SandwormsThoughts from a free-range environmental anthropologistHomeAboutBarbecueSearch for:BlogrollAccounting for AtmosphereCulture and ConservationNatures/CulturesOn The HumanResistance StudiesThe Cheese PoetThe FireweedThe Raw and the CookedMetaSite AdminLog outEntriesRSSCommentsRSSWordPress.orgTagsACSCAikidoAnalysisBat NhabiofuelsblogbutterCancuncapitalist pigsClimate changecoersionconflictconservationcookiesCopenhagendeforestationDisneyficationEconomicsEggsenergyFacebookFoodgodless socialistshealth carehomemadeImagined FoodinsuranceMachiavellianismNon-violencePeak everythingPeanut ButterPowerpublic anthropologyQuakersradiorandomreligionseedsTestingtradeoffsTwitteruncertaintyViolenceWWFZombiesEcological Anthropology (in which I try to explain what I do.)Posted inUncategorizedon 05/31/2012 12:33 am by d0g3n |Edit

Over the past few weeks several people including friends and family members have asked me about my research, or about what it is that I do, exactly. I’ve given the usualelevator speech, but after reflecting a bit I think it may be worth me writing here in more detail. Partly this is becauseI’m working on writing my dissertation. Writing is a sort of emptying process for me, and so occasionally in order to write what I want I need to get other things out of my system. At the end, I’ll recap by addressing a few misconceptions I keep hearing when people talk to me about my research.

Anthropology is the study of humans. That is about as broad as you can get within the social sciences, and it encompasses everything from anatomy to zymurgy. Traditionally in the US anthropology consists of four fields of study: human biology, linguistics, cultural anthropology, and archaeology. Some programs include a fifth area, applied anthropology, that focuses on the role of anthropology in current affairs. Ecological anthropology—my focus—just means that the focus of the work is on ecology, or human-environment interactions.My dissertation research is on social and cultural processes in international conservation, specifically within theWorld Wildlife Fund’s (WWF’s) Global Arctic Program.

So, what does that all mean? Well, I’d say that we are all immersed in fields of culture and social relations. We tend not to see culture; in a sense culture is what makes some things seem normal or even inevitable. Why do we tend to eat three meals a day? Why do we stand in line so willingly at the hotdog vendor? Why do we get jobs and work for paper (or electronic) money? Culture is a process of shared knowledge and meaning-making. Not shared as in “I know certain things and you do too, so we are part of the same culture”, but as in “you and I function as a group to know things and determine what things mean.” Looked at this way, you might imagine that each of us is actually involved in many cultures: the culture of the community, of the nation, of the church, etc. And, you would be right. You might even imagine a situation where these many cultures arein disagreementon what a situation means.

Given that, I am looking at the process of international conservation in WWF and asking what culture contributes to the work they are doing. The international component is important because, in theory, people from different parts of the world might have different cultural approaches to their work. Or, maybe WWF is such a powerful organization that ts own culture trumps national differences. I’m also looking at social network structure–how people communicate within and between offices. I make pretty network maps like this:As of 2011-2012

Why is this my focus? I have a long-time interest in both environmentalism and in the ways that people form their beliefs and decide to act within the world. Biodiversity conservation is a knowledge-making practice, and I’m interested in that, too. We don’t just soak up “knowledge” from the world around us like sponges. We may soak up various types ofinformation–butknowledgeis reallyinseparablefrom values and beliefs. That is the subject for a whole other blog post.

The goal for me academically is to get a job teaching, writing, and researching, ideally with a link to ongoing environmental activism and policy.

Misconceptions (collected from recent conversations).WWF is not the wrestling group. That is theWWE. Make fun of WWF if you must, but there is nothing funny about the WWE.I am not anarchaeologist. I like digging, and I like old things, but my training is in biology, botany, and cultural anthropology. My wife is an archaeologist; feel free to ask her all yourdinosaur-related questions.I don’t work for WWF. That would arguably be a conflict of interest. My funding comes from the National Science Foundation.I am a scientist (see above).When I say I’m studying “social networks” that doesn’t mean the Facebook.Tags:anthropology,culture,knowledge,me,WWFAdd Comment»4 CommentsWe are not the 99%…Posted inUncategorizedon 10/18/2011 11:27 pm by d0g3n |Edit

…even though I am part of the 99%.

Since the movement(s) have been around for a while, I thought I would offer some musings on Occupy Wall Street (OWS). What this post is not about is the growing economic gap between the wealthiest few and therest of America.Others have covered that.It is also not about corporate power—if you want a rant about ending corporate personhood, I can deliver, but not right now. I don’t want to turn this post into a debate between liberal and conservative values becauseothers have done that, too. Here, I want to focus on one of the core objections to OWS from outsiders: that the movement lacks any coherent set of goals. Tied to that are some questions about values,representation, and process that I think are pretty important.

As OWS has spread around the country it has swept up many individualsand groups from within “the 99%”–defined here as the 99% of Americanswho are the least wealthy (as opposed to the wealthiest 1%.) The goalsof the movement are, for the most part, broadly consistent withthisdeclarationfrom the original Wall Street group.

What I find fascinating and hopeful about OWS nationwide are thecoalitions that the movement has produced and the process that OWS iscarrying forward. Where else can you find, however tenuously, Ron Paullibertarians aligned with self-avowed socialists? Dogs and cats livingtogether—anarchy! Well, that’s what some in opposition would say. Thething is, the OWS movement includes socialists, anarchists,communists, capitalists, libertarians, and probably some otherpolitical alignments that I’m not thinking of off the top of my head.This, to me, is the great strength of the movement. And, it is sodifferent from business as usual that some people understandably don’tget it.

During the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, I was a fan ofAlaska senatorMike Gravel. He was probably not going to win, but Ithought he raised important issues during the debates. Back during2007 following a Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and John Edwardswerecaughton tapetalking to one another about the need to narrow the fieldof candidates—because so many of the others were “not serious.” Withour usual cycle of political games, this type of winnowing happensfairly regularly, and it has a homogenizing effect on the resultingdialogue. Anyone whose views are too far outside the mainstream iscast out of the group.

The OWS movement puts a lot of focus into process, making sure thateveryone who is present has a voice and that silencing or rejecting ofvoices is minimal. Because of that, I can’t tell you what OWS standsfor—except by referencing the documents that individual movements indifferent cities have agreed to release through consensus. I can tellyou what I believe, and why that aligns with OWS (and I might in afuture post), but to characterize or represent the entire OWS movementwould be a gross oversimplification. More than that, it calls to mindwhat social scientists call the “crisis of representation”–who gets
to speak for whom?

OWS does well at casting a broad net, and members of the movement areusually careful to couch their language in ways that recognizedifferences. Some of the loudest voices opposing OWS seem to be doingthe opposite: they are willing to paint the OWS movement as “justanarchists” or “people who want to bring down capitalism.”

There is one segment of the 99% that OWS has taken it on themselves torepresent without their direct voice: those who don’t want the systemto change. By referring to ourselves (I include myself among the OWSsupporters) as “the 99%” we are glossing over important differencesbetween groups and engaging in a type of misrepresentation that Ithink we need to avoid—or at least see. When we claim to speak for“the 99%” we adopt a paternalistic stance. More than once in OWS meetings Ihave heard participants speak about the opposition, the “them” who arealso “us,” as being blind, or indifferent, or in need of education to
bring them around to the correct anti-wall street view. While I am allfor attempts atpersuasive argumentation, claiming to represent thosewho do not wish for our representation is an occupation of a differentsort.

The language of “occupation” is itself colonial—as referenced recentlyby Occupy Bostonwhenthey suggested that “Decolonize Boston”might be a better name. Ithink that it would be worthwhile for OWS members to listen carefullyto what opposing voices, and our own, have to say—not to engage in anargument over words, but to begin to articulate the ways thathegemonies perpetuate individual viewpoints. In the case of thediverse opposition, this means looking past Wall Street and toward other places where power relations are institutionalized. In the caseof OWS itself, it may mean looking at our own language. For example,is the movement’s focus on “wealth” (versus a focus on rights, orhealth, or power) a case where our own anti-hegemonic attempt atorganization is dominated by the capitalist paradigm in which wealthis the only valid measure of success?

We, whoever we are, and they, whoever they may be, have come to occupyour relative subject positions through historic processes involvingpower and social relations through multiple facets of our lives. Toaffect actual change in these processes, we need to form durablecoalitions that go beyond OWS—to build the skeleton of the new systemwithin the shell of the old. Doing so will require an attentiveness toour own processes and language, both in how we relate to one anotherwithin the movement and in how we relate to those outside. Toparaphrase Oscar Wilde, it may be impossible to use the tools ofcolonialism in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result fromthe institutions of colonialism.Tags:Occupation,OWS,RepresentationAdd Comment»1 CommentQuote for the DayPosted inUncategorizedon 05/06/2011 09:49 pm by d0g3n |Edit

If you believe certain words, you believe their hidden arguments. When you believe something is right or wrong, true of flase, you believe the assumptions in the words which express the arguments. Such assumptions are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced.
-The Open-Ended Proof from The Panoplia Prophetica , Children of DuneAdd Comment»No CommentsPublic Identity and the Headphone HegemonyPosted inUncategorizedon 02/27/2011 09:50 am by d0g3n |Edit

I started writing this post at the CBD meeting in Nagoya last October. Since I hate to leave my ‘drafts’ folder cluttered, I’m pushing it out the door–ready or not.

Institutions, broadly defined, are those rules that prescribe what counts as acceptable behavior. They may be formal laws or procedures or informal rules–like “you should stand in line and wait your turn to get to the cash register.” Institutions help to define our identity in certain contexts. They form the background for the types of social interactions that are possible in a certain setting.

At the CBD CoP in Nagoya, Japan informal institutions were in full effect. The clothing of choice is determined by the group with which an actor identifies and their role at the COP, including power skirts, suits-and-ties, business casual, indigenous attire, student chic, and rumpled academic. Within any one room, however, the key speakers were often dressed alike. In one workshop, a gentleman from Canada was talking about the planetarium in Montreal: “when you prepare to enter,” he said, “there has to be a cutoff. You take off your shoes and everybody lies on the floor. Everyone is at the same level, having the same experience.” What a wonderful metaphor for the scene in a UN contact group or assembly. Of course, people don;t all have the same experience–at the CBD or in the planetarium–but the institutional structures in place try to produce homogeneity.

Walking through metal detectors en masse was the beginning of a daily ritual that marked the CBD conference space as a type of sacred ground: where some types of speech were encouraged and others were considered profane or nonsensical. Whatever the outward clothing of an attendee, the simultaneous translation headphones perched on top of their heads marked them as members of a group. The institutions at work here–in passing through security, wearing headphones (whether or not participants were actually listening), or making clothing choices–may seem mundane, but they served to sever one portion of the attendees lives from their lives as homemakers, mothers, fathers, cooks, musicians, or amateur athletes. In doing so, the resulting discussions were constrained to an abstraction of the very visceral reality of biodiversity loss. Good, possibly, for the production of policy. My question is: does the inevitable institutional constraint in these meetings lead to policy that is as divorced from the daily bodily lives of people as the places where the policy is produced?Tags:CBD,conservation,Institutions,NagoyaAdd Comment»No CommentsLife in HarmonyPosted inUncategorizedon 10/23/2010 05:02 am by d0g3n |Edit

I thought I’d throw out some thoughts on the idea of harmony. This is something I may develop more in the next few weeks.

At the 10th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10), the theme for the event is “Life in Harmony, Into the Future.” Harmony is everywhere in the discussions: objectives are harmonized, initiatives work in harmony, biodiversity conservation and development work together in harmony. Sounds great.

“Harmony” is something I’m going to call a “yielding word.” Social scientists and lawyers have recognizedfighting wordsfor some time–those key words and phrases that, by their use, constitute an aggressive act. The use of fighting words is an example ofperformative speech: the speaking of these words constitutes an action in and of itself. Saying “the sky is blue” is a different type of action from saying “you are ugly,” even if the description is accurate. While fighting words typically mark conflict or social tension, yielding words as I am defining them are also performative, but do the opposite: they are anti-conflictual, and are, therefore, hard to speak against. Wait, you may say, why would you want to speak out against harmony? Which makes my point exactly. Other yielding words may be things like “happiness,” “peace,” “justice,” “love,” etc.. It is an idea in need of further development, but I’ think it is useful here.

Why, then, would I like to argue against harmony? I’m an Aikido practitioner, and we are supposed to love harmony, right? I’m not specifically arguing against harmony, but against the uncritical use of the term to drive specific agendas forward. Here it is useful to look at some of the ways that the term is being used.

At the COP10 in Japan, “Life in Harmony” uses the term “共生” which translates as “living together in health” or “symbiosis.” This is different from the harmony in Aikido, “合気道”, which refers to aligning energies. It is also different from “調和” which means peace, balance, or calm. All of these are potentially read as harmony. Harmony is being used at the COP in the symbiosis-of-all-life sense, but also in the sense of “harmonizing” agreements so that they do not conflict and, rather, build synergies. Harmonization in this context implies a win-win outcome. While this sounds great, win-win outcomes are notoriously difficult to achieve. Using the idea of harmony as a tool to silence argument against specific agendas echoes Laura Nader’s idea of “coercive harmonization.” Her idea is that conflict avoidance, rather than justice, is often the underlying goal of political processes. A conflict avoidance approach tends to favor the interests of the most powerful. Harmonizing with the interests of large governments and transnational corporations can lead to a redefinition of rights: away from things like the right to self-determination, and toward things like the right to engage more in the global economy. In the same way, use of other yielding words makes participation difficult by silencing contesting voices.

Aikido, mentioned above, is a form of understanding and attempting to resolve conflict. Perhaps the most difficult part of the art is learning to engage or turn away effectively without devolving into either simple conflict avoidance or the use of aggressive force. Harmony in this sense is a potential outcome of applying a goal: non-harming engagement. When harmony itself becomes the goal, both full participation and considerations of justice can be lost.Tags:Aikido,coersion,conflict,conservation,Power,yielding words.Add Comment»No CommentsShanusi, Biofuels, and Conservation Trade-offsPosted inACSCon 08/05/2010 10:47 am by Guest |EditSPECIALGUESTPOSTAt the end of last year, I arrived with two colleagues at the village of Nueva Italia near the border of the San Martin and Loreto regions of the Peruvian Amazon. After traveling three hours fromTarapoto, then half an hour down a rough logging road past small rainforest farms, we found almost forty people, with machetes, ready to march into the nearby palm oil development to fight against what they saw as an encroachment on their land. After convincing them to abandon their plans for a fight, we walked together to the site of clearing for the new palm oil plantation. With the sound of chainsaws echoing through the trees and uncertainty about what was going to happen, we were nervous about the possibility of being shot. Arriving at the plantation, armed security forces approached us. When the head of security arrived, recognizing that we were not all local farmers, a debate began that led to accusations from both sides. In many ways, that debate is continuing today.

The contested site is a 10 thousand acre palm oil monoculture, run by Palmas del Shanusi, of theRomero Group. The project has generated conflicts over deforestation, insufficient compensation to the state per hectare (5.5 dollars per hectare for 7000 hectares), and conflicts between local settlers and recent migrants of the district of Barranquita. The settlers accuse the company ofconfiscatingthem of their lands, destroying their forests, and convincing the state to block their entitlement procedures. The company accuses the farmers purposly settling in the borders of the monoculture to establish land rights which can then be sold to the company. The dispute between the company and the farmers for the usage rights of the forest occurs amid the state promotion of private investments and a generalized lack of governance of the territory.

The case of the Shanusi project and the conflict in Barranquita is helpful for understanding the socio-environmental conflicts related to biofuels. These conflicts are becoming more common with the increase in the demand for biofuels and policies that promote monocultures in the Amazon region. The act of selling large tracts of land in the Amazon region is already conflictive. If they were already deforested, it implies that there are peasants on those lands with some type of right over them. If there is still primary forest, it implies an attack on nature. In this case it is a combination of the two. Earlier interventions in the primary forest had left most of the forest standing: only the most valuable trees had been taken out by illegal loggers. We are not talking then about deforested and degraded lands, nor secondary forests, but a vital forest that actively provided environmental services. This puts into question the act of cutting down the forest to plant oil palm . The root of the problem lies in the strange administrative decision to change the use of land from forest to agricultural, which led to the sale by the Ministry of Agriculture of the land at the absurdly low price of 17.90 soles per hectare.

Despite the environmental discourse from the opponents of the monoculture, all evidence points to the fact that the motivations of the farmers are distributive rather than environmental. That there is deforestation is not the central preoccupation, but rather who carries it out and who benefits from it: the local population or an outsider company. Meanwhile, the interpretation of the incident by the Manager of Palmas del Shanusi is that with farming in the area all the forests are destined to turn into grasslands, which means that the oil palm plantations of the Romero Group will be the “lesser evil” of the two, in environmental terms. This conflict is not over. This is the kind of situation that happens when primary forests and the livelihoods of local people are traded off in Amazonia for establishing large-scale monocultures.




Tags:ACSC,biofuels,conservation,deforestation,energy,tradeoffsAdd Comment»No CommentsThe Machiavellian Nature of Saudi OilPosted inUncategorizedon 08/04/2010 07:05 pm by d0g3n |Edit

This week, negotiators are meeting in Bonn for discussions leading up to the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC CoP16). Faithful readers may remember that I was in Copenhagen for the 15th CoP in 2009. This year’s meeting is scheduled for late November/early December in Cancun, and already discussions are heating up. In addition to worries about what to doif no resolution is reachedbefore the 2012 Kyoto Protocol deadline, Saudi Arabia is raising a red flag again: this time to ask for reparations for money they would lose if the world were to cut petroleum use.

The kicker here is that Saudi Arabiawants to be paidfor oil they won’t–likely can’t–produce. There has been suspicion for several years that Saudi Arabia, along with other OPEC countries, has been progressivelyoverstating the levelsof their ownoil reserves. Add to that that Persian Gulf states are using an increasing portion of the oil they do producedomestically(up to an additional 1.5 million barrels per day by 2030 just for electricity generation). Add to that that, by some accounts, Saudi oil productionpeaked in 2005and shows no signs of rebounding.

This yields a picture of a situation where Saudi Arabia is faced with declining production and exports in coming years due to domestic use and geological fundamentals of supply. If only there was some way to get paid for all the oil that they don’t have to export! Enter the UN climate change negotiations. If declining production can be blamed on international pressure for climate change mitigation, rather than other factors, then perhaps the Saudis can still get paid. Who would foot the bill remains an unanswered question.Tags:Cancun,Climate change,Copenhagen,Machiavellianism,Peak everythingAdd Comment»No CommentsAdvancing Conservation in a Social ContextPosted inACSC,Uncategorizedon 08/03/2010 12:14 pm by d0g3n |Edit

For the past few years, I’ve been part of an interdisciplinary, international group researching conservation and its social complications. TheAdvancing Conservation in a Social Context(ACSC) initiative is funded by theJohn D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundationand administered through theUniversity of Arizona, with support fromUGAand members from the US,Peru,Tanzania, andVietnam.

The ACSC research process has focused broadly on the idea of tradeoffs: the proposition that when something is gained, something else is lost and win-win scenarios are rare if they occur at all. So, when a decision is made to conserve a resource, species, or ecosystem, opportunities are lost in some other domain. I am oversimplifying here since interactions between people and their environment are vastly multifaceted. A key question is, how do we take into account the complexities and conflicts of ecology and society and still make decisions? And, in the above sentence, who is this “we”?

At a meeting of ACSC researchers this week, we are discussing the next phases of the project and one idea is to develop an ACSC blog, with individual researchers contributing posts on various issues surrounding conservation and society. I’m not sure if it will happen or not, but if it does I may try my hand at contributing–since it would tie nicely with my ongoing dissertation research and long-term interests.

A blog has the added benefit of being participatory, at least in theory. If someone blogs about current issues and others with direct interest in those issues respond, then the text changes from a one-way editorial to more of a conversation. From a social science perspective, this may be one way to increase objectivity in research by giving others the chance to “object” to what is being said about them, as Bruno Latour has suggested:

If social scientists wanted to become objective, they would have to find the very rare, costly, local, miraculous, situation where they can render their subject of study as much as possible able to object to what is said about them, to be as disobedient as possible to the protocol, and to be as capable to raise their own questions in their own terms and not in those of the scientists whose interests they do not have to share!

I’m not sure if the idea of an ongoing ACSC blog will fly in the long-term or not. Even if it does, it may be that the group is not yet ready to open the project to the decreased control that a Web 2.0 experience would bring. I’ll keep you all posted as (if) this moves ahead.Tags:ACSC,tradeoffsAdd Comment»No CommentsBuilding an Ethical EconomyPosted inUncategorizedon 02/23/2010 10:00 pm by d0g3n |Edit

Last week I attended a conference entitled “Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace.” The speakers were previously recorded (in January) at the Trinity Church on Wall Street, and included Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury), Dr. Kathryn Tanner, and Dr. Partha Dasgupta. Their talks are availablefree onlineif anyone is interested in hearing them. I particularly enjoyed William’s talk, in which he stressed that market transactions are just one of many human activities and that they should be open to the same ethical critiques as any other actions.

About 60 people attended the symposium, representing local churches and community groups. 30-minute videos were followed by breakout discussion groups in four blocks over a two day period. Admittedly, this was “preaching to the choir” in some sense, but I found the discussion to be refreshing in light of the all-too-common link between conservative Christianity and the idea that markets are simply efficient means of allocating resources that ultimately benefit all people. To hear religious leaders say that markets sometimes work in ways that harm individual people, nature, and society at large was refreshing. The message that we make the economy through our actions (or lack of actions) and that we are responsible for making certain futures possible (or impossible) deserves to be more widely spread.

My friend C. said recently that most Americans want to see a free Tibet–but that very few of us are willing to avoid buying items that are made in China. Many of the people I talked to felt that ‘the system’ is too big to address. Ideas that came out of groups included living simply and focusing more on local economies and small companies. A bigger challenge that was raised was that, for some clergy, asking church members to rethink the way that they engage with the economy might be the last sermon they give.Tags:Economics,religionAdd Comment»No CommentsCopenhagen PresentationsPosted inUncategorizedon 02/05/2010 03:30 pm by d0g3n |Edit

I haven’t blogged in a while, so I thought I’d write a catch-up post. Back in December, I went to Copenhagen as part of my dissertation research intoWWF’s Arctic programs. The actual negotiations were locked down pretty tightly, but they were not the main focus of my research so it was OK that I didn’t get in. In fact, since the only agreement that came out of Copenhagen was drafted at the last minute by a small group of international leaders, I could argue that most of the delegates should have spent their time marching in the streets or attending public meetings. One thing that I realized in Copenhagen, though, is that my research is completely tied to climate change science, activism, and policy. There are certainly other issues in the Arctic, but climate change is the 800-lb gorilla.

I also want my research to be part of a more public anthropology. That means not confining my research to theoretical minutiae in academic journals, but instead doing research that has some significance for Jane Doe on the street. And so far, Jane Doe wants to hear about climate change, based on questions from family and friends. I’ll be giving a presentation to the localExchange Clubnext week and to the local Quaker group a few weeks later. So, I throw it out to my handful of blog readers: what do you think I should include in a 20-minute presentation? My inclination is to just touch on the science of climate change and focus more on the different issues debated in Copenhagen: climate debt, market mechanisms, climate refugees, localization vs. globalization. Thoughts?Tags:Climate change,Copenhagen,public anthropologyAdd Comment»1 CommentOlder Entries Powered byWordpress. © Copyright 2009-2012 Ted Maclin.
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