I was recently invited to give a presentation at University College London’s “Human Ecology Research Group” seminar series, and was asked record it in advance. I thank HERG for the invitation and the very fruitful discussion! I’m pleased to share the presentation here.
Summary: Forest landscapes and forest lives are mutating rapidly in central Vietnam. Non-native acacia plantations have boomed, local people have refashioned their livelihoods around these trees, in a context of diverse state policies. What is ‘sustainability’ in the face of these dynamics? This presentation seeks to give an overview of the progress of the “FT Viet” R4D project. I start describing the empirical case, then address the sustainability question before finishing with some comments on interdisciplinarity.
With pride and pleasure I’d like to announce the successful doctorate of Mialy Andriamahefazafy, which she defended publicly on July 13. Mialy’s previous work with a marine conservation organisation in coastal Madagascar showed her that local fishers were complaining about big boats fishing offshore, while in the inland capital, government officials were keen on the revenue they could gain through access agreements with foreign tuna fleets. This inspiration led to her thesis work, in which investigated the socio-material matrix through which fishing occurs. She narrowed in on three main topics: how diverse actors ‘access’ the fish, how these actors ‘narrate’ their concerns over overfishing, and whether there is any sense in approaching this issue by appealing to a sense of ‘regional identity’. Mialy undertook fieldwork in three countries (Madagascar, Seychelles, and Mauritius), interviewing more than 223 individuals including small-scale fishers, industrial boat captains and sailors, government officials, cannery workers, retailers and more. Mialy also observed landings of tuna in ports both big and small, and practiced event ethnography by joining delegations to attend two international negotiations.
Malagasy grasslands are often ignored, or worse, deplored. Biological research concentrates in the forests, many still shrinking despite conservation efforts. Yet research by plant ecologist Cédrique Solofondranohatra adds another layer of argument to the case that Malagasy grasslands have an ancient history and are important reservoirs of biodiversity themselves. Despite this, recent tree-planting efforts for climate change mitigation (of the ‘trillion trees‘ mode) often seem to take the easy path formed by a century of habit: planting exotic pines, acacias, and eucalypts in the grasslands, perceived as open, available, fire-damaged, and worthless. A much more laudable goal would be to restore trees to areas recently deforested.
Unrecognizable 20 years ago: Acacia plantations and new road in Nam Đông district, Thừa Thiên-Huế province.
The past week marked the launch of our new, Swiss government funded research project on the “forest transition” in Vietnam, which I’m leading in collaboration with colleagues Trần Nam Thắng and Ngô Trí Dũng of Huế University and Roland Cochard at Unil (see previous blog). The project aims to promote sustainable forest management and resilient rural livelihoods in the rapidly changing forest landscapes of this region.
Among the most potent recent academic buzzwords must figure “The Environmental Humanities”. This bandwagon is clearly attractive: an ever-growing bouquet of new journals, positions, institutes, books, and networks carries this label.[*]
In this blog, I’d like to propose an alternative definition for what the environmental humanities constitute, one that goes a little bit against the standard definition. In short, instead of emphasising meta-discipline, interdisciplinarity, and knowledge domains, my definition emphasises modes of knowledge creation and communication. Let me explain.
The environmental humanities emerged in particular out of history and literature departments (environmental history, eco-criticism), with a number of other contributors from across a diverse spectrum of academia (Nye et al. 2013). Well-known figures like Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold are claimed as predecessors. Definitions of the environmental humanities, in my (perhaps naïve) reading, seem to coalesce around three points: Read the rest of this entry »
Last month I gave the ceremonial first lecture of the academic year for our Faculty. The video is now online (see below). The presentation dips into a number of research projects I’ve contributed to in recent years in order to make a number of observations about the relationship between plants and people, notably with iconic ‘natural’ plants and problematic ‘invasive’ weeds. These observations include: Read the rest of this entry »
Geographers have long investigated commuting and transportation. While that isn’t my academic speciality, every commuter in the world probably has some comments and reflections on the “geographies of mobility” (to use current jargon). Here are my reflections on the city of Lausanne’s shared-bike program, initially sponsored by the two universities EPFL and UNIL.
In September 2010, fifteen prominent senior French geographers, under the auspices of the Société de Géographie, held a one-day colloquium entitled Le ciel ne va pas nous tomber surla tête (The sky will not fall on our heads). The participants critiqued the “prevailing obfuscation, radical environmentalism, de-growth, denial of science, and faith in humanity”. While many geographers can sympathise with critiques of simplified or overly catastrophic environmental narratives, as well as with critiques of bad science, this book went much further. It verged on climate change denial and was underlain by the assumption that we need no changes to our lifestyles. In direct response, two younger geographers named Denis Chartier and Estienne Rodary organized a conference entitled Géographie, Écologie, Politique: un climat de changement at the Université d’Orléans in September 2012 (see my blog entry at the time). Participants in Orléans expressed frustration with what they saw as the dominant school, the old guard. This conference also led to an edited volume, titled Manifeste pour une géographie environnementale, finally published a few months ago – the reason for this blog entry.
What does the Anthropocene mean for subsistence farmers Lele or Rakoto? At first glance, nothing. It is, after all, just a fashionable term amongst the intelligentsia; the latest jargon to adorn project proposals to do more of the same. But on second thought, for these already marginal farmers, the Anthropocene might concretely mean less rains, stronger cyclones, new weeds: new stresses, challenges, and perhaps opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »