April Edition of Anthropology News Focuses on Climate Change

This month’s edition of Anthropology News focuses on climate change. I contributed a short piece titled “Managing Uncertainty in Rural Amazonia: Climate Change, Crop Diversity, and Social Networks.” Here’s the abstract: 

Most Amazonian smallholder farmers are accustomed to uncertain climatic conditions, often relying on traditional ecological knowledge and social network support to contend with the threats of drought and flooding.  Nonetheless, anthropogenic climate change presents unique challenges to Amazonian farmers and their resilience.  Between 2009 and 2010, record flooding accompanied by intense drought left devastating impacts on many smallholder communities in the Central Amazon, severely compromising production of even the most resistant crops, including the regional staple manioc.  Here I discuss the effects of these events on the production and management of manioc in communities along the Lower Madeira River in the Central Brazilian Amazon.  In doing so, I highlight both the vulnerabilities that farmers face and the mechanisms by which they respond to increasingly uncertain environmental conditions.  To conclude, I consider the ways in which anthropological research on agrobiodiversity management vis-a-vis climate change may serve farmers and policy makers alike.

‘Saving the Amazon’: Conservation, International Covetousness, and the Politics of Research

My latest article has just been published in Anthropology Today. If you’d like a copy, feel free to email me. Here’s the abstract:

Many justifications have been made for ‘saving the Amazon’ from preserving the ‘lungs of the world’ to protecting unknown botanical wonders that might yield cures to deadly diseases. However, Amazonians have responded to these claims with charges of ‘international covetousness’, interpreting such foreign interest as a thinly-masked desire to take control of the region’s natural resources. In this article I examine some of the counter-claims that have emerged in Brazil that reflect Amazonians’ uneasiness with such foreign interest in the region. Drawing from my own engagement with rural Amazonians, I share their critiques of the deep global inequalities that they see in conservation efforts and international research in Amazonia. To conclude, I discuss the value of ethnography and anthropological inquiry for encouraging grounded views of Amazonia that challenge abstracted notions of the region, including that of the monolithic rainforest in need of ‘saving’.

The Big Snake: An Amazonian Vision of Human-Environmental Relations

For the 2013 American Anthropological Association Meeting, I’ll be presenting on the panel Visions of the Amazon: Combining Materialist and Discourse-Centered Approaches, which begins at 10:15 AM on Saturday, November 23rd (in Conference Room 4G in the Chicago Hilton). Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Dam projects, road expansion, cattle ranching, and large-scale soy agriculture all contribute to continued deforestation and environmental degradation in the Amazon region today. But as humans are increasingly viewed as independent drivers of regional environmental change, the ways in which the Amazonian environment resists human control are ignored and overlooked. Drawing from ethnographic research among smallholder farmers, I discuss how rural Amazonians hold a de-centered perspective of human-environmental relations that recognizes not only the agency of humans but that of non-human others as well. Examining Amazonian folklore and the stories of Cobra Grande (the “Big Snake”) in particular, I argue that rural Amazonians view their environment as one of robust, defiant vitality rather than a fragile ecosystem in need of protection or a passive landscape open to human manipulation. To conclude, I consider the implications of this perspective for Amazonian conservation and development as well as its potential value for an alternative political ecology of the region.

2013 Ethnobiology Conference Podcasts

Podcasts of presentations from the 2013 Conference for the Society of Ethnobiology are now available online. You can find my presentation titled “Crop Diversity and Climate Change: Manioc Varietal Management in the Rural Amazon” and others from the conference’s plenary panel here.

Social Networks and Manioc Diversity – New Publication in Current Anthropology

My latest research article (co-authored with Chris McCarty and Charles Clement) is to be published in the December 2013 issue of Current Anthropology. It’s already available ahead of print through JSTOR. This is the abstract:

Social exchange networks play a critical role in the maintenance and distribution of crop diversity in smallholder farming communities throughout the world. The structure of such networks, however, can both support and constrain crop diversity and its distribution. This report examines varietal distribution of the staple crop manioc among rural households in three neighboring caboclo communities in Brazilian Amazonia. The results show that the centrality of households in exchange networks had no significant correlation with the number of manioc varieties maintained by households. However, household centrality did show a significant correlation with households’ perceived knowledge of manioc cultivation as well as the total area of manioc they cultivated. Although households with the most knowledgeable and active producers played a central role in the distribution of planting materials and manioc varieties, they did not maintain higher varietal diversity than more peripheral households in this study. This case study represents an important example of how social networks can constrain varietal distribution and contribute to low crop diversity in agricultural communities.