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Environmental Anthropology

image of rice field landscape

Environmental anthropology brings together faculty with specialties in the anthropology of science, archeology, heritage studies, medical anthropology, political ecology and political economy.  The faculty cluster is broadly concerned with the ways that people grapple with political conditions that influence ideas and tensions about land, geography and nature.  As anthropologists we largely focus on changing human relationships the world over and throughout time.  Our research and teaching interests include chronicling issues of justice and accessibility posed by environmental resources, assessing new forms of stratification and inequality tied to commodification and various aspects of economy, developing new ways of thinking about interspecies interdependencies, and detailing the historical trajectories (including colonial, imperial, and military) that shape contemporary views about specific landscapes and the broader world.

Faculty in the cluster:

Andrew Bauer: My research and teaching broadly interrogate long-term human-environment relations, considered to include the political and ecological effects of the production of landscapes and the many material things and organisms with which people establish relationships.  I have several active interdisciplinary projects in the southern Deccan region of India, including a multi-year study designed to document associations between historical land use and contemporary ecologies on the region’s inselberg hills ("island mountains"). Drawing on this fieldwork and building on my first book, Before Vijayanagara: Prehistoric Landscapes and Politics in the Tungabhadra Basin, one of my current writing projects intersects environmental archaeology with a critical examination of the Anthropocene as an historiographical period. 

Lisa Curran: I work on the following: Socio-ecological dynamics of tropical ecosystems; Political ecology of tropical land use and rural agrarian livelihoods; Environmental justice; and, Policies and practices of industrial logging, plantations, and mining.  I have several long-term field projects in Indonesia: 1) Logging, oil palm plantations, & rural agrarian livelihood; 2) Ecological dynamics, fires, & carbon emissions in tropical forests and peatlands; 3) Protected area management & deforestation; 4) Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), national/regional policies, & land use; 5) Land use, hydrology, & livelihoods; and, 6) Oil palm mills, mining, rural livelihoods, & greenhouse gas emissions.

Paulla Ebron: My work on landscape leans in the direction of historical geography and environmental history as landscapes and enslaved laborers of the US Southeast were fashioned and were part of implementing a colonial project. I also consider landscapes of ruins, i.e., the ever-present residual effects of contaminated spaces haunted by chemical destruction and infrastructure deterioration.

Jim Ferguson: I have a long engagement with environmental issues, dating back to my dissertation research on a range management project in Lesotho (which resulted in the book, The Anti-politics Machine).  In more recent years, I have been interested in the social and political implications of wildlife conservation in Africa and the ways that claims of environmental stewardship are used to make claims for such things as supranational political and moral authority and rightful shares to cash payments.  I am also developing an interest in the environmental politics of deindustrialized areas in the US.

Duana Fullwiley: image of beach landscape My work engages issues of science, race and nature. In my book The Enculturated Gene, I detail how, through genetic maps, Senegal was declared to have an evolutionarily and economically beneficial “mild” form of sickle cell disease. This happened just as structural adjustment programs cut health sector spending in the early 1980s. This naturalized an ethno-national form of the disease in Senegal— whose population could be then left to their own devices, i.e., to care for themselves through their own genetic endowment. My second project book, Tabula Raza, engages with multiple contemporary genomic studies that center on diagnosing human “ancestry” for disease, pharmacological and forensic applications. Here ideas of continental ancestry are seen in racial terms and conceptually absorb the interplay of environmental selection and human relationships with other organisms.  In the next three years I am starting a new project on examples of environmental resource scarcity that seed new forms of ethnic tension. My focus is on several sites (coastal Senegal, the Spanish Mediterranean, rural Ghana, and Southern Sudan). This project engages new genomic solutions to environmental problems and asks how best to make explicit the place of politics inherent in science more broadly.

Angela Garcia: I am interested in a wide range of concepts and questions about the relationship between space, sociality and selfhood. One research project examined how cultural history, social relations and idioms of belonging are embodied in northern New Mexico’s rural landscape. Currently, I’m studying the relationship between urban informality, illness and mutual aid networks in Mexico City. A key aspect of this research involves interdisciplinary collaboration with an architect to ethno-graphically analyze the proliferation and nested-scale relationships of unregulated, residential treatment centers for drug addiction, known as “annexes” (anexos).

Ian Hodder: I am interested in the reconstruction of environments in deep time, and there are several teams that work on my Catalhoyuk project in Turkey that are involved in various aspects of human-environment interactions. At another level, my work on entanglement has led me to the view that the environment is either everything, or nothing (because there is nothing outside of entanglements), and I am interested in exploring the implications of this view both for a politics of nature and for a long-term evolutionary perspective. I am interested in the intersections between EA, New Materialisms and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.

Tanya Marie Luhrmann: I have a longstanding interest in sacred spaces and spiritual geography, and in the way religious commitments suffuse our relationship with the land. I have been doing comparative work on the way people experience spiritual events and the ways in which those events are understood.

Lynn Meskell: My research and teaching at Stanford explores contemporary configurations of natural and cultural heritage, especially through the workings of international initiatives and agencies. My book, The Nature of Heritage: The New South Africa, examines the politics of biodiversity and nature conservation in South Africa drawing on her long-term fieldwork in Kruger National Park. Other research has traced indigenous histories and extractive economies around the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. Currently I am conducting an ethnography of UNESCO’s World Heritage program, the flagship agency for international conservation, tracing the local impacts of global heritage on the ground with fieldwork in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Krish Seetah: My work focuses on the ways in which archaeological datasets can be combined with evidence on climate, drawn from both the proxy (such as coral cores) and instrumental (historic) records, anthropogenic land use change, and from historical archives to better understand the context of disease. My main test case centers on Mauritius, using this example as a model for the wider Indian Ocean. This research relies heavily on the integration of these deep-time assessments, with those from modern disease ecology, as well as global heath. Ultimately, the aim is to use the archaeo-historic past for improving predictions of future disease burden, particularly through vector borne diseases such as malaria.


Students in the cluster:

image of swamp landscape

Nina Horstmann: My research examines the proliferation of geospatial technologies, such as satellite imagery and GIS, in environmental conservation and management. I investigate how these technologies have (re)structured the ways that government planners conceive of, speak about, and produce space. Specifically, I am interested in the way that these technologies are involved in the production of knowledge about the environment, in addition to exploring how such expert knowledge is applied in environmental debates.

Tony Marks-Block: I explore the feedbacks and relationships between anthropogenic broadcast fire (prescribed burning), culturally-important species (e.g., oaks, hazelnut, deer), and ecological communities in Northwest California Indian territories in the Klamath River watershed.  Through this work I am exploring how prescribed fire in the context of land dispossession and fire exclusion/suppression may maintain or influence indigenous resources and livelihoods, as well as shape pyrogeography and ecology. More broadly I am interested in the ecological patterns that subsistence and socio-cultural systems of small-scale societies generate, as well as how ecological and cultural restoration projects address environmental justice.

Hannah Marie Moots: My research explores connections between environmental change and human health. Currently, I am investigating the relationship between multifactorial diseases, such a celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions, and the Neolithic transition. By drawing on bioarchaeological, paleoenvironmental and genomic lines of evidence, I examine the recursive relationships between the biological and cultural changes occurring with and after the domestication of plants and animals - such as pathogen burden, mobility patterns, and dietary shifts. 

Dilshanie Perera: My research examines the social construction of weather, environmental politics, and and the material effects of ecological change in Bangladesh. I explore modes of prediction and notions of risk and uncertainty as they operate within scientific practice, lived experience, forms of governance, and conceptualizations of the future. I am currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork with forecasters at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department and with farming families living and working in Bangladesh's cyclone-prone coastal zone.

Jasmine Whitney Reid: I am interested in the role community museums play in commemorating landscapes of forced removal in South Africa. Through my work, I tease out how museums founded to remember this displacement of non-white communities under apartheid engage with the residents who currently live on these landscapes, most of whom moved in after the removals. This research also engages with the materiality of artifacts within museum collections and connects their object stories to the spatial politics of both apartheid and the post-colonial period.

Nester Silva: My work focuses on how the oil industry and the environment intersect with politics and government in the Americas. From Amazonia to the Great Plains, people who live with oil infrastructure practice forms of sociality, including engagements with the environment, through which they identify and give value to social and ecological uncertainty. My dissertation research focuses on the roles of such uncertainty in the politics and government of contemporary North Dakota, and of the U.S. in general.

Alana Faith Springer: My research interests pertain to collective action issues in natural resource management, specifically in small-scale fisheries co-managed by the state and local communities. I focus on the cross-scale linkages that characterize co-managed systems and how linkages’ political, social, and ecological contexts mediate their efficacy. Through my research, I hope to inform our understanding of the factors that foster and maintain successful collaboration in natural resource management amongst diverse stakeholders at several scales.