Asdal, Kristin. “The Problematic Nature of Nature: The Post-Constructivist Challenge to Environmental History.” History and Theory 42, no. 4 (2003): 60-74.
Asdal is advancing a post-constructivist, value-nuanced conception of science that confronts the subject-object dichotomy. By raising the question of “which nature and which conceptions of science should be brought in?” (61) she challenges the foundation of environmental history in the natural sciences.
To begin she lays out what I think is a false dichotomy. She opposes Donald Worster—supposedly deeply rooted in a baseline notion of nature—with Anna Bramwell, whose work is used as representative of a camp that holds all ecology to be the product of culture. Worster is held up as the posterchild for natural science-based environmental history. The problem is I don’t think that Worster does represent such a natural science-based pole. He pays a lot of attention to the significance of discourse. Asdal, in trying to pose a critique of Worster, makes the point that ecology itself has a history. (63) Yet that history was told by Worster himself in a book that Asdal writes off as inconsequential and no longer representative of his views: Nature’s Economy. Instead she resorts to two articles—one in an undergraduate textbook—as indicative of his work.
I’ve harped so much on this introductory section because Asdal needn’t have wasted so much time building this dichotomy simply to place Haraway and Latour in the middle of it, as neither treating nature as the positive base, nor an entirely ideological construction. This is a review of Haraway and Latour and she could have just set it up as such, without resorting to caricatures.
Hooker, Juliet. “Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race, Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America.” Journal of Latin American Studies 37, no. 2 (2005): 285-310.
Hooker takes on the question of how, under what Van Cott calls the Multicultural Model, Afro-Latino struggles have not succeeded in securing the same types of rights and recognition that indigenous peoples have. She begins with a statistical overview that shows black marginality to be as—indeed in some cases like Colombia’s Pacific coast, more—severe than that of indigenous Latin Americans. Challenging prior assertions that explained this discrepancy in terms of differential population sizes, mobilization in defense of rights and the capacity to organize, she argues that “the main criterion used to determine the recipients of collective rights in Latin America has been the possession of a distinct cultural group identity,” and not the experience of racial discrimination and socio-economic or political marginalization. (291)
First she examines the holes in prior arguments that tried to explain this phenomenon. Using the case of Colombia in 1991 specifically and resorting to more general region-wide information, she demonstrates that Afro-Latinos were often involved in struggles much like those of indigenous peoples analyzed by the likes of Yashar, García and Van Cott. However, she sees one fundamental distinction in the way that their respective struggles were perceived by national elites and the public at large: that of Afro-Latinos as based on a position of anti-discrimination, and that of indigenous peoples as rooted in a collective sense of identity that differentiated them from the rest of the national polity.
Martínez-Alier, Joan. The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002.
For Martínez-Alier it all seems to boil down to a kind of economic determinism. That is, for him the incommensurability of natural capital seems to be at the end of his chain of analysis. He draws a lot from Otto Neurath’s theory of incommensurability to fuel ecological economics (this echoes the view already established in "From Political Economy to Political Ecology," and explains the notion that the environmentalism of the poor may be considered a new form of class struggle in Guha). Ecological economics focuses on problems of ‘taking Nature into account,’ (i.e. the valuation of natural capital). Given the incommensurability of resources, monetization (or valuation in general) of natural capital inevitably leaves externalities. It is in the space of externalities, the question of who pays those costs, where political ecology emerges to study ecological distribution conflicts. The way Martínez-Alier ties political ecology to ecological economics has its worth in that it foregrounds the question of “who has the power to impose particular languages of valuation.” However, I do not see much emphasis on the process by which that power is constituted.
Hvalkof, Soren. “Outrage in Rubber and Oil: Extractivism, Indigenous Peoples, and Justice in the Upper Amazon.” In Charles Zerner, ed. People, Plants, and Justice: The Politics of Nature Conservation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. pp. 83-117
Perhaps one of the more conventional works of this volume, “Outrage in Rubber and Oil,” suggests a continuity of injustice that straddles the temporal boundaries of successive export booms in the Upper Amazon. I say conventional because in the end it posits collective land title as the “key to control” (106), a crucial mechanism by which indigenous peoples can transcend debt bondage. In this sense he reiterates the conclusions of most who deal with the region (Varese, Chirif, García, Gray, etc.) without acknowledging the myriad nuanced ways that tenure can give rise to other sets of problems (see Sawyer chapter 1, García and Chirif, or the critique Benavides and Chirif make of the De Soto brand of tenure). Morover, Ribot’s piece in this same volume shows how property rights do not necessarily translate into justice.
Hvalkof opens with a vignette of Siona Indians of Puerto Bolívar (Ecuador) resisting the arrival of Chinese oil company. He explains how the Siona political awakening was nourished in two major ways: their struggle with the administrators of the Faunistic Reserve of Cuyabeno brought them together in a collective effort to delineate their territory and marked yet another crucial moment in their struggle against extractive activities, as immediately after signing a treaty with INEFAN in 1995 INEFAN turned around and granted an oil concession on newly legalized Siona land. Hvalkof uses this story and a conversation with locals to demonstrate the continuity of experience that Cuyabeno area Indigenous have had with extractive activities since the seventeenth century.
Mariátegui, José Carlos. "El problema del indio." In José Carlos Mariátegui. Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana. University of Texas Press, 1971.
El problema del indio, según Mariåtegui, es fundamentalmente un problema socio-económico. Para él no se trata de buscar resolverlo con remedios administrativos, jurídicos ni pedagógicos; ni tampoco se puede recurrir a discursos morales o humanistas para contrarrestar el pleito del indio. Para que una solución sea verdadera y perdurable, tendrá que enfrentarse al gamonalismo, y cualquier propuesta que no lo haga es uno más entre “otros tantos estériles ejercicios teóricos … condenados a un absoluto descrédito.” (35)
No obstante, mientras que Mariátegui pulvoriza todos los argumentos que no se basen en un análisis marxista, también propone algo. Para combatir la lacra que es el gamonalismo y para desfacer agravios padecidos por la masa indígena, la solución estará en la provisión de tierra.
Newell, Peter. “Contesting Trade Politics in the Americas: the Politics of Environmental Justice.” In Carruthers, David V, ed. Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise, and Practice. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008.
This piece is more descriptive than analytical. In it, Newell, seems to be suggesting that if we look close enough we can often find an environmental justice component of many critiques of trade liberalization. However, he warns of the allure of subsuming environmental justice movements within the broader framework of those critiques. After briefly positioning environmental justice (defined on p. 50) vis-à-vis the contestation of such regimes as NAFTA, Mercosur and the proposed FTAA, he then gives a broad overview of the forms that contestation has taken and the existence of environmental justice movements within them.
Form 1: First Newell discusses examples rural actors influencing regional trade policy through environmental justice movements. Here he gives account of various instances of regional opposition to GMOs and the way they interact with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) clauses in NAFTA and CAFTA.
Form 2: Next he explains some of the barriers posed by trade liberalization talks to democratic decision-making and gives an overview of some of the EJ movements that have engaged with trade regimes over issues of transparency and democratization, particularly around land rights in the Peruvian and Chilean mining regions and in Brazilian Amazonia. Specifically he mentions how trade regimes circumvent debates over the “social ecology of trade.” (60)
Form 3: Finally he discusses various cases of EJ movements pushing for corporate responsibility: Metalclad using NAFTA to sue Mexico, DIFD at Manhattan Minerals’ Tambo Grande Mine; Botnia and Empresa Nacional Celulosa España paper mills on the Río de la Plata, La Oxy in Colombia, etc.
Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez-Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.
The introduction frames the essays to come in reference to post-materialism. Guha and Martínez-Alier juxtapose some of Aldous Huxley’s observations of tropical nature with the theories of his fellow privileged British intellectual, G.M. Trevelyan, to illustrate the core notions of the post-materialist view of nature. While Huxley could never see the tropics appealing to the British leisure travellers, Trevelyan was convinced that it was precisely the condition of affluence and so-called modernity enjoyed by Londoners that fomented a kind of reverence for nature, that with all material needs met by industrialization and urbanization (as Ronald Inglehart’s post-materialist theory goes), people pined for a clean, pristine environment. What Guha and Martínez-Alier argue here is that this view of the “full-stomach” environmentalism (calling on Nash) of the North neglects the possibility of the South’s “empty-belly” environmentalism. What I wonder is how firmly they will hold on to this North-South confrontation and whether it will get in the way of their analyses.
To close the introduction, they offer two groupings of sample cases: one shows Southern moments of opposition to northern forms of conservation (resistance to tiger protection by the Chenchus of Andhra Pradesh, India and by Siberians, also resistance by fisher folk in the Galapagos); while the other gives account of various forms of Southern environmentalism (Reaction to Eucalyptus farming in Thailand, the Ogoni struggle and a case of Southern experts doing an inspection of Dutch environmental policy and conditions).
I've done seperate posts for the individual essays from this volume that I chose to focus on:
Guha’s “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third-World Critique” lays out the tenets of deep ecology and dismantles them one by one. He boils down the philosophy of the “New Ecologists” (here interchangeable with deep ecology) to 4 dogmatic principles: 1) that there must be a shift from anthropocentric to biocentric thinking; 2) that pristine wilderness is the ultimate objective; 3) that deep ecology represents a synthesis of so-called Eastern spiritual views; and 4) that deep ecology is the vanguard of American environmentalism.
Martínez-Alier’s explanation of political ecology and its relation to political economy begins by addressing the long-time reluctance of Marxists to take on questions of ecology. From Marx and Engels’ initial rejection of Podolinsky’s ideas, to the New Left’s failure to see environmentalism as more than just the ICUN, WWF and the Sierra club, Marxist critiques until the 1970s and 80s failed to acknowledge the “effluents of affluence” and resource distribution for fear of naturalizing human history. Martinez-Alier remarks on the myopia of such rejection, considering how social Darwinists, Neo-Malthusians (not sure how this jives with his positive treatment of feminist Neo-Malthusians in The Environmentalism of the Poor?) and in particular Garret Hardin have been using ecology “with criminal intent and to devastating effect against fellow human beings” (26) for some time. (Though indirect, I read this as a response to the way early political ecology was initially associated with Ehrlich, Harding, etc. (Bryant and Bailey, Chapter 1).)
Contrary to naturalizing history, Martinez-Alier argues, examining the effluents of affluence and ecological distribution conflicts historicizes ecology. As myriad examples from Ecuador to Chile demonstrate, while most anti-industrial struggles may resist characterization as “environmentalist,” they are nonetheless deeply rooted in ecology (as shown in Hugo Blanco’s quote and the case of La Oroya, which Mallon historicizes in detail).
This essay looks at the environmental thinking and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Here Guha probes Gandhi’s writings for critiques of industrialization—and the coming Green Revolution in a 1946 account of soil fertility—modern civilization and village industry and he traces those ideas through the work of Gandhian disciples such as JC Kamarrapa (public finance), Mira Behn (Himalayan forestry and agriculture) and more recent activists involved in the Chipko movement, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna.
Interestingly, Guha also takes on the myth surrounding Gandhi and Nehru’s opposing visions of national development, not by denying they had opposing views, one proto-environmentalist and the other fiercely developmentalist, but by showing how the two men, despite disagreeing, never harbored animosity toward one another, and by showing that by independence Gandhi’s village-centered vision had long-since fallen out of favour with most in the nationalist movement. Thus, Guha suggests that to have adopted the proposals of Gandhi and Kamarrapa at the time would have signified a fundamentally undemocratic move, going against the view of the polity. Further, I like Guha’s summary, stating: “One may justly honour Gandhi and Kumarrapa for being ahead of their time; but it is grossly unhistorical to, as well as unfair, to condemn Nehru for being, merely, a man of his time.” (165) That said, it nonetheless makes for a powerful myth-reinforcing illustration when you see Medha Patkar and the NBA using Gandhian tactics of civil disobedience to resist the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which was conceived by Nehru.
Guha’s essay on the environmentalism of the poor treats three case studies: the foundational struggle of the Indian environmental movement, known as the Chipko movement, in which peasants in Garhwal Himalaya resisted logging between 1973 in 1980; the poster struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA); and the resistance against Karnataka Pulpwoods Limited (KPL), a joint-sector company (owned by the state and Harihar Polyfibres) monocropping eucalyptus in Karnataka. This last case is treated in more detail.
In trying to mark the distinctions between post-materialist, Northern, pristine-nature environmentalism and the environmentalism of the poor, Guha portrays Southern struggles against degradation as a new class conflict: “Where ‘traditional’ class conflicts were fought in the cultivated field or the factory, these new struggles are waged over gifts of nature such as forests and water ….” (5) Further, these struggles pit “ecosystem people” who rely on their surrounding environment against “omnivores” whose primary aim is surplus production and export. Those who submit to the rule of the omnivores, watch their subsistence evaporate and become ecological refugees in the ever-growing slums surrounding megalopolises like Mumbai … and Lima.
Whereas the environmentalism of the poor takes on class dimensions and is marked by social justice more than a reverence for empty nature, Northern environmentalism is presented as the opposite: the product of affluence, it tends to be organized around new social movements rather than village structures (18) while resorting to mechanisms characteristic of more complete democracies, such as court cases, lobbying and media campaigns.
Sutter, Paul S. “When Environmental Traditions Collide: Ramachandra Guha's Unquiet Woods and U.S. Environmental History.” Environmental History 14, no. 3 (2009): pp. 543-550.
This brief piece marks Guha’s stint at Yale and the 1989 publication of The Unquiet Woods as a crossroads in North American environmental historiography, one that marked the meeting of “full-stomach” environmental historiography with the innovations of “empty-belly” environmentalism. Thus Sutter sets out to clarify the influence of Guha on recent North American environmental history while suggesting some avenues that have yet to be explored.
To illustrate the crossroads, Sutter compares and contrasts the meaning and legacies of The Unquiet Woods and Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind. Nash, the vehicle of deep ecology delivery for a generation of environmental historians, is painted as representing the baseline, what was changed when Guha came on the scene. While Nash’s work embodies the logic of modernization and the primacy of wilderness, Guha’s study of the historical underpinnings of the Chipko struggle in the lower Himalaya exposes the inextricable ties binding ecological matters to social justice. While Nash told the heroic story of resistance to industrial capitalism, Guha gave an account of peasants challenging the colonial and postcolonial conservation state. (545) Thus, with Nash representing the canon, Guha’s innovations are portrayed as ground-shattering.
Turner, Terrence, “Indigenous Rights, Environmental Protection and the struggle over forest resources in the Amazon: the case of the Brazilian Kayapo.” in Conway, Jill K, et al, eds. Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Humanistic Studies of the Environment. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
This piece looks at the Kayapo of the Xingú Valley and the way their role in environmental protection and exploitation has ben misconstrued by romantics and “glass-case” conservationists. Turner discuses two cases: the Altamira mobilization of Feb., 1989, and the relation of some Kayapo with gold miners and loggers. In each case he examines Kayapo ontology as a way of discrediting Northern appropriations of their struggle.
In the case of the Altamira mobilization against a massive hydro project on the Xingu, Turner argues that the type of conservation being advocated correlates to Kayapo conceptions of the utility of forest resources and not to the Northern conceptions of them as “primitive ecologists.” By showing how the event was ordered around the ritual of the New Corn Ceremony (converging upon a village setting, felling a forest tree as a communal bench, reenactment of the maize tree myth) and explaining the participation of women as an embodiment of the concerns highlighted by the event (loss of Kayapo culture through environmental degradation) Turner suggests the entire event was “a dramatization of the environmental values of Kayapo culture in the service of a Kayapo version of environmental activism.” (158) When examining how this may have been misconstrued he points to the way the event’s Portuguese and English communications with the press and civil society representatives in attendance were “couched in the rhetoric of international First World environmentalism and international Fourth World ethnic nationalism.” (153).
Orlove, Benjamin S. “Down to Earth: Race and Substance in the Andes.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 17, no. 2 (1998): 207-222.
I wrote far too much on the last Orlove piece I posted on, so I’ll try and keep this one succinct. This piece deals with the intersections of people’s relation to the earth and racialized identities. Specifically it looks at the way everyday objects of two categories—earthen and earth-touching—participate in the way mestizo (read urban) and Indian (read rural) identities are construed.
Regarding Earthen objects, Orlove looks at adobe bricks, dirt roads and clay pots. As case studies he addresses: one community member’s attempt not to pisar tierra by purchasing his share of bricks to contribute to a community school; the butting territorialities of government ministries and villagers as played out on roads connecting the highway and the shore of Lake Titicaca; and “earthy taste” of food prepared in clay pots.
Shoes and floors are the two earth-touching types of objects that interest Orlove. Kinds, uses, and the shininess of shoes supposedly differentiate race, while it is the kind and cleaning of floors that marks one mestizo or Indian.
Orlove, Benjamin S. “Putting Race in Its Place: Order in Colonial and Postcolonial Peruvian Geography.” Social Research 60, no. 2 (Summer93 1993): 301-336.
Orlove discusses the shift in notions of ordered space that occurred between the colonial and republican periods in Peru. Dividing his study temporally between the production of colonial and republican geographies, he looks at settlements, mountains and Indians as objects of geographic study and asks how their ordering was conditioned by disciplinary, administrative and hegemonic impulses.
To form what he calls the colonial geography produced between 1574 and 1790, Orlove looks at the relaciones geográficas, the descripciones and the itinerarios produced by colonial officials. He highlights the prominence of the Greek variables of hot/cold and wet/dry as they were used to designate parts of the viceroyalty and shows how this facilitated a correlation between geography and medicine. (305) Through this correlation we see that space was marked more by climate than topography—although it was a factor—and that climate was read as determining health (think “Buenos Aires”).
Price, Marie and Martin Lewis. "The Reinvention of Cultural Geography." Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 1467-8306, Vol. 83, No. 1 (1993): pp. 1-17.
Price and Lewis set out to complicate the divide between so-called traditional cultural geography and its supposed avant-guarde counterpart. To do this, the aim to expose the misinterpretation of Berkley School (as empirical-based, non-theoretical, apolitical) for what it is, a straw-man argument designed to frame up-and-coming (for 1993) cultural geographers as the nouvelle vague.
Looking at the work of Duncan, Cosgrove and Jackson—some of the so-called “new cultural geographers”—Price and Lewis give a brief vignette of the evolution of the critique of the Berkeley School and show how their early critiques separated the more admirable work of Berkeley schoolers and cordoned it off under the rubric of “humanistic” rather than “cultural” geography, (4) leaving those more closely aligned with Carl Sauer to represent the old guard. As the “new” folks became less and less beholden to the “old” folks, the caricature of traditional cultural geography as object-obsessed, apolitical and based on Kroeber’s long-outdated superorganic theory increasingly lost touch with reality. To wrap up this section, Price and Lewis resort to a good quote by Lester Rowntree, which I’ve added below.
Sauer, Carl Ortwin. "The Morphology of Landscape (1925)." Land and Life; a Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
Sauer opens with an impassioned appeal for geographers to return to a classical phenomenological approach to areal study. In the wake of nineteenth-century positivist specialization, in which the natural sciences became a stand-in for chorology and geography, and causality was reduced to a simplistic environmental determinism (for an ironic example of Sauer's own simplistic causality, see this), Sauer is questioning the essence of his field. As he wants to see more integrated approaches to geography based on social science, he reminds his reader that landscape is both a natural and cultural phenomenon.
He emphasizes the dynamic focus of geomorphology and physiography as not too relevant to geography, which he contends should begin with the natural landscape as a static baseline for culture-induced change. This is where he finds geognosy—“which regards kind and position of material but not historical succession” (334)—should be the primary science that cultural geographers should concern themselves with.
Over the course of this essay Sauer develops two formulae: one describing the natural landscape and the other describing the cultural landscape. The natural landscape is described as the combination of forms designated by climate, land (surface, soil, drainage and mineral resource), sea and coast, and vegetation as they have been shaped through time by geognostic, climatic and vegetational factors. (337) The cultural landscape is the combination of population (density and mobility), housing (plan and structure), production and communication forms as they have been articulated by culture through the medium of the natural landscape. (343) Again, Sauer stresses that causality and change with time come from cultural processes, not natural ones.
Dean, Warren. With Broadax and Firebrand the Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Pertaining to the raubwirtschaft—or plunder economy —genre described by McNeill (24), Dean’s With Broadax and Firebrand takes nature as a static baseline rather than a dynamic producer of the historical event. Dean’s theorization of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest as a “palimpsest of super-imposed forms and relationships” (18) in many ways paints the forest as a kind of revolving door for outside exploitation. By anchoring his reader in the Atlantic forest, Dean leverages vignettes of brazilwood extraction, gold mining, coffee cultivation and ranching to tell the story of the forest’s transformation. While he distinguishes his from the other major work of the Latin American raubwirtschaft variety—Galeano’s Las venas abiertas de América Latina—by showing the view from the forest, the events Dean identifies as significant fall squarely within the purview of human actors.
Flores, Dan. “Place: An Argument for Bioregional History.” Environmental History Review 18, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 1-18.
While I sympathize with Flores’ overall agenda of scrapping nation-state frames to start doing bioregional histories, I have some trouble with the programmatic thrust of this piece. Flores tries to take the regional scale out of the realm of socio-political constructions and root it firmly in the soil. Drawing from the work of Donald Worster, he argues the “West” as a construct was not a process but a place unified by topography, climate and ecology. In an attempt to emphasize the materiality of place over its discursive construction, Flores—perhaps ironically—resorts to the bioregionalism movement of the 1970s and its assertion that bioregions served as stages for the acting out of certain human relationships (spiritual and other) with land and nature. By detailing the make-up of place, he argues, environmental historians provide crucial supplements to traditional narratives of social and political processes.
Sauer, Carl Ortwin. "Plant and Animal Destruction in Economic History." In Land and Life; a Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
Declentionist in nature and prone to simplistic causality, this piece is a clarion call for all to beware the ills if capitalist production. Sauer assures his reader that chemistry is not alchemy. That is, the solution to rampant environmental degradation is not to be found in the physical sciences. Social sciences, and primarily economics, need to look at the problem of degradation to find a solution. Furthermore, like Grove, Sauer finds surplus- and export-oriented agriculture in contempt. And he briefly outlines the role of over-production in the extinction of species and varietal forms, the restriction of useful species, and soil destruction. Here he offers a useful precursor to Melville's description of the Valle del Mezquital by showing how the Mediterranean environment was totally denuded by livestock since the Romans engaged in mass herding. Another interesting comment has to do with the erosion of topsoil in the American South, where farming—by the time of writing in 1938—was largely subsoil farming and heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers. Thus Sauer offers something of interest in that here we have a pre-WWII critique of the coming Green Revolution, one in which the capitalist mode of production—not the paucity of naturally occurring phosphorous or other environmental limitations—is put on trial.