Category Archives: Research

States of Matter – Joint EnviroAnt and HOLB Networks Conference and Workshop

We are pleased to announce the first joint conference and workshop of the two EASA Networks: Humans and Other Living Beings (HOLB) and Environmental Anthropology (EnviroAnt).

12-13 October 2023, Edinburgh University, Scotland

Please send your 200-word abstract and a short 50-word bio to the emails  and by 15 May 2023.

The event focuses on the theme of States of Matter with panels on: Solid/Earth, Liquid/Water, Gas/Air. Each thematic area provides an open theoretical-material space to explore the intersections between the physical matter of the environment and the beings that inhabit it. The conceptual openness of the foci is intended to provide a creative arena for the interaction of diverse research orientations and interests. They relate to the interests of the networks, and departments at University of Edinburgh, as well as relevant scientific conversations in Europe and beyond.

This event provides a forum for anthropologists and activists to explore these themes and related questions through bringing their different approaches and experiences into conversation. With its cross-sectorial scope, the event hopes to foster collaborations between participants from different backgrounds, develop the interdisciplinary perspectives of environmental and multi-species anthropology.  Each of the states of matter are explored by a thematic keynote lecture followed by 10-12 min presentations plus questions, and extended discussions. Panels will be followed by workshops, designed to enable practical engagement with the physical matter of solids, liquids, and gases to complement our theoretical discussions. We are planning a face-to-face and in-situ event.

Panel descriptions


On many levels, environmental anthropology is “earth-bound”. The discipline has long been concerned with the ways that humans modify, use, and inhabit our environments in concert with other beings. Far from a mere backdrop on which humans project culture, the earth itself might be seen as an active participant in shaping human biocultural relations. This first panel broadly explores the dynamic interrelationships between humans and the land. It considers the qualities of solidity and immobility, fluid landscapes and complex socio-ecological assemblages emerging over time. The panel hopes to feature reflections on these themes grounded in an exploration of multispecies agency and biocultural hope. 

Please click here for the full description and suggested themes of this panel.


Air, the atmospheric, and beings in a gaseous state are topics that are most easy to overlook in the ways we think about the environment. As a state of matter, air/gas is part of our most intimate, internal nature, but it is also an interface that connects us with other beings at many scales, from the breath and exaltations we share with others in daily lives and routines, to the atmosphere that connects us on a global level. This panel broadly explores narratives and logics of gaseous control, infrastructure, and change.

Please click here for the full description and suggested themes of this panel.


Water provides a compelling challenge for the humanities and social sciences, with its liquid state resisting the solid certainties of earthbound thinking, and the inhospitability of aquatic environments for those evolved to live on land. However, increasing overabundance and scarcity of water in a changing climate poses an imperative to grapple with the diversity of ways in which humans and other beings inhabit watery worlds, and how we might do so in the future. Thinking beyond just water, the panel invites reflections on the role that other liquids might play in interspecies and human-environment relationships. 

Please click here for the full description and suggested themes of this panel.

We welcome contributions from within anthropology and related disciplines. Please send a title, a 200-word abstract and a 50-word bio by 15 May 2023 to the emails and

This event is organised by the Environment and Anthropology Network (EnviroAnt) and Humans And Other Living Beings Network (HOLB) of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA).

For more information, please visit the websites and

We look forward to receiving your abstracts. 

Kind regards

Alexandra, Cormac and Katrine, Convenors of EnviroAnt Network

Anibal, Giovanna and Olea, Convenors of HOLB Network. 

Published in 2021: Selected books in Environmental Anthropology

2021 Environmental Ethnographies


Living with Reindeer and Hunting among Spirits in South Siberia

Küçüküstel, S.

Examining human-animal relations among the reindeer hunting and herding Dukha community in northern Mongolia, this book focuses on concepts such as domestication and wildness from an indigenous perspective. By looking into hunting rituals and herding techniques, the ethnography questions the dynamics between people, domesticated reindeer, and wild animals. It focuses on the role of the spirited landscape which embraces all living creatures and acts as a unifying concept at the center of the human and non-human relations.


Anthropological Perspectives on Pastoralism, Land Deals and Tropes of Modernity in Eastern Africa

Gabbert, E. C., Gebresenbet, F., Galaty, J. G., & Schlee, G. (eds)

Rangeland, forests and riverine landscapes of pastoral communities in Eastern Africa are increasingly under threat. Abetted by states who think that outsiders can better use the lands than the people who have lived there for centuries, outside commercial interests have displaced indigenous dwellers from pastoral territories. This volume presents case studies from Eastern Africa, based on long-term field research, that vividly illustrate the struggles and strategies of those who face dispossession and also discredit ideological false modernist tropes like ‘backwardness’ and ‘primitiveness’.

3. Loss and Wonder at the World’s End

by Laura A. Ogden

Published by: Duke University Press

In Loss and Wonder at the World’s End, Laura A. Ogden brings together animals, people, and things—from beavers, stolen photographs, lichen, American explorers, and birdsong—to catalog the ways environmental change and colonial history are entangled in the Fuegian Archipelago of southernmost Chile and Argentina. Repeated algal blooms have closed fisheries in the archipelago. Glaciers are in retreat. Extractive industries such as commercial forestry, natural gas production, and salmon farming along with the introduction of nonnative species are rapidly transforming assemblages of life. Ogden archives forms of loss—including territory, language, sovereignty, and life itself—as well as forms of wonder, or moments when life continues to flourish even in the ruins of these devastations. Her account draws on long-term ethnographic research with settler and Indigenous communities; archival photographs; explorer journals; and experiments in natural history and performance studies. Loss and Wonder at the World’s End frames environmental change as imperialism’s shadow, a darkness cast over the earth in the wake of other losses.

Rangeland, forests and riverine landscapes of pastoral communities in Eastern Africa are increasingly under threat. Abetted by states who think that outsiders can better use the lands than the people who have lived there for centuries, outside commercial interests have displaced indigenous dwellers from pastoral territories. This volume presents case studies from Eastern Africa, based on long-term field research, that vividly illustrate the struggles and strategies of those who face dispossession and also discredit ideological false modernist tropes like ‘backwardness’ and ‘primitiveness’.

4.  Plantation Life

Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone

by Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi

Published by: Duke University Press

In Plantation Life Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi examine the structure and governance of Indonesia’s contemporary oil palm plantations in Indonesia, which supply 50 percent of the world’s palm oil. They attend to the exploitative nature of plantation life, wherein villagers’ well-being is sacrificed in the name of economic development. While plantations are often plagued by ruined ecologies, injury among workers, and a devastating loss of livelihoods for former landholders, small-scale independent farmers produce palm oil more efficiently and with far less damage to life and land. Li and Semedi theorize “corporate occupation” to underscore how massive forms of capitalist production and control over the palm oil industry replicate colonial-style relations that undermine citizenship. In so doing, they question the assumption that corporations are necessary for rural development, contending that the dominance of plantations stems from a political system that privileges corporations.

5. Making Livable Worlds

Afro-Puerto Rican Women Building Environmental Justice

Hilda Lloréns

Published by: University of Washington Press

When Hurricanes Irma and María made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017, their destructive force further devastated an archipelago already pommeled by economic austerity, political upheaval, and environmental calamities. To navigate these ongoing multiple crises, Afro–Puerto Rican women have drawn from their cultural knowledge to engage in daily improvisations that enable their communities to survive and thrive. Their life-affirming practices, developed and passed down through generations, offer powerful modes of resistance to gendered and racialized exploitation, ecological ruination, and deepening capitalist extraction. Through solidarity, reciprocity, and an ethics of care, these women create restorative alternatives to dispossession to produce good, meaningful lives for their communities. Making Livable Worlds weaves together autobiography, ethnography, interviews, memories, and fieldwork to recast narratives that continuously erase Black Puerto Rican women as agents of social change. In doing so, Lloréns serves as an “ethnographer of home” as she brings to life the powerful histories and testimonies of a marginalized, disavowed community that has been treated as disposable.

6. Saving Animals

Multispecies Ecologies of Rescue and Care

by Elan Abrell

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

In the past three decades, animal rights advocates have established everything from elephant sanctuaries in Africa to shelters that rehabilitate animals used in medical testing, to homes for farmed animals, abandoned pets, and entertainment animals that have outlived their “usefulness.” Saving Animals is the first major ethnography to focus on the ethical issues animating the establishment of such places, where animals who have been mistreated or destined for slaughter are allowed to live out their lives simply being animals.   

Based on fieldwork at animal rescue facilities across the United States, Elan Abrell asks what “saving,” “caring for,” and “sanctuary” actually mean. He considers sanctuaries as laboratories where caregivers conceive and implement new models of caring for and relating to animals. He explores the ethical decision making around sanctuary efforts to unmake property-based human–animal relations by creating spaces in which humans interact with animals as autonomous subjects. Saving Animals illustrates how caregivers and animals respond by cocreating new human–animal ecologies adapted to the material and social conditions of the Anthropocene.

Bridging anthropology with animal studies and political philosophy, Saving Animals asks us to imagine less harmful modes of existence in a troubled world where both animals and humans seek sanctuary.

7. Banana Cultures

Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States

by John Soluri

Published by: University of Texas Press

Bananas, the most frequently consumed fresh fruit in the United States, have been linked to Miss Chiquita and Carmen Miranda, “banana republics,” and Banana Republic clothing stores—everything from exotic kitsch, to Third World dictatorships, to middle-class fashion. But how did the rise in banana consumption in the United States affect the banana-growing regions of Central America? In this lively, interdisciplinary study, John Soluri integrates agroecology, anthropology, political economy, and history to trace the symbiotic growth of the export banana industry in Honduras and the consumer mass market in the United States.

Beginning in the 1870s, when bananas first appeared in the U.S. marketplace, Soluri examines the tensions between the small-scale growers, who dominated the trade in the early years, and the shippers. He then shows how rising demand led to changes in production that resulted in the formation of major agribusinesses, spawned international migrations, and transformed great swaths of the Honduran environment into monocultures susceptible to plant disease epidemics that in turn changed Central American livelihoods. Soluri also looks at labor practices and workers’ lives, changing gender roles on the banana plantations, the effects of pesticides on the Honduran environment and people, and the mass marketing of bananas to consumers in the United States. His multifaceted account of a century of banana production and consumption adds an important chapter to the history of Honduras, as well as to the larger history of globalization and its effects on rural peoples, local economies, and biodiversity.

8.  Unwritten Rule

State-Making through Land Reform in Cambodia

by Alice Beban

Published by: Cornell University Press

In 2012, Cambodia—an epicenter of violent land grabbing—announced a bold new initiative to develop land redistribution efforts inside agribusiness concessions. Alice Beban’s Unwritten Rule focuses on this land reform to understand the larger nature of democracy in Cambodia.

Beban contends that the national land-titling program, the so-called leopard skin land reform, was first and foremost a political campaign orchestrated by the world’s longest-serving prime minister, Hun Sen. The reform aimed to secure the loyalty of rural voters, produce “modern” farmers, and wrest control over land distribution from local officials. Through ambiguous legal directives and unwritten rules guiding the allocation of land, the government fostered uncertainty and fear within local communities. Unwritten Rule gives pause both to celebratory claims that land reform will enable land tenure security, and to critical claims that land reform will enmesh rural people more tightly in state bureaucracies and create a fiscally legible landscape. Instead, Beban argues that the extension of formal property rights strengthened the very patronage-based politics that Western development agencies hope to subvert.

9. How to Make a Wetland

Water and Moral Ecology in Turkey

by Caterina Scaramelli

Published by: Stanford University Press

How to Make A Wetland tells the story of two Turkish coastal areas, both shaped by ecological change and political uncertainty. On the Black Sea coast and the shores of the Aegean, farmers, scientists, fishermen, and families grapple with livelihoods in transition, as their environment is bound up in national and international conservation projects. Bridges and drainage canals, apartment buildings and highways—as well as the birds, water buffalo, and various animals of the regions—all inform a moral ecology in the making.

Drawing on six years of fieldwork in wetlands and deltas, Caterina Scaramelli offers an anthropological understanding of sweeping environmental and infrastructural change, and the moral claims made on livability and materiality in Turkey, and beyond. Beginning from a moral ecological position, she takes into account the notion that politics is not simply projected onto animals, plants, soil, water, sediments, rocks, and other non-human beings and materials. Rather, people make politics through them. With this book, she highlights the aspirations, moral relations, and care practices in constant play in contestations and alliances over environmental change.

10. Atmospheric Noise

The Indefinite Urbanism of Los Angeles

by Marina Peterson

Published by: Duke University Press Books

In Atmospheric Noise, Marina Peterson traces entanglements of environmental noise, atmosphere, sense, and matter that cohere in and through encounters with airport noise since the 1960s. Exploring spaces shaped by noise around Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), she shows how noise is a way of attuning toward the atmospheric: through noise we learn to listen to the sky and imagine the permeability of bodies and matter, sensing and conceiving that which is diffuse, indefinite, vague, and unformed. In her account, the “atmospheric” encompasses the physicality of the ephemeral, dynamic assemblages of matter as well as a logic of indeterminacy. It is audible as well as visible, heard as much as breathed. Peterson develops a theory of “indefinite urbanism” to refer to marginalized spaces of the city where concrete meets sky, windows resonate with the whine of departing planes, and endangered butterflies live under flight paths. Offering a conceptualization of sound as immanent and non-objectified, she demonstrates ways in which noise is central to how we know, feel, and think atmospherically.

11. Herring and People of the North Pacific

Sustaining a Keystone Species

by Thomas F. Thornton and Madonna L. Moss

Published by: University of Washington Press

Herring are vital to the productivity and health of marine systems, and socio-ecologically Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is one of the most important fish species in the Northern Hemisphere. Human dependence on herring has evolved for millennia through interactions with key spawning areas—but humans have also significantly impacted the species’ distribution and abundance.

Combining ethnological, historical, archaeological, and political perspectives with comparative reference to other North Pacific cultures, Herring and People of the North Pacific traces fishery development in Southeast Alaska from precontact Indigenous relationships with herring to postcontact focus on herring products. Revealing new findings about current herring stocks as well as the fish’s significance to the conservation of intraspecies biodiversity, the book explores the role of traditional local knowledge, in combination with archeological, historical, and biological data, in both understanding marine ecology and restoring herring to their former abundance.

Edited Volumes


Exploring Dynamic Environments where Rivers Meet the Sea

Krause, F. & Harris, M. (eds)

Proposing a series of innovative steps towards better understanding human lives at the interstices of water and land, this volume includes eight ethnographies from deltas around the world. The book presents ‘delta life’ with intimate descriptions of the predicaments, imaginations and activities of delta inhabitants. Conceptually, the collection develops ‘delta life’ as a metaphor for approaching continual and intersecting sociocultural, economic and material transformations more widely. The book revolves around questions of hydrosociality, volatility, rhythms and scale. It thereby yields insights into people’s lives that conventional, hydrological approaches to deltas cannot provide.

13. Performing Environmentalisms

Expressive Culture and Ecological Change

Edited by John Holmes McDowell, Katherine Borland, Rebecca Dirksen and Sue Tuohy

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Performing Environmentalisms examines the existential challenge of the twenty-first century: improving the prospects for maintaining life on our planet. The contributors focus on the strategic use of traditional artistic expression–storytelling and songs, crafted objects, and ceremonies and rituals–performed during the social turmoil provoked by environmental degradation and ecological collapse. Highlighting alternative visions of what it means to be human, the authors place performance at the center of people’s responses to the crises. Such expression reinforces the agency of human beings as they work, independently and together, to address ecological dilemmas. The essays add these people’s critical perspectives–gained through intimate struggle with life-altering force–to the global dialogue surrounding humanity’s response to climate change, threats to biocultural diversity, and environmental catastrophe. Interdisciplinary in approach and wide-ranging in scope, Performing Environmentalisms is an engaging look at the merger of cultural expression and environmental action on the front lines of today’s global emergency

14. The Anthroposcene of Weather and Climate

Ethnographic Contributions to the Climate Change Debate

Edited by Paul Sillitoe


While it is widely acknowledged that climate change is among the greatest global challenges of our times, it has local implications too.  This volume forefronts these local issues, giving anthropology a voice in this great debate, which is otherwise dominated by natural scientists and policy makers.  It shows what an ethnographic focus can offer in furthering our understanding of the lived realities of climate debates. Contributors from communities around the world discuss local knowledge of, and responses to, environmental changes that need to feature in scientifically framed policies regarding mitigation and adaptation measures if they are to be effective.

RAI 2021 Conference Panel report – Hope, ruination and the politics of remaking landscapes

Panel held at the Royal Anthropological Institute’s “Anthropology and Conservation” online conference, October 29th, 2021.

We organised a panel at this international conference to explore links between the RAI’s theme “Anthropology and Conservation” and our 2021 workshop on “Hope, Ruination and Environmentalism”. The panel discussed contributions from five presenters from around the world. Our starting point was that increasing environmental degradation has become a key concern for anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines. Yet, they look to conservation with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they have documented the problems for people inhabiting the ruins of past and present economic dreams and ecological indifference. On the other hand, they have noticed the ubiquitous tensions between different people’s hopes for more sustainable futures, amongst which are various models of conservation. Taking contested landscapes as its starting point and material anchor, our panel explored stories of environmental destruction, but also attended to the related hopes for ecological transitions and justice. 

The first paper, “Hope, Ruination and Precarious Place-Making in the Asian Anthropocene”, was presented by Ishtiaque Ahmed Levin, a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS), School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. Ishtiaque delivered a poignant critique of the Eurocentrism and white supremacy overtones in mainstream Anthropocene discourse, and proposed to rethink the Anthropocene through alternative tropes. He suggested, for example, a version of the Gandhian concept “swaraj” that emphasises self-rule and self-transformation as a possible way forward and developed this concept further by drawing attention to the precarious place-making practices of a Dalit fishing community in Bangladesh. 

The second paper was presented by Davide Cacchioni, doctoral candidate at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Marseille, France, and titled “Hemp as a remediation for a polluted territory? Hopes and struggles in the Susa valley”. Davide began reporting on a protest movement against a high-speed railway project that was to cross the Susa Valley in Northern Italy, and explained how these protests focused a mix of concerns in the region, from pollution to migration, economy and politics. He traced how the growing of hemp emerged as a source of hope in the area ruined by pollution and neglect, but suggested that this hope was largely frustrated: while hemp cultivation was deemed to be a potent remediation of polluted soils, its market as a commodity lay mostly in the “organic” bracket, for instance for clothing, which favoured hemp from unpolluted sources.

Beth Cloughton, doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow in Scotland held the third presentation, which was titled “’Las Vegas is all lit up…what’s my energy saving lightbulb gonna dae?’ The ethics of consumption at Baltic Street Adventure Playground.” In her paper, Beth criticised the consumerist focus of much of climate action based on her fieldwork with a food bank in a deprived Glasgow neighbourhood. The common, middle-class narrative and ethics of frugality and environmentalism showed little traction in a context of food poverty and multiple deprivation, which was not, as Beth emphasised, thereby devoid of ethical reflections on climate change, wastage and other environmental matters.

Elias Plata Espino presented the fourth paper, titled “Forests of Refuge and Development. The Historical Development of Forests in the Sierra Tarahumara of Mexico.” Elias is a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA. His paper discussed the Sierra Tarahumana forests as an agentive force with different affordances for conflicting politics in Mexico. On the one hand, they were a key resource for export-oriented development, epitomised by neoliberal arrangements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At the same time, however, they continue to be a stronghold for Indigenous activism, resistance and alternative development.   

The final paper, “Hope does not come from the skies: the politics of cloudseeding in the United Arab Emirates”, was presented by our network’s co-convener Alexandra Cotofana, who works as Assistant Professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Alexandra discussed the technocratic dreams and practices of rain-making in a dry region, and their association with conspiracy theories that link cloudseeding to state control. As governance extends vertically from the territory to the skies, industrial rain-making can emerge as colonialism’s “wet dream” of superior control of ever more spheres of life turned into resources. Hopes for green, sustainable futures are thereby wedded with a military-industrial tradition that aims at engineering vital processes to fit consumer demand. 

Resources for Teaching Environmental Anthropology in Fearful and Inspiring Times

In April 2021 the Teaching Environmental Anthropology Working Group of the EASA Environmental Anthropology Network convened its first (online) workshop, under the title ‘Teaching Environmental Anthropology in Fearful and Inspiring Times’.

Organised and curated by Jeanne Féaux de la Croix and Alessandro Rippa, the workshop featured the work of 14 scholars, practitioners, and students in two brief sessions focusing on teaching goals, ethics and resources.

They state: “On this page we have curated presentations introducing some favourite and unusual teaching resources. Our hope is that these short talks will continue to foster conversations around some of the key dimensions of teaching environmental anthropology, and that they will inspire scholars, students, and activists for new activities in the classroom and beyond.”

You can find the complete programme of the workshop here.

Once again, we thank all workshop participants for a stimulating day of conversations.

Mengyi Zhang

(University of Cologne, Germany)

Why it was Difficult for me to study Anthropology and how I overcame these Difficulties

  • Type of resource: Approach
  • Keywords: online learning, mass media, class communication

From a student’s perspective, Mengyi Zhan gives suggestions on how to integrate mass media content into anthropology lectures, and explains what the benefits are, based on her learning experience. The resources include some YouTube videos and the curriculum of Yale university’s anthropology introductory class.

Liliana Duica Amaya

(Universidad de los Andes, Colombia)

War ecology in the Colombian Amazon: Warscapes as an insightful methodology

  • Type of resource: Approach
  • Keywords: Warscapes, Gunpoint conservation, Amazon Landscapes

Environmental knowledge requires understanding cultural traditions especially when violence hybridized to the day-to-day life of communities. This approach will allow to understand violence through environmental anthropology.

Gunpoint conservation by guerrillas in the Colombian Amazon suggests the inextricable relation of effective governance using traditional environmental knowledge. Teaching environmental anthropology based on ethnography in conflict settings contributes to better understanding violence in protected ecosystems.

Practitioners or students analyzing violence contexts could use this as a guide to prepare, conduct and analyze ethnographic fieldwork in armed conflict settings.

Tim Ingold 

(University of Aberdeen, UK)

Manifesto for an outdoor anthropology

  • Type of resource: Approach
  • Keywords: attention, observation, outdoors
  • Literature: Tim Ingold, 2013, ‘Knowing from the inside’, in Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (Abingdon: Routledge), pp. 1-15.

Observation means attending to the world and corresponding with it. In environmental anthropology we should be teaching students how to be good observers. This means students should learn to think outdoors, through intense observational engagements with the world around them, and to bring this thinking into a resourceful critique of what they read. 

Eunice Blavascunas 

(Whitman College, Walla Walla, USA)

Decolonizing Classroom Expectations: Pre-colonial ingenuity and evolutionary debates

  • Type of resource: text
  • Keywords: evolutionary debates, domestication, decolonizing knowledge
  • Literature: Bruce Pascoe, 2014, Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident (Magabala Books)

Bruce Pascoe’s, “Dark Emu” is a short book that Eunice Blavascunas used to teach about decolonizing classrooms expectations, especially in regards to indigenous knowledge and scholarship, published outside of the academy. In this teaching example you can also explore evolutionary debates within the book, asking if agriculture and domestication is an evolutionary advance, something all humans have, or a discourse that selectively omits other ways of sourcing food and shaping landscapes.  Bruce Pascoe forcefully argues and evidences examples of aboriginal agriculture that European settlers wrote about and yet were blind to.  This is a good text for considering our own habits in the classroom and what we do when we read and discuss a text that inverts indigenous ways of knowing and the facticity of written historical accounts.

Maria Ayala

(University of Canterbury, NZ)

Walking backwards into the Future. Teachings from Māori People

  • Type of resource: fieldwork reflections
  • Keywords: indigenous knowledge, Maori wisdom, multispecies ethnography

This video contains a personal account from fieldwork on forest biosecurity. It suggests a humble, kind, and ethical approach towards the human and non-human others that you may encounter when doing environmental anthropology. It encourages outdoor learning, the use of the body as a research tool and the courage to see the world from a different perspective.

Martín Fonck

(IIAS Potsdam, Germany)

Environmental Autobiography

  • Type of resource: Exercise
  • Keywords: Environmental autobiography – Nature experiences – Exploratory exercise

During 2020 with Saskia Brill, we designed and taught the course “Environment and Knowledge: An ethnographic exploration” at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Rachel Carson Center Certificate Program. We used the teaching method, the “environmental autobiography” to discuss how the sublime experiences of nature are present in our biographies when we start talking about the environment. This exercise inspired us to pay attention to how we tell stories and frame concepts to describe the environment, exploring our own environmental stories as a way of starting this challenging conversation.

Anna Antonova 

(Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Germany)

‘Reinventing Oktoberfest’: Imagining alternative environmental Futures in the interdisciplinary environmental Humanities Classroom

This exercise invites students to draw on their diverse experiences of environment and society in reimagining a well-known global festival: Oktoberfest. Based on a background reading of Gibson-Graham and Miller’s work on the economy as ecological livelihood, students apply theoretical knowledge gained throughout the semester to imagine alternative models for a sustainable future, considering societal and environmental trade-offs discussed throughout the semester. The point of the exercise is to brainstorm idealized alternatives, thereby gaining a deeper appreciation of the problems discussed in class.

Diane Russell

Practitioner Roles in Teaching Environmental Anthropology

  • Type of resource: approach
  • Key words: remote lecture, blog, practitioner

This video demonstrates how environmental anthropology practitioners can support teaching through remote lectures, which was critical during the pandemic. The video describes how Diane Russell developed teaching materials in the form of blogs linked to key resources for these remote lectures. The blog featured in the video concerns an anthropological perspective on efforts to reduce deforestation and mitigate climate change in developing countries. 

What Can We as Anthropologists Contribute?

Sarah Mund, University of Cologne

In spring 2019, I was invited by the Heiltsuk Nation – whose territory is located on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada – to work on a tourism strategy. Tourism in the region was mostly dominated by non-Indigenous tourism operators. The Heiltsuk Nation’s objective was to increase control and involvement over tourism in their territory.

Therefore, the research focused on current views on tourism – both from local people and tourists – including concerns, conflicts and aspirations for tourism as well as the political dimension of these negotiations. This mediation between the Heiltsuk people and current visitors – mostly sport-fishers – offered a deeper understanding of local conflicts. This was something I was able to contribute from an outsider perspective.

Working with Indigenous Peoples

The question of what I can contribute was crucial throughout my research process. As I wanted to work with Indigenous peoples on environmental issues, it was important to acknowledge that research involving Indigenous peoples in North America has often been shaped by disrespect for Indigenous principles and values and lead to economic, cultural and environmental exploitation.

Thus, the principles of respect, relevance, responsibility, reciprocity and transparency shaped the research project which is based on a partnership with the Heiltsuk Nation. The research project was shaped by the Nation’s objectives to ensure that it was relevant for the people working on the project and enabled a reciprocal relationship in which both parties benefit from the research outcomes. Furthermore, the project was conducted respecting the Heiltsuk research protocols and enabling transparency throughout the process.

Anthropological Contribution to Negotiations on Tourism

While general tourism studies often promote tourism development, anthropology is mostly critical of such activities working on case studies which underline the negative impact of tourism development. There are several explanations for this critical stance: exoticisation and commodification of culture as well as environmental destruction (Douglass and Lacy 2008).

However, I argue for a more holistic view on tourism. The critique is certainly legitimate concerning top-down approaches for tourism development. Yet, tourism cannot be reduced to a Western capitalist enterprise in which privileged Western tourists “consume” and exploit local marginalised groups.

Instead, an increasing number of non-Western tourists as well as Indigenous and marginalised groups taking control over tourism activities challenges this conception. Thus, instead of solely promoting or criticising tourism development, our ethnographic research offers the opportunity to create a more holistic view on tourism and acknowledge local people’s agency and aspirations as well as their concerns and possible conflicts.

What can we contribute?

Coming back to the question of what we as anthropologists can contribute. The crucial contribution from my research was to focus on a topic that was relevant for the people I was working with. When the research findings are relevant and useful for our research partners, this already enables a reciprocal relationship.

Furthermore, respecting research protocols and using letters of consent and intent assured my research partners of the respectful conduct of the project and clarified both party’s rights in the process. Aspects like co-authorship will challenge a researcher’s authority over research interpretations. However, instead of viewing research transparency and proof-reads of our work as censorship, this can also be seen as an opportunity for peer-review.

Eventually, our research publications are a representation of our research partners and as we are calling for self-representations of marginalised and Indigenous peoples in realms like tourism, we should establish the same standards in our own work.


Douglass, William A. and Lacy, Julie 2008: „Anthropological Angst and the Tourist Encounter.” In: napa Bulletin 23: 119-134.

Sarah Mund graduated in 2020 with a Master of Arts in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Cologne. Her Master’s thesis focused on tourism development in an Indigenous community in British Columbia. This included negotiations on environmental, cultural and economic sustainability as well as the political dimension of sovereignty and (self-)representation. Her research interest is on human and environment studies with a focus on Indigenous perspectives.

Environmental Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Teaching

Gerda Kuiper and Hauke-Peter Vehrs, University of Cologne

On 12 December 2019, we gave a “Pecha Kucha”-talk at the Inaugural Meeting of the EASA Environment and Anthropology Network (Enviroant) in Cologne. We here summarize our talk, as food for thought for lecturers and students of interdisciplinary courses related to environmental anthropology.

We wish to underscore the great potential of such classes for making environmental anthropology more visible and relevant, and furthermore create some awareness of potential opportunities and pitfalls that come along with interdisciplinary teaching.

Read more

Dan Podjed Speaks at EnviroAnt’s Inaugural Meeting

‘In an epoch, called the Anthropocene, the world urgently needs anthropological methods and thinking to address the main environmental problems – from climate change to extinction of species and pollution,’ said Dan PodjedEASA Applied Anthropology Network founder and executive advisor, at EASA Environment and Anthropology Network (EnviroAnt)’s inaugural meeting in Cologne, Germany.

In the concluding part of his keynote speech, he presented the development of the #WWNA movement from its inception in 2013 and announced the 2020 edition of #WWNA, which will be held in Prague. Anthropologists, environmentalists, biologists, climatologists and other experts, practitioners and activists are welcome to join the future events of both EASA networks! (Photo: Gregory Lawrence Acciaioli.)