NATURE CULTURE ENVIRONMENTALISM

ANTH 297

Professor Nikhil Anand 

Water wars, Deforestation, Climate Change. Amidst many uncertain crises, in this course we will explore the relationship between people and the environment in different parts of the world. How do people access the resources they need to live? How, when and for whom does ‘nature’ come to matter? Why does it matter? Drawing together classical anthropological texts and some of the newest debates in the field of Environmental Studies, in this class we focus on the social processes through which different groups of humans imagine, produce and protect the environment.

The course will begin by reviewing key analytical insights developed in cultural ecology and ecological anthropology that reveal the ways in which the environment is ‘cultured’; the ways in which it is imagined and constructed by diverse peoples around the world. Exploring long standing debates around whether nature constrains culture (or vice-versa), we examine how scholars have theorized the dynamic relation between the environment and our social, political and cultural lives.

Both nature and culture are embedded in political economic structures- of trade, investment, science and property. In the second part of the course, we turn to political ecology, exploring the histories of capitalism and post/colonialism in the production and management of environmental crises. How does a river or a forest come to be governed, owned and controlled? How are people marginalized by such projects and how do they contest their marginalization? In this section of the course, we focus on the ways in which the environment becomes the terrain for struggles of social justice. Is indigenous forest management more sustainable that scientific forestry? For whom? As scientists, indigenous peoples, loggers, and miners each claim authority to manage ‘nature’ for the greater common good, we examine how ‘natural resources’ are claimed by diverse groups, through global alliances and campaigns.

In the third and final section of the course, we will move beyond the troubling binaries of nature and culture to think through new ways to understand their entanglements in our everyday lives. The work of multi-species ethnographers provides a new opportunity to take the ecology of the Anthropocene seriously. As humans influence, and are influenced by new strains of bacteria, bees and trees, the course will conclude by describing how we might work with and think about nature culture in new and interesting ways.