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 »
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 »
The team of our current ARC-funded project on local knowledge and uses of environmental weeds recently assembled in Kununurra, far northwest Australia. The project will compare local people’s views of “weeds” across four case studies in four countries around the Indian Ocean – India, South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. My Monash colleague Priya Rangan and I are collaborating with Charlie Shackleton (Rhodes University, South Africa) and Ramesh Kannan (ATREE, India), supported by Tom Bach (doctoral student on our previous ARC grant) and Pat Lowe (Kimberley-based author and environmentalist). Read the rest of this entry »
How did forty years of rural development, population growth, and conservation action transform the landscapes of highland Madagascar? My recently published [1, 2] analysis of a region-wide sample of air photos from circa 1950 and 1991 document several key trends: crop fields, settlements, and exotic trees are replacing open grassland, while irrigated rice is expanding at the expense of wetland and riparian vegetation.
Indonesia‘s courts recently recognised community forests (or customary ‘adat‘ forests) as distinct from state forests (i.e., government land). This is a landmark decision, as shown in an excellent analysis by Elizabeth Kahurani . It overturns a presumption that the state is first and foremost the guardian and manager of forests, and vests more rights in local communities. In the context of south-east Asia, where states have a poor history of protecting forests (especially in ways that respect local indigenous people), this is an important victory. In contrast, here in Fiji and in much of the rest of the Pacific, the situation is quite different: most land (and hence forest) is ‘native land’ and belongs to traditional village structures. Revenue from logging goes to the iTaukei land board and the villages (the forest service just overseas licences), also two state owned companies grow pine and mahogany on leased native and crown land . In Madagascar, the situation is different again. The presumption of unoccupied land (hence, forests) as state domain comes first, and most significant areas of forestland have been demarcated as parks, reserves, or classified forests. Since the mid-1990s, neighbouring communities may gain use and management rights to some forest areas, but the forest is still fundamentally the state’s . Rural social movements are much weaker than in Indonesia, and the conservation lobby (which usually tends to favour state control) is stronger, in relative terms.
Indonesia’s decision can be read through the Nancy Peluso and Peter Vandergeest’s ideas about “political forests”. Their article in Journal of Asian Studies  traces the history of the idea of state forests, and how it was constituted dialectically with customary rights: Read the rest of this entry »
An exciting archaeological find by Bob Dewar  and colleagues suggests the presence of hunter-gatherers on Madagascar around 4000 years ago, which essentially doubles the length of the history of Madagascar’s human settlement. Their discovery, published in PNAS , suggests four thousand years of people living, burning, cultivating, shaping, transforming, and developing the island’s environment, instead of around two thousand . From a pyrogeography perspective, Dewar and colleagues make an important point towards the end of their paper: Read the rest of this entry »
Imagine two 9 year-old children. One gets driven across town to a school that his parents find best fits his learning needs, or social values, or cultural community. He barely knows the kids on the street where he lives, as they all go to other schools. He sits in traffic everyday, contributing carbon to the atmosphere and pollutants to the city air. The other child walks to the local primary school, joining friends along the way, kicking stones down the sidewalk, plucking leaves from the hedge, learning to avoid dangerous street crossings and engaging in little mischiefs. Obviously, I exaggerate and simplify. But the point I wish to make is that the impacts of school choice (or school vouchers, or proliferating private schools) on traffic, air quality, carbon emissions, health, family time, and neighbourhood cohesion are far from sufficiently discussed in debates over school choice.