Home - Scientific Commissions - Anthropology and the Environment

Commission on:
Anthropology and the Environment

Co-Chairs & Regional Co-ordinators:

Heather Oleary

Deputy Chair:

Gregory Acciaioli

Proposal for the Revitalization of the
Commission of Human Ecology

1. Name Change
Proposed Title of the Commission:
Anthropology and the Environment

Mission Statement:
The key aim of mainstreaming ecological or environmental thinking within anthropology through the work of this commission is to promote and expand the research effort of our discipline on this critical global issue. Our starting point is the recognition that in order to better understand humanity (anthropos), which is the core commitment of our discipline, we need to acknowledge that humans exist within nature, and that nature does not stand in opposition to mind or spirit. This is contrary and comes as a correction to the overdrawn dualist distinction between ‘man’ and nature or mind and body, which has been characteristic of most modernist thought in the western tradition. This shift has significant philosophical, cosmological, ethical, political and behavioural implications, which this commission aims to examine by providing a forum for open discussion, with room for disagreement in a spirit of exploration.


2. Thematic Structure

The thematic focus of the commission has to be defined, at least in a preliminary fashion, to lend focus to the international research collaboration effort of its members.

In defining the theme of the commission, a balance needed to be struck between being sufficiently inclusive to generate enough interest and to allow cross-fertilization between closely related fields of inquiry, and providing sufficient focus to ensure that joint activities of the members of the commission will be effective in advancing research in this field. This balance can be achieved by articulating a thematic structure with a number of overlapping subfield of research, each of which may, for example, serve as a theme for a conference panel. A single theme would soon exhaust interest, and would be counter to the anthropological approach, which has long been lauded for being holistic and integrative. Participants would be encouraged to look at their own research and ask how it is related to each of these sub-fields. For example, it may be stimulating for a researcher focused on community forest management to contemplate how this work is also relevant to the question of sustainable water management or food security or climate change mitigation.

The following thematic structure is the result of extensive discussion among founding members following the Manchester World Congress. This group has a wide range of interest broadly representative of the discipline. Nevertheless, other themes may be added as the commission evolves. If sufficient interest exists, some of the subfields may wish to launch an independent commission in future.


Environmental Justice 
The issue of environmental justice has become central in discussions of climate change action in Copenhagen, given that justice is a prerequisite for garnering global support for mitigation efforts. The main injustice is that people who have least contributed to environmental change (including climate change) are among those most vulnerable to the impacts of this change, and often its first victims. Some of the people primarily studied by anthropologists, such as Indigenous peoples, are foremost among them. Environmental justice also relates closely to studying the impact of neoliberal development, and critiquing the corporatisation and privatisation of environmental resources, and the dispossession of local people. This includes but is not limited to logging, mining, oil and gas exploration, industrial agriculture and fishing.
Proposed Coordinator: ?

Food Security and Food Sovereignty 
The world is set to suffer the consequences of a severe food supply crisis in the coming decade or two, due to environmental change, the long-term failure of the green revolution, the impact of GMO crops, the loss of sustainable traditional agriculture, loss of agricultural land to development, impact of agribusinesses on family farming, urban migration, corporate monopoly formation in the food production, trade and retail sectors, and the impact of processed food on public health. Although a commission on Food and Nutrition already exists, the distinct focus here will be on the environmental and political aspect of this crisis.
Proposed Coordinator: Solomon Katz

Water, sometimes referred to as the ‘blue oil’ of the 21st century, has become subject to increasing concern. Issues include a massive push for water privatization (such as Nestle’s recent bid to acquire ownership of the water resources of Europe), mismanagement of irrigation leading to soil salinity or aquifer depletion, traditional practices and beliefs focusing on our relationship to water, the relationship between water rights and conflict, famine and displacement due to drought, the impact of large water schemes such as dams or pipelines, and the impact of climate change impact on water.
Proposed Coordinator: Heather Oleary

Environmental Policies and Development 
Governments worldwide are busy developing or revising their environmental or resource management policies in response to public pressure or as a spontaneous result of the mainstreaming of awareness of the need for sustainable environments and communities. Some of the legislation requires assessment of development projects and anthropologists are prominently involved, including environmental impact studies, social impact studies. Anthropologists are contributing to policy, often promoting more just solutions, and have much to say about conflicts between local people and state or corporate development agendas and about environmental protest movements, or emerging solutions such as sustainable tourism and community-based, participatory environmental management models. Anthropological research is also relevant to so-called "developed" countries, for example, to the improvement of urban and post-industrial development policies that promote resilience, equitable growth and social inclusiveness.
Proposed Coordinator: Andrea Zhouri

Anthropology of Conservation
Around the world governments have set aside some areas as protected environmental zones, including national parks, state or ‘protected’ forests, marine parks, etc. The management or mismanagement of these zones is a growing concern. Anthropologists are exploring more inclusive models such as community based forest management, as well as critiquing the impact of such zoning decisions on local traditional residents and their livelihoods, or cases of displacement. This means that investigations on areas under consideration for protective zoning are particularly important. Also relevant is the degree to which models used for conserving protected or endangered species, as well as their habitats, reflect a variety of types of knowledge, including Indigenous knowledge.
Proposed Coordinator: Gregory Acciaioli

Local Knowledge for Sustainability
Anthropology is the study of human cultural diversity, and it clearly shows that the way different peoples think about and relate to the environment are not the same, and that this has important implications. It also shows that there is much to learn from sustainable traditional agricultural practices and environmental knowledge as well as from innovative local environmental projects. The focus is on action-research, through evaluation of the practical relevance of local knowledge, particularly in relation to state laws and policies. Anthropologists study disruptions of traditional land management and tenure, local-global partnerships in environmental protection, cultural vulnerability or resilience in relation to environmental change adaptation, culturally appropriate environmental education, and the local reception of global discourses on environment. The research will also promote the exchange of information between different local knowledge sites to allow reciprocal enrichment and coordination, with the aim of giving a global voice to local people in the environmental debate.
Proposed Coordinator: ?

Anthropology and Environmental / Ecological Philosophy
This commission posits the need to ground anthropology more firmly in an ecological cosmology and ethics in which humans have their place among other species and wherein the rights of animals and the environment are considered. This entails a critique of our discipline’s unwitting alliance with the western enlightenment idea that progress proceeds through human domination over nature, and examining the potential contribution of animism and other non-western cultural cosmologies as alternatives to the dominant discourse on nature in science. The aim is to re-examining key categories of thought such as the culture-nature distinction.
Proposed Coordinator: Georgio Sacco

Historical Ecology and Anthropology
The “cultural landscape approach” in anthropology perceives “the landscape” as a meeting place of human culture and the environment, not just in the present moment but also as a historical process. This field of inquiry provides a meeting place for anthropologists and archaeologists and researchers on human evolution, who are often underrepresented in the IUAES. Historical Ecology in anthropology advocates for a critical anthropological archaeology informed by anthropological perspectives and deeply engaged with the intertwined history of local communities and landscapes. It explores the impact of changing environmental practices on human evolution and the rise and fall of civilisations and also explores links between environmental practices and social change on a more modest scale. Such research has important implications for emerging issues such as climate change adaptation and resilience.
Proposed Coordinator: Renzo Duin


3. Organisational Structure

In addition to the coordinators for the major themes identified above, there will be:
A Chairperson: to be elected
A Deputy Chairperson: to be elected

The Chair and Deputy chair will be responsible for reporting to the Council of Commissions and the IUAES executive on the activities of the commission. They will represent the commission in the Council of Commissions.
The coordinators of the subfields of research will organize meetings, conferences and joint publications, with support from the chair and deputy chair where appropriate.
Coordinators will prepare individual contributions to be collated by the chair and deputy chair into the overall commission report, including and especially on publications and joint activities outside the immediate purview of IUAES congresses.

All emails should in the first place be directed to the whole membership, giving individuals the choice to opt out of particular subfield email messages as they see fit. The CAE encourages communication with other commissions focused on contiguous subjects to facilitate the exchange of information and common action.

There will be an open call to join the commission sent to all members of IUAES. The membership will also be asked to disseminate the call through their wider networks, in the hope that other colleagues will consider joining the commission as well as the IUAES. IUAES membership is a prerequisite for full membership in the commission, which includes the right to vote and stand for offices. Adjunct membership (without these rights) is open to all anthropologists, though in the hope that they will in time support the IUAES by joining.

Founding Members and Email Contacts
Alphabetical, by surname. Total: 28

Dorothy Billings: dorothy.billings[at]wichita.edu
Carlos Caroso: caroso[at]ufba.br
Renzo Duin: rsduin[at]yahoo.fr
Sopie Elixhauser: sophie.elixhauser[at]wzu.uni-augsburg.de
Maribeth Erb: socmerb[at]nus.edu.sg
Samit Ghosal: samit.ghosal[at]gmail.com
Suzanne Hanchett: shanchett[at]igc.org
Michael Jemphrey: michael_jemphrey[at]sil.org
Solomon Katz: skatz2001[at]aol.com
Franz Krause: Franz.Krause[at]tlu.ee
Heather Macbeth: hmacbeth[at]brookes.ac.uk
Joan Mencher: joan.mencher[at]gmail.com
Prakesh Mondal: prmondal1[at]rediffmail.com
Paul Nkwi: nkwi70[at]yahoo.com
Heather Oleary: olear079[at]umn.edu
Raquel Olivieira: raqueloliveira2002[at]gmail.com
Giuliana Prato: g.b.prato[at]kent.ac.uk
Vivianti Rambe: vivianti.rambe[at]gmail.com
Amlan Ray: humanedestiny[at]gmail.com
Juniah Restu: restu_juniah[at]yahoo.co.id
Thomas Reuter: thor2525[at]gmail.com
Giorgo Sacco: giorsac2004[at]yahoo.it
Peter Skalnik: skalnik.petr[at]gmail.com
Dirk Steenbergen: d.steenbergen[at]murdoch.edu.au
Fátima Tavares: fattavares[at]ufba.br
Syaifudin Zakir: syaifudinzakir[at]yahoo.com
Rudev Viatcheslav: roudnev[at]mail.ru
Andrea Zhouri: azhouri[at]gmail.com


Publications by Commission on Anthropology and Environment (CAE):
Averting a Global Environmental Collapse: The Role of Anthropology and Local Knowledge (Reuter, Thomas, ed., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015) ⇐This book is available at 20% discount for IUAES members in good standing.