EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W075)

Engaging resources: anthropological perspectives on the formation and contestation of natural resource environments

Location Humanities Large Seminar Room 2
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Gisa Weszkalnys (London School of Economics) email
Tanya Richardson (Wilfrid Laurier University) email
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Long Abstract

This workshop seeks to develop an anthropological perspective on people's engagements with a range of different natural resource environments, including extraction and exploitation, management and entitlement, waste and conservation, expectation and violence. We aim to move across different scales, from the smallest entities (human bodies, animals, plants, etc.), to distinct practices of use and interference, to large organisations and global projects. Together they constitute natural resource environments - such as forests, deltas, rivers, or mines - as terrains of governance, protection, and contestation. This involves processes of naming, framing, and translating between different knowledges, and intense battles between residents, experts, and transnational institution, each enacting these environments in distinctive ways. The participants in this workshop draw on the tools of ethnography, political ecology, STS, and history, whilst trying to understand how, as anthropologists, we can account for the formation of natural resources as a key site of contemporary cultural struggle.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The elusive resources of Kitui, postscripts of a colonial crisis

Author: Maarten Onneweer (Leiden University)  email
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Long Abstract

In the 1930s, driven by the world crisis and the need for export, the Kenyan colony's agricultural officers reassessed the Kitui district's resources for improvement schemes. In the districts first totalizing vision, Kitui's soil, grazing, water and forests received new economic roles and was organizationally separated from the local inhabitants influence. While only few schemes successfully materialised, they did provoke a genre of narratives among the inhabitants in which Europeans fail to harness tremendous material wealth.

Present day development projects encounter similar narratives in which hills and springs - the sites of 'natural' resources like water and the imaginary red mercury - become a sanctuary of certain powers resisting extraction by elites. In what seems a Latourian logic turned feral, these sites of 'natural' resources are known as "the culture" of the landscape. My presentation reconsiders the 'natural' of resources and the 'cultural' of opposition to development projects.

The paradox of environmental protection: denaturalizing the Scandinavian wolf through enhancement practices

Author: Annelie Sjölander-Lindqvist (University of Gothenburg)  email
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Long Abstract

Through state-initiated policies enhancing a viable Scandinavian wolf population science and administration have broadened their interaction with nature. Whereas the wolf traditionally has been considered as wilderness specie, the modern environmental discourse on the fragility and scarcity of biodiversity has contributed to changed nature frontiers on behalf of the wolf. Through inventories and motion-tracking devices, wolf-inhabited lands have become arenas for engagement and practices endowing the wolf continued existence in the fauna. As a result of recovery actions, the wolf is denaturalized; no longer perceived as wild and remote a process of 'culturification' is fostered. Instead of being considered a property of nature, the wolf has become part of the social landscape. Based in the environmental conservation idiom, administrators' and biological scientists' activities blur the boundaries, conferring the wolf a 'working animal' position in human society. Extraneous to nature, the wolf has become a cultural property of economy and politics.

The political ecology of a marine introduced species

Author: Ståle Knudsen (University of Bergen)  email
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Long Abstract

While most marine introduced species have a clear, and often dramatic, negative impact upon ecosystems, economy and livelihoods, some attain high commercial importance. Such cases entail a management dilemma: should the species in question be managed as a resource or as a threat to biodiversity? This paper focuses on the Turkish management in the Black Sea of the introduced sea snail Rapana venosa. In fisheries management is has been considered a resource, but scientists are concerned about the supposedly harmful fishing practice (dredging) and about the dramatic change the sea snail brings to the benthic ecology and biodiversity. I try to untangle the political ecology of how these practices and discourses are played out against each other and ask what kind of 'object' is it to the various actors involved?

Not about water - local discourse and social dynamics around a small reservoir failure

Author: Irit Eguavoen (University of Bonn)  email
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Long Abstract

Taking household water as the entry point to write an ethnography on a rural agro-pastoral society in Northern Ghana (Nankane) proved to be a suitable central theme to investigate social stratification, property rights, knowledge fragmentation, livelihood diversification and political economy of poverty. The history of resource rights, the organization of resource allocation since the 1970s, as well as the effect of missionary, state and development interventions on a particular small town and its people allow general insights to on-going processes of change and diversification. For water is omnipresent, it was taken as a matrix to document local perceptions, values, social dynamics, negotiations and conflict. The presentation intends to briefly outline the theoretical starting points of this work and to provide an example of a polyphone discourse around a small reservoir failure.

Crisis what crisis? Seeing Africa like a mining company

Author: Sabine Luning (Leiden University)  email
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Long Abstract

Currently, Canadian junior companies dominate gold mining exploration in West Africa. How do these companies try to persuade investors to put their money in Africa, a continent often associated with endemic crises? This paper describes discursive strategies deployed by junior companies to attract capital for ventures. It shows how patches of space in West Africa are framed as potential sites for investment, free of risk and full of promise. Definitions of risk - geological risk, country risk - operate as scalemakers, allowing companies to zoom in on promises and out on problems. Studying the social intricacies of these framing practices do not only require fieldwork at various sites (mining conferences in Canada, concessions in West Africa), but also expertise from different disciplines. The paper proposes how the articulation of research data from various places and types of expertise may facilitate the study of the international field of gold mining in West Africa.

Things that matter: resource curse, production-sharing agreements, and the spectacle of FDI in post-Soviet Kazakhstan

Author: Saulesh Yessenova (University of Calgary)  email
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Long Abstract

Oil is always prone to produce drama and spectacles: in exerting power and disguising abuse, oil exporters and importers have been routinely producing both. However, the most skillful of all in that business are those who control the flow of 'black gold' on the ground: oil multinational corporations. By installing secure industrial sites, they not only alter physical space; the imageries they create come to define the way the locality - its environment, culture, and society - are perceived from the outside; who the local actors are and how they should act upon the reconfigured realities. The assessment of industrial practice thus inevitably involves the unpacking of relations of power embedded in discourses on 'development,' 'market economy,' 'resource curse,' and 'transparency,' the essential tools of Western domination in the post-colonial era. In this paper, I try to reposition the oil multinationals in relation to those power-laden discourses and argue about whether they are conducive to 'good governance', and whether their goals and strategies are adequate for promoting sustainable development, market economy and democracy in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

The wiseman and the government

Author: Pascal Rey (CNRS)  email
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Long Abstract

In Coastal Guinea, two opposing forms of resource managements exist: the traditional one and the legal one. Given the strong prevailing sense of community, the local situation cannot be understood with current tools. This paper presents research conducted by the Observatoire de Guinee Maritime (CNRS/IRD/Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris) and by the author between 2003 and 2007. The research used an anthropological approach, focusing on an understanding of force ratios and their implications. In doing so, we can examine and assess the decision-making processes and local strategies regarding resource management within a communitarian context, where the modalities of control and limitation are placed under the authority of local powers. Simply focusing on studying "modalities", however, will not provide any conclusive results, as such modalities are not explicitly and clearly defined in the local context. Instead, they are inscribed within the strategies of households, lineages, or the village. Only a study of all of these strategies together can provide us with the keys to a global understanding of Guinean land and resource management. Our analysis underlines that local authorities have a real consideration for the natural resource sustainability. This makes the limitations of administrative actions on a local level as well as the official ignorance regarding local practices all the more problematic. In a context where the Government does not have the capacity to ensure a local presence, it would be pragmatic to consider the local structure, which follows the same goal: the maintenance of resource sustainability. This implies reconsidering the common perception of the Guinean peasants as predators of their resources and in order to do that, anthropology can contribute a lot.

After neoliberalism? Environmental justice and the politics of natural resource management in Rafael Correa's Ecuador

Author: Veronica Davidov (Leiden University The Hague)  email
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Long Abstract

For decades indigenous actors and indigenous-campesino alliances in Ecuador have protested against environmental negligence endemic in an oil state interpolated into the IMF/World bank economic framework. Through their strategic use of global media, environmental devastation from oil extraction in Ecuador has become an iconic issue in the international public imagination of global injustices, epitomized as the "crisis in the Amazon" or "the Amazonian Chernobyl." Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador since 2007, has been internationally perceived as "pro-environment" and "tough" on oil companies, but has elicited domestic opposition for supporting strong pro-mining laws. This paper examines the effect of Ecuador's shift from a neoliberal petrostate to a "newly progressive" state with a pro-mining agenda that is not (yet) internationally recognized as a "crisis" on the field of grassroots environmental activism in Ecuador and on representational strategies deployed by indigenous and campesino advocates for environmental justice.

A new semantics of nature: the extractive reserve as strategic power

Author: Manuela Tassan (Universita degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on the anti-essentialist category of "identity of nature" (Escobar, 1999), the paper analyzes the implementation of the Reserva Extrativista Quilombo do Frechal (Maranhão, Brazil), peculiar model of environmental protection. The case-study shows how the constant confrontation between the local community and governmental institutions that controls the Reserve has involved the need for the former to relate to a new semantics of nature, articulated around key categories like 'environment', 'preservation' and 'participatory management'. This discursively constructed political-managerial identity of nature, remains substantially autonomous in relation to the pragmatic identity of nature which is experienced through the incorporated subsistence practices. The very capacity to master actively the "language of the reserve" becomes a symbolic capital to be used strategically in the relations with authorities as well as in the political dynamics of the village. This perspective underlines not only the power asymmetries within the community, but also the importance of subjective forms of agency.

Shared environments: animals, humans, trees (and machines) in natural protected areas

Author: Humberto Martins (UTAD)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on an ongoing research (an interdisciplinary project in which anthropology dialogues with natural sciences and local knowledge[s]) in two natural protected areas in Portugal this communication will approach conflicts which emerge from different perspectives on the meaning and significance of protection, environment, landscape, agriculture, tourism and wildlife. In this spectrum of different (emic, etic, bioptic and abioptic) points of view, humans, animals and trees (as a metaphor for the non-animal elements of these socio-natural ecosystems) live in fragile alliances that are not only dependent of ethic (environmental and/or ecosystemic) values but also are representative of new and highly attractive economic opportunities. Moreover one must also consider different levels of agency. Local communities seem to 'creatively' resist while newcomers (more urban, more wildlife-concerned) arrive in search for relevant alternative ways of life. Equilibrium on what should be natural (and? Therefore? Human) protected areas is unstable and conflicts do not cease.

Protected areas, sacred groves: renegotiating forest resources around the Comoé-Léraba reserve (Burkina Faso)

Author: Cristiano Lanzano (The Nordic Africa Institute (Uppsala, Sweden))  email
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Long Abstract

Following the trend imposed by neoliberal forms of rule, natural conservation is being reoriented towards strategies promoting the participation of populations and the integration of local knowledge: this has involved new (and controversial) interpretations of ritual practices and symbolic representations in terms of an alleged "sacred ecology".

Drawing from my work around the Comoé-Léraba reserve (Burkina Faso), I will show how recent participatory approaches, supported by cooperation programs, have created a hybrid field where issues of conservation and touristic exploitation intertwine with the reevaluation of rites and cultural practices, such as the importance of sacred groves and shrines for Komono (Khi) villages.

This field has been the basis for reinforcing State control and creating a new ecological governmentality, but it is also a terrain of renegotiation of space, in a context where official and unofficial definitions of the forest and limitations of access to its resources continuously overlap.

Reframing forests and identities in a Transylvanian village

Author: Simona Niculae (Central European University)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper investigates the current changes of the relationship between people and the forests in a village in Transylvania, Romania. Deindustrialization, privatization of forests, liberalization of trade, rural tourism, and EU accession made people reconfigure their old bond and their dependency on the forests. Until recently miners and lumberjacks in state-owned extraction industry, they were part of groups of distinct values, identities and ethos. While rural tourism is increasingly seen as the path to follow nowadays, this reorientation involves an intense process - with multiple actors - of articulating new attitudes and various discourses on environment, traditions, nation. This study will look at this intricate process and how forests became the center of identity reconstruction, while the dramatic and long relationship with the mines was obliterated. Forests not only have new roles in a new ethos, but replaced mines in any link to the past, present or future.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.