ester Boserup is a complex theoretical framework that supports a long held assumption within economic literature that population growth causes economic growth. Grigg claims that instead of an increase in food supply that allows for a larger population, Boserup portends that it is population pressure that motivates an intensification of agricultural activities within a unit of land. Grigg believes that there are many explicit and implicit assumptions within Boserup’s theory that needs to be addressed. In order to do so, he conducts a critical review of Ester Boserup’s writings and utilizes the writing’s of other academics to elaborate upon them.Grigg argues that while Boserup assumes that population growth is an independent variable, the fundamental cause and effect relationship of population growth and economic growth has been historically hard to determine. That the theory limits its analysis to farmers in pre-industrial societies and that these are primarily interested in reaching a reasonable output per head and secondarily on maximizing their leisure. Grigg also finds that the theory assumes that farmers are only compelled to utilize known agricultural strategies when provoked by population growth. He points out that Boserup considers environmental conditions to have negligible impact on land use intensification relative to population pressure. That she excludes the possibility that farmers will seek to expand their land for agriculture use when prompted by population growth, thereby fixing the unit of land in her calculations.He complains that Boserup uses intensification differently than classical economics as the frequency which a unit of land is cropped. He asserts that what Boserup means by intensification requires more labor inputs in order to maintain the productivity of land, which leads to diminishing output per head. Finally, Grigg points out that peasants may not decide to intensive their agricultural use of a unit of land because of excessive capital requirements.The article written by Grigg appears to be a case study of bald criticisms with little substance in the way of details or counter-arguments. As it was written in 1979, I am sure that many adequate responses have already been made. In fact Robert Netting’s “Smallholders, Householders,” which utilizes Boserup’s Theory of Agrarian Change, does address many of the issues that Grigg raises. However, I will add that Griggs assertion that Boserups’ theory claims to “make labour more efficient” does appear to be a misrepresentation given my reading of Netting. According to Netting, smallholder, households sacrifice the efficiency of labor as an abundant resource for the greater objective of the productivity of land, which represents a scarce resource. Apart from population growth and land scarcity, Boserup also claimed that agricultural intensification only occurs when relocation or expansion of land is not a viable option. Furthermore, Netting argues that “Boserup neither claimed that demographic increase was inevitable nor originally explained why it took place” (Netting, 263).
The Lawn-Chemical Economy and Its Discontents
By Paul Robbins and Julie SharpThe American lawn, considered in aggregate, represents a massive amount of land that is spread across the entire country. However, it has become common practice over the years to input increasing amounts of energy and expense into lawn chemicals in order to maintain the American ideal lawn covered in majestic, green grass. Robbins and Sharp argues that this trend is environmentally, biologically, and financially costly and questions whether “it is demand or supply that drives the prevalent and growing application of lawn chemicals.” By conducting interviews with users of lawn-chemicals, Robbins and Sharp learn that the American lawn represents certain moral and class-related values that many people feel obligated to display despite concerns of the environmental impacts of lawn fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, they find that state and federal laws all the way down to the municipal level serve to promote high-input lawn maintenance in order to sustain property values. However, reviewing the historical trajectory of the agrochemical industry from the early 21st century, Robbins and Sharp argue that decreasing profits from the conventional agricultural markets has caused many chemical manufacturers to vigorously pursued the municipal market in order to make up for contracting agricultural markets.Through exclusive agreements with formulator companies and a steady increase in lawn chemicals, the market for nonagricultural pesticides has grown worldwide. While Robbins and Sharp have found that movements of resistance that have risen in response to the onslaught of the nonagricultural chemical market have had some success at the municipal level, they have caused disputes amongst neighbors as well. Alternative landscapes are being promoted by organizations in both the US and Canada to resist lawn norms and encourage local biodiversity. However, municipal-level prohibitions and federal regulations of lawn chemicals have been met with fierce campaigning by chemical manufacturers.Robbins and Sharp argue that the “socioeconomic force relations” of social norms, municipal regulations, and industry dependence serve to propagate the high-maintenance lawn as a normative practice. However, they also point out that grassroots movements are continuing to challenge current practices and to promote alternative practices. As they say, “Struggles with capitalism do indeed seem to begin in the back yard.”Smallholder intensive agricultural practices are one possible alternative to high-input, chemically-treated lawns that goes beyond aesthetic appeal. The productive use of the urban, suburban, and rural landscape can reshape the way Americans view their private and community properties by appealing to their intrinsically American values of private property, self-sufficiency, and even market participation.
Rural Household Demographics, Livelihoods and the EnvironmentBy Alex de Sherbinin, Leah VanWey, Kendra McSweeney, Rimjhim Aggarwal, Alisson Barbieri, Sabina Henry, Lori M. Hunter, Wayne Twine, and Robert WalkerThe diverse livelihood strategies of rural smallholders has important implications for the environment as their activities utilize natural resources for subsistence and to leverage regional markets. However, their relationship with the local environment is mediated between a complex set of contextual factors, such as the various forms of capital, institutional, cultural, economic, and global factors, which need to be taken into account on a case by case basis when developing health, environmental, and economic policies.Sherbinin et. al review a wide range of recent studies examining household population dynamics and their relationships with various forms of environmental change. Specifically gauging the Vicious Circle Model (VCM), which states that poverty causes a domino effect that leads to higher fertility rates, which leads to population growth, which leads to environmental degradation, Sherbinin et. al look at a number of studies that examine the relationship between household fertility and their use of natural resources. What they find is a wide range of contradictory findings between contextual factors and put forth future research questions to determine the different scales of analysis and extent to which households “‘externalize’ the costs of high fertility,” and why.Sherbinin et. al also examine how morbidity and mortality determine livelihood strategies at the household level, as well as how it affects environmental changes. A review of how the HIV/AIDS epidemic impacts household livelihoods by one study finds that mortality rates associated with the AIDs epidemic negatively impacts most forms of human capital, including a communities ability to maintain and productively utilize property. However, they present additional research questions in order to better determine the impact that morbidity and mortality have on natural capital.Furthermore, Sherbinin et. al review how out-migration is utilized as a livelihood strategy and its impact on the environment within the places of origin. However, they again find that a review of various studies “on the relationships between migration and environment shows mixed results.” They present a set of future research questions on this relationship, as well as its effects at the various levels and contexts. Finally,Sherbinin et. al review research on how household changes throughout a single generation, referred to as household lifecycles, impacts the environment. They find that Chayanov’s household economy framework has served as a foundation for much of the research on household lifecycles. However, very few studies have actually found a statistically significant relationship between environmental factors and household lifecycle factors. Furthermore, the studies that examine the links between environmental factors and lifecycle factors have primarily focused on frontier contexts, while little attention has been paid to established rural environments. Research of indigenous and ribereño communities suggests that older households “may not be motivated by the same factors as young colonist households.” They propose further research across different land and cultural contexts, as well as the influence that other contexts, such as the institutional context have on the relationship.This comprehensive review on how rural households’ livelihood strategies impacts environmental change demonstrates that popular theories that attempt to describe rural households are inadequate when describing these relationships and often fail when other contextual factors are taken into account. Netting’s theory of smallholder, householders, which utilizes Boserup’s theory of agrarian change in order to examine livelihood strategies across a wide range of contexts throughout the world may be a viable alternative to current understandings of rural household livelihood strategies and their impact on the local environment. In any case, Sherbinin et. al’s findings demonstrates that assumptions regarding smallholder, householders and their impact on the environment need to be reevaluated. My focus on smallholders, householders and their correlations with American values attempts to begin that process.
Protecting the Environment the Natural WayBy James CarrierEthical consumerism is seen as a legitimate market mechanism that allows consumers to lead more moral lives while pressuring companies to adopt more environmentally-friendly business practices. However, Carrier argues that instead, market forces have focused on consumers perceptions of ethicality that effectively shapes the way ethical consumers determine what is considered morally acceptable products and business practices. Expanding on Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism, Carrier points to the ways that commodities elide the contextual background of objects in order to present it in ways that conform to the conceptual categories that ethical consumers commonly associate with ethicality. Based on this theoretical framework, Carrier examines the packaging of Fairtrade coffee and a 2008 study of the practices and processes of a growers’ cooperative in Costa Rica, as well as ecotourism processes in the Caribbean and Antarctica. He finds that the packaging and websites of fair trade coffee products often include an ethnic smallholder in order to present an image of a self-sufficient peasant. However, Carrier points out that the focused presentation of an ideal smallholder peasant ignores the migrant workers, roasters, shippers and retailers that are part of the production and delivery process. The consistent and perpetual use of this presentation in the marketing of fair trade coffee, according to Carrier, comes to define the moral values of the ethical consumers themselves.He also argues that this same dynamic occurs in other industries, such as in the ecotourism industry, and he examines the practices of Montego Bay and Negril parks in Jamaica. These parks predominantly display fish and coral reefs in their marketing campaigns as representations of the environmental health of the park itself. These images are attractive to ecotourists, but implies a limited set of environmental practices at the individual or microenvironment level while ignoring larger ecological processes. By extension, Carrier suggests that consumers confuse the immediate properties of the object of consumption, whether it be a bag of fair trade coffee or a vacation to an ecotourism excursion, as representing the sum total of its production and delivery processes. He points out that this creates some odd responses in both the ethical consumer and in the ecotourism industry. Such as an ecotourist flying in a commercial airliner to Antarctica only to carefully tread around moss or an ecotourism resort purposely sinking a ship into the ocean in order to provide a memorable diving experience. In this way, Carrier argues that ethical consumers are themselves a market that businesses attempt to tap. For instance, the attraction of Montego Bay as Jamaica’s premier marine park has had the contradictory affect of being environmentally harmful to the parks ecosystem.What Carriers analysis points to is how the nature of marketing hides certain aspects of the objects of consumption while magnifying others according to the preferences of consumers. This dynamic subverts the well-meaning objectives of ethical consumers. While greater transparency and accountable can serve to better inform consumers, Carrier argues that these practices are a function of marketing. As an additional measure, consumers who are concerned with living more moral lives could take the means of production into their own hands when necessary, starting with establishing or intensifying agricultural practices in their own back yard. Smallholder livelihood strategies of growing part of their own food subsistence guarantees that they know what went into the production and delivery of the objects that they consume.
Neoliberal Conservation: A Brief IntroductionBy Igoe and BrockingtonNeoliberalism is presented as an approach that can automatically benefit people and the environment and easily solve complex problems with market solutions. However, Igoe and Brockington argue that such “rigorously formulated technocratic solutions” ignores the multitude of complexities that arise when addressing conservation policy. Igoe and Brockington set out to review common feature of neoliberal conservation policies using case studies. They open by defining neoliberalism as a bundle of processes, as opposed to just an abstract concept, including the processes of deregulation, territorialization, decentralization, and privatization. Igoe and Brockington find that while state-sponsored protected areas has been the primary strategy for conservation, privatization was promoted as the more effective conservation strategy. In this way private game reserves and NGO’s sought to reregulate through the state protected areas into market commodities.Referring to the concept of territorialization as the “demarcation of territories within states for the purposes of controlling people and resources,” Igoe and Brockington argue that territorialization has been utilized by neoliberal forces in the form of protected areas. For-profit businesses and NGOs have become key partners in national parks across the world. Large conservation NGOs, what is called BINGOS for big non-governmental organizations have also come to dominate the funding of environmental projects. Creating a situation where corporate interests are deeply embedded in environmental causes and making it difficult for NGOs to take a stand against large business investors. They argue that these investors also represent a vast network of actors that are highly exclusive. As seen, for instance, in the absence of any local partners in the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park website.These networks are also highly selective of which areas to invest capital into, ignoring areas with low perceived value and transforming high-value areas into spaces that are governed by nonlocal actors. While Igoe and Brockington leave open the possibility that neoliberal policies can contribute to conservation efforts and benefit local people, they argue that they don’t automatically do so.Land tenure practices of smallholders closely resemble private property, for instance, but it is practiced at a distinctly local level. Plots of land are claimed in order to put it to productive use and no more is taken than one household can utilize to those ends. These practices have positive implications in the conservation of land and bare some affinities to the neoliberal emphasis of private property and even market participation.
Difference and Conflict in the Struggle Over Natural ResourcesA Political Ecology FrameworkBy Arturo EscobarAnthropologists are beginning to raise awareness of how culturally defined paradigms construct nature in ways that differ dramatically from Western conceptions. However, these worldviews complicate conflicts over natural resources when nature is considered outside of economic terms. Escobar sets out to understand the economic, ecological and cultural differences that are having an impact on environmental movements and policies around the world. He finds that environmental economics operates within the market economy in order to document the “so-called externalities associated with economic processes.” However he considers this form of economic analysis to further market-driven ideologies. Escobar then describes ecological economists position that market evaluations can never properly account for socio-environmental processes. Finally, Escobar introduces the concept of cultural diversity as models that redefine environmental issues outside of economic models. He suggests that the diverse cultural meanings that are mapped onto nature by distinct human groups encourages “social groups and communities to engage in other types of development approaches and economies.” Escobar recommends fully embracing these differences and accepting that neither current liberal or neo-liberal ideologies can appease the demand for fully-realized economic, ecological, and cultural differences.Similarly, the perspectives and life strategies of smallholders should not only be given voice, but granted the right to their own cultural approaches of development. By furthering our understanding of these various cultural differences we can take the holistic approach and learn about alternative ways of thinking and knowing, while potentially seeing a little bit of the self in the other.
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