EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Rethinking research topics in the Anthropocene: anthropological collaborations in global environmental change

Location S-333
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Joonas Plaan (Memorial University of Newfoundland) email
Craig Ritchie (University Of Kent) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The Anthropocene has opened up new study topics, making us to rethink human-environmental relations. This panel is about collaborative ethnographical studies in environmental change, reconceptualizing the human condition in the Anthropocene, and deserting the Western idea of nature-culture dualism.

Long Abstract

This panel calls for papers about collaborative works on human-environmental interactions. There is a growing recognition that within the environmental context, the human imprint is playing a more significant role than ever before - the environment is the result of human 'environing' activities (Sörlin and Warde 2009), which has moved the humankind into a new human-made epoch, the Anthropocene.


The 'environmental turn' in the humanities and social sciences, emphasize the environment as an important part of their academic knowledge (Cronon 1996; Descola and Pálsson 1996; Biersack and Greenberg 2008). Despite the fact that, in many disciplines, the notion of the dualism between nature and society remains central in their thoughts. Furthermore, academic hierarchies and inequalities and the internal limits and intellectual tipping points of Western thought tend to scrutinize collaborations between different disciplines. Thus, a new dynamic of integrated approaches may be the answer to the challenges the humanities faces in the Anthropocene epoch.


Pálsson et al. (2012) are calling for the humanities and social sciences to fundamentally rethink human-environment relations in the Anthropocene age. This will necessitate significant cross-disciplinary collaborations escaping the nature/society dualism. "It is of the utmost importance that we identify the ideas and practices that nurture both our species, our societies, and the planet" (Pálsson et al. 2012). Thus, this panel explores efforts made to integrate anthropology and other social sciences into trans-disciplinary environmental change studies and calls for innovative papers on collaborative studies on the Anthropocene.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Working with coastal naturecultures in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Author: Friederike Gesing (University of Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyses emerging coastal protection approaches that “work with nature – and not against it", drawing on ethnographic material from Aotearoa/New Zealand and natureculture theory

Long Abstract

Coastal environments are primary locations where human-nature relationships are played out. Past and present human interventions attempt to fix the often very dynamic boundary between land and sea. The line between wet and dry, marine and terrestrial has symbolic and material qualities, which are translated into legislative and often also property boundaries. Where no room is left for coastlines to alter over time, coastal erosion turns into an economic, social and often also cultural problem, often addressed with coastal protection measures. The paper focuses on so-called "soft" protection measures, expressing a globally emerging trend to "work with nature" (and not against it). However, this "sociotechnical imaginary" (Jasanoff and Kim 2013) makes reference to nature in an abstract, universalized sense of "Capital-N" Nature (Castree 2005; Hinchliffe 2007). The paper uses ethnographic material from Aotearoa/New Zealand to analyse how this imaginary in the making provides a shared understanding of human-nature relationships for a growing community of practice. But as ensuing conflicts about hard and soft protection show, this emerging globalized imaginary only takes hold when it successfully links up with local naturecultures. A widespread do-it-yourself ethics and a specific New Zealand approach to nature restoration framed around the reintroduction of indigenous biodiversity are vital points of connection. "Restoring native nature" and "working with natural coastal processes" entangle to form a New Zealand-specific assemble of emerging coastal protection approaches that work with nature - and not against it.

Building a hybrid landscape: collective properties, collaboration and conflict in rural Emilia

Author: Lorenzo Mantovani (University of Bologna)  email

Short Abstract

Presenting an account of the history and ethnography of an Italian collective property system, the paper shows how the topic can become a fruitful field for a trans-disciplinary collaboration and open up new perspectives for discussing the relationship between humans, non-humans, and environment.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to understand how specific groups collectively shaped and changed the landscape they lived in. It begins with an account of the so-called Partecipanze Agrarie, which is one of the few forms of collective property established during the Middle Ages still present in Italy. From the beginning, the purpose of these commons was the improvement of uncultivated areas, mainly woods and marshes; but from the 19th century they had to resist several new aimed laws against collective properties. As a result, some of those commons disappeared and others had to change their statutes by closing the group in a patrilineal system and improving land drainage. From this emerged opposite views regarding the relationship between man and environment.

In a long-term perspective like the one pursued here, the traditional Western idea of the nature-culture dualism becomes problematic. A trans-disciplinary approach linking anthropology, environmental history and STS studies offers a new outlook on social, institutional and environmental change - emphasizing what Tim Ingold called the "temporality of the landscape" (2000). It provides a deeper insight into the creative strategies used over time by the commons to manage their collective resources and face new changes and threats. Moreover, it adds useful analytic tools for showing the role of non-humans and of new technologies in shaping a "hybrid landscape" where nature and culture entangle. The study of collective properties can provide a prolific field of collaboration for anthropologists investigating the human-environment relationship, and alternative strategies for land ownership and management.

Bridging the nature-culture divide: climate perceptions, global encounters and anthropogenic dilemmas in the Peruvian Andes

Author: Karsten Paerregaard (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines climate perceptions in an Andean community. It argues that even though the environmental impact of climate change is of great concern to the villagers they refute the idea of an anthropogenic world, which they find affirms rather than overcomes the nature-culture divide.

Long Abstract

Climate change is increasingly viewed as a global phenomenon that connects people around the world and makes their lives mutually interdependent. Many also associate climate change with the Anthropocene, a planet produced at least partly by humans. Few if any in the modern world are unaffected by these imaginaries of global climate change out of control but the way people understand its causes and account for the role humans play in it varies considerably. This paper examines climate perceptions in an Andean community and discusses how the population accounts for changes in the climate which they consider increasingly unreliable. It reviews ethnographic field data gathered through ongoing fieldwork since the mid-1980s to explore how global imaginaries of climate change challenge the villagers' ideas about the nature and culture. It argues that even though the villagers have adopted the global vocabulary on climate change and express growing concern for the impact their own lifestyle has on the environment they reject the idea that human activities in other parts of the world contribute to the environmental problems they currently are facing in the community. The paper concludes that even though the villagers' reluctance to subscribe to the global discourse of climate change and the idea of an Anthropocene world it generates makes them look like the companions of climate skeptics in the developed world, their reasons for questioning the discourse are very different.

Welcome to the Anthropocene: a Pyrenean multispecies critique

Author: Tony Knight (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Predicated on the nature-culture divide, neoliberal human activities are radically impacting the Earth. People seeking a rapprochement with nature contest this process. My multispecies study of pastoralists confronting Pyrenean large-predator rewilding exposes the flaws of Anthropocene mentalities.

Long Abstract

Welcome to the Anthropocene. Human activity is impacting every part of the Earth's geo-biosphere, its fragile (in)stability ominously reflected through anthropogenic climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction. Ironically, human capacity to be above, and to dominate, 'nature', is being contested by people who defy this nature-culture divide, who seek a rapprochement with nature. This is aptly illustrated in the French Pyrenees, where 'traditional' pastoralists are being confronted with the 'rewilding' of 'their' mountains.

Pastoralism is, perhaps, the oldest representation of human domestication of nature, and has been practiced in the Pyrenees for six thousand years or more. One result is that large predators, key actors in any ecosystem, have been almost extirpated: for local pastoralists, the 'wild' no longer exists. Today, however, brown bears have been reintroduced: the rallying call of the state and environmentalists has been that pastoral-predator cohabitation is essential for bio-cultural diversity. Complicating the situation even further, long-absent wolves have found their way, naturally, back to the Pyrenees.

This paper draws on my Pyrenean multispecies ethnographic research to explore these contested issues. By deemphasising anthropos, a 'multispecies' approach is anthropologically oxymoronic: I therefore draw liberally from history, geography, ecology, biology, STS, and philosophy to make sense of these complex epistemological and ontological issues. My approach clearly exposes the flawed premises that define our Anthropocene epoch. The realities of a holistic human-sheep-dog-bear-wolf-mountain relationship defy current neoliberal mentalities predicated on a nature-culture divide. Continued adherence might just cause the Anthropocene to become the shortest epoch in geological time.

Vis maior: rethinking the anthropocene through the anthropology of law

Author: Tomas Ledvinka (Charles University, Prague)  email

Short Abstract

The relation between law and anthropocene is reconsidered in terms of comparison between social control of vis maior through the mystical agents and legal agents of the modern nad non-modern legalities, and other concepts relating to the vis maior realities, discussed within the anthropology of law.

Long Abstract

The relation between anthropocene and law is conventionally obvious on the field of the environmental law. Although this branch of law is praiseworthy, it may be considered also as another control technique revealing anxiety, but invalid as a problem-solver designed for the cultural nature of the environmental crisis. This reflection is to broaden the field of inquiry of the anthropocene in relation to the law extensively, by rethinking it through the disciplinary canon of the anthropology of law with the assistance of the legal concept of vis maior. Natural disasters, economic crisis or killing of a man by wild animal, is considered as vis maior within the modern legality. Some comparative overviews of the "tribal" legal systems demonstrated that the tribal legalities do not cope with such events and forces as extra-legal, but rather magical thought still offer responsible mystical agents, not exactly to settle the dispute, but to allay vis maior factors in the situations such as earthquake, technological disaster or quarrel between brothers, which are behind them, or which cause them. One possible way is to rethink those mystical agents as the agents in strict legal sense in order to illuminate how the recognition of legal persons and misrecognition of mystical "persons" modify the small-scale moral order which seems to arise from the complex interdependence between the agents of particular community and those tensions and relations for which they are seemingly responsible. Those agents, whether legal/cultural or natural, are reconsidered as mediators/intermediaries (Latour 2005) in order to clarify the particularity of the non-human within the modern legalities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.