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Mark Johnson and Suzanne Clisby

Cosmopolitans are frequently characterized as living and perceiving the world and their environment from a distance. Drawing on ethnographic work among a small group of Western migrants in Costa Rica, we complicate this portrayal in a number of ways. First, we demonstrate that these people think in similar kinds of ways as social theorists: they too are worried about living at a distance from place and are seeking what is, in their way of reckoning, a more engaged relationship with their surroundings. Second, however, we explore the social context and corollaries of these migrants' attempts to bring together a putatively "modern/cosmopolitan" way of relating to place and a "traditional/place-based" way of relating to surroundings. Specifically, we demonstrate how migrant claims to transcend the differences between "tradition" and "modernity" create new forms of social exclusion as they, both literally and figuratively, come to claim the place of "the other."

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James Miller

The Chinese Daoist Association has embarked upon an ambitious agenda to promote Daoism as China's "green religion". This new construction of a "green Daoism" differs, however, from both traditional Chinese and modern Western interpretations of the affinity between Daoism and nature. In promoting Daoism as a green religion, the Chinese Daoist Association is not aiming to restore some mythical utopia of humans living in harmony with nature, but instead to support a nationalist agenda of patriotism and scientific development. At the same time, as I shall argue, this agenda may deliver positive benefits in the form of protecting the local environments around important sacred sites that are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

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Risky Environments

Girlhood in a Post-conflict Society

Donna Sharkey

Post-conflict settings often contain high levels of risk for war-affected girls, yet these same settings also support hope for them. In such contexts, what risks exist for girls and how do they construct responses to these risks? is article is based on an ethnographic study which included a cohort of fifteen girls who had been caught up in the decade-long war in Sierra Leone, a war noted for its gender-based viciousness. Having lived through horrific situations, a major task of these girls has been to make meaning of, and respond to, the risks existing within their post-conflict environments. Following an analysis of the current context of the lives of these girls, this article examines the risks the girls face in their daily lives and the strategies they employ as strength-based responses to these risks.

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Constellations of Mobility and the Politics of Environment

Preliminary Considerations of the Shipbreaking Industry in Bangladesh

Deborah Breen

Although shipbreaking—the taking apart of a ship—signals the end of the useful maritime life of a vessel, the process is also the beginning of the recycling and reuse of the ship's constituent parts and materials. The process, while economically and materially useful, is also fraught with hazard, to both the environment and the laborers who undertake the breaking down of the ship. This essay examines that process in Bangladesh, one of the most significant sites for global shipbreaking. Mobility is a central theme of this examination, as the concept connects numerous aspects of the study: the shipping industry, the impact of shipbreaking on the environment; international maritime policy; and local and international responses to the industry. The essay explores the interactions that arise out of the shipbreaking industry's mobility and material and the subsequent impact on the environment and people of southern Bangladesh.

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Ross E. Mitchell

The concept of ecological democracy has been employed to illustrate how rapid ecological and environmental change poses significant problems for existing democratic structures. If the term is to prove useful, however, it must be better conceptualized and empirically tested. This article addresses this challenge by first outlining key empirical intersections of environment and democracy, then providing a working definition of ecological democracy. Four plausible research hypotheses are also recommended to guide future analyses of ecological democracy.

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Constanza Parra and Casey Walsh

The articles in this section were written by social scientists from different parts of the world doing research on the complex relationship between human beings and the natural environment, and on the role of cultural ideals in shaping environmental history. The interdisciplinary character of the papers generates original insights about the socio-cultural dimensions of the environmental problematic, which have been neglected when compared with economic and political dimensions. This introduction reviews the contents of the proposed special symposium and situates the articles in relation to discussions about the social role of utopias, imagined and real.

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The Alaas

Cattle Economy and Environmental Perception of Sedentary Sakhas in Central Yakuti

Csaba Mészáros

Thermokarst depressions in the permafrost environment of Yakutia (northeastern Siberia) provide fertile hayfields for Sakha cattle economy. These areas of open land in the boreal forest are called alaas in Sakha language. At this northern latitude cattle breeding is particularly in demand of nutritious fodder, because cows spend nine months on average in winter stables. Therefore alaases are the focus of Sakha environmental perception. Sakhas not only dwell in alaases, but through their economic activities, they modify and maintain them. This process is based on control and domination rather than on procurement of food by a “giving“ environment. Villagers in Tobuluk (central Yakutia) consider the areas surrounding their village as controlled islands of alaases (hayfields) in a sea of uncontrolled forest. This article examines Sakha environmental perception in which landscapes and cardinal directions evoke and define each other, and characterize those who reside there. Due to the subsequent transformations of Sakha economy and lifestyle by the Soviet and Russian state administration in the last 100 years (collectivization, centralization, and decollectivization) the way that Sakhas interact with their surroundings has transformed radically within the four generations causing profound differences in the way generations relate to, interact with, and understand alaases.

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Allison D. Krogstad

In the Kaqchikel Maya town of San Jorge La Laguna, Guatemala, a fight to reclaim lost land in 1992, though unsuccessful, eventually led the community to become one of the first Maya towns on Lake Atitlán to have a garbage dump, a drainage system, and an environmental education agenda. The efforts of San Jorge, along with the efforts of other communities, have led to the creation of national organizations such as Coordinadora Nacional Indígena y Campesina (CONIC), and have attracted the a ention of foreigners with organizations such as Mayan Families. By striving to improve their immediate environment and learning about the global impact of their actions, the people of San Jorge La Laguna are providing both a physical and an ideological space for themselves in the future.

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Landscapes and Races in Early Twentieth-Century Peru

The Travels of José Uriel García and Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa

Rupert J.M. Medd

From the 1930s onward, Peru began to acknowledge its own intellectual travel writers who were committed to writing about national geographical and social realities. This can be evidenced by the output during the period of independent travelers and those connected to state-funded institutions such as the Sociedad Geográfica de Lima. The underlying position is that the act of travel and its literature can work against imperialism and, therefore, become expressions of patriotism. Here, the travel narratives of two prominent Peruvian figures are analyzed: José Uriel García from Cusco and Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa from Lima. Together, they provide valuable evidence about two different responses to the modernization of Peru while also representing the nation’s significant sociogeographical divides. The focus is on questions of history, coloniality/modernity, national identity, and natural resources such as water and wood. It is hoped that this will contribute to literary studies on travel and the environment.

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Expert and Lay Knowledge in Pacoima

Public Anthropology and an Essential Tension in Community-based Participatory Action Research

Carl A. Maida

This paper explores the role of 'public anthropology' in the dialogue between practitioners of professional and lay knowledge about urban quality of life. The focus is on community building in Pacoima, a working-class Latino community in Los Angeles, and explores how professionals and residents established an arena and moved towards common ground on environmental health issues, including lead and other toxic exposures. Similar to Pacoima, arenas have emerged in the more engaged communities, worldwide, where quality of life issues, such as health care, housing and the environment, are debated. Within these arenas, experts and laypersons have resolved disputes over competing claims about the definition of an issue, and for equity and greater access to common resources, or public goods, despite vast disparities in knowledge and perspectives that have been shaped by divergent occupational techniques, habits of mind and world images.