Field trip report Madagascar 2014

July 17, 2014

I recently returned from my 11th trip to Madagascar in 22 years. My main goal was to scope out potential field sites for an ARC-supported research project entitled “A weed by any other name? Comparing local knowledge and uses of environmental weeds around the Indian Ocean” (with collaborators Priya Rangan, Charlie Shackleton, and Nitin Rai). I took two week-long trips from the capital, first south to my old highland stomping grounds around Antsirabe and Ambositra, and second east to the rice bread-basket of Lake Alaotra, the rainforest escarpment at Andasibe and Beforona, and the coastal plains and hills around Vatomandry. It was also a good opportunity to renew personal and professional connections, including at the University of Antananarivo’s forestry school (ESSA-Forêts), where I was invited to give a presentation. What did I find?

Neo-Australian landscapes along RN11a in eastern Madagascar:  Grevillea, Eucalyptus, Acacia...

Neo-Australian landscapes along RN11a in eastern Madagascar: Grevillea, Eucalyptus, Acacia…

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Biodiversity conservation in a developing country: new book

May 9, 2014

I’ve finally received my copy of the new edited book Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar, edited by Ivan Scales of Cambridge University. This will be a fantastic resource for scholars of Madagascar new and old, as well as more broadly. It includes chapters on a full array of topics: on biodiversity, palaeoecology, and archaeology, on the measurement and causes of deforestation, on environmental politics, policies, programs, and projects, and on different economic development-and-conservation solutions, often (but not always) from a political ecology perspective, broadly construed.

Cover of Scales 2014 Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar

Highlights for me in the book – which also has two of my own chapters – include: Read the rest of this entry »

Why we can’t say Madagascar is 90% deforested

April 25, 2014

If stated often enough, a fact becomes truth. That seems to be the case with the oft-repeated figure that “Madagascar has lost 90% of its original forest cover”. The problem, as Bill McConnell of Michigan State University and I point out in a letter just published in Science magazine, is that this fact cannot be proven.

Slash-and-burn tavy clearing near Andapa, Madagascar © 1994 C. Kull

Slash-and-burn tavy clearing near Andapa, Madagascar (photo by C. Kull)

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A space for interdisciplinarity

March 31, 2014

Recently, several geography programs I am familiar with – notably my own at Monash – have been in the throes of administrative reshuffling and identity crises.  In written submissions, hallway chats, and meeting room polemics we have all declared, at one point or another, that the strength of Geography is its interdisciplinarity, its crossing of bridges between the natural and the social, between science and arts.  We have also declared that the integrity of the discipline depends on it staying together as one, even though a climate modeller will have different needs than an analyst of urban indigenous social movements. Read the rest of this entry »

Vegetation fire and cultural landscapes in Fiji

March 8, 2014

There are three main types of fire in Fiji.  Sugar cane farmers burn their fields to facilitate hand harvesting.  Village farmers clear forest plots, fallow fields, and secondary vegetation for diverse crops using fire.  And finally, the fires that cover the most ground are those set in the grasslands of the drier, lee-side of the islands.  And of course there are occasionally fires that cause trouble – late last year I saw a major fire burning through the pine plantations in southeastern Viti Levu.

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Is everything becoming a ‘Science’? Next up: geographical science, poverty reduction science…

November 25, 2013

Is everything becoming a ‘Science’ these days? Land change science, sustainability science, conservation science, invasion science… what is behind all these new labels? This phenomenon seems to have somewhat contradictory drivers: one is an appeal to interdisciplinarity and crossing the natural-social divide; the other is a rhetorical or strategic retreat to the authority of Science-with-a-capital-S. The consequence is a number of approaches claiming intellectual territory and scientific, ‘apolitical’ authority and largely shutting the doors for reflective, interpretive, and critical social science and humanities approaches. Read the rest of this entry »

Competing interdisciplinarities: report from Cerisy

October 11, 2013

Every once in a while, it is worth reflecting on concepts that have become so central to discourse that they are repeated ad nauseum but without any novelty. So it goes with ‘interdisciplinarity’, a pet term of any university or research administrator. It is widely desired or required, without much thinking about what it means. For there can be multiple interdisciplinarities, or competing interdisciplinary approaches (as I show for political ecology and resilience, see below). Interdisciplinarity can be a practice, a goal, a tool, or an outcome; it can be individual or team-based; it can be ‘deep’ or ‘shallow'; it can be a spirit of enquiry or a formal requirement.

These were some of the inspirations I gained from attending, this first week of October, an intimate conference on Interdisciplinarités entre natures et sociétés, in Cerisy-la-Salle, France. Read the rest of this entry »


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