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.

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