The unequal place of anthropology in cross‑disciplinary research on environmental management in the Pacific and what to do about it

Foale, Simon (2021) The unequal place of anthropology in cross‑disciplinary research on environmental management in the Pacific and what to do about it. In: Bainton, Nicholas A., McDougall, Debra, Alexeyeff, Kalissa, and Cox, John, (eds.) Unequal Lives: Gender, Race and Class in the Western Pacific. Pacific Series . ANU Press, Canberra, ACT, Australia, pp. 77-107.

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As someone with undergraduate training in marine science, but whose core intellectual interests in the relationship between environmental knowledge and marine resource management have pulled me towards anthropology over three or so decades now, I have become frustrated by anthropology’s marginalisation in interdisciplinary research on environmental problems. My collaborations with Martha Macintyre, commencing with my PhD research in the mid-1990s, convinced me of the power of ethnographic insights to illuminate fundamental social, cultural and political dimensions of environmental challenges. Simultaneously, our collaboration fired an interest in political ecology that has since expanded considerably. My work with World Wildlife Fund in the Solomon Islands (1999–2001) sharpened my focus on the extent to which environmental science (particularly the sub-discipline of conservation biology) is not only concerningly steeped in and shaped by ideology, but also routinely and wantonly oblivious to unequal power/knowledge relations (Clifton & Foale, 2017; Foale & Macintyre, 2005; Foale, Dyer & Kinch, 2016). Subsequent academic positions with anthropologists (The Australian National University), then biologists (James Cook University [JCU]) and anthropologists again (JCU post-2012) have only increased my alarm at the undeserved hegemony of natural scientists within cross-disciplinary projects. Too often, natural scientists reinvent an ‘anti-politics machine’ (Ferguson, 1990) of reductionist, managerial and deeply neo-colonial ‘social science’ that studiously ignores much of what anthropology has contributed, and can continue to contribute, to increasingly pressing environmental problems in the Pacific and beyond. This chapter explores the simultaneous appropriation and dumbing-down of social research by contemporary natural scientists, primarily through politically disengaged and often transparently scientistic approaches, which are greatly aided and abetted by the ‘metric fixation’ (Muller, 2018) of modern universities. I conclude that the only way to combat these politics is through greater collaboration within anthropology and a more strategic approach to publishing, research funding applications and communicating our knowledge to audiences outside the academy.

Item ID: 69821
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-1-76046-411-0
Keywords: anthropology; power; Pacific; Melanesia; conservation; biodiversity; fisheries; fishery management; metrics
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Copyright Information: This title is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2021 02:42
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440101 Anthropology of development @ 30%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440104 Environmental anthropology @ 50%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440107 Social and cultural anthropology @ 20%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1399 Other culture and society > 139999 Other culture and society not elsewhere classified @ 50%
19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1999 Other environmental policy, climate change and natural hazards > 199999 Other environmental policy, climate change and natural hazards not elsewhere classified @ 30%
13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1302 Communication > 130201 Communication across languages and culture @ 20%
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