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Taking Stock In Ethnobiology: Where
Do We Come From? What Are We?
Where Are We Going?

Article in Journal of Ethnobiology · July 2011
DOI: 10.2993/0278-0771-31.1.110


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Felice Wyndham
Research Associate, Oxford University


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Taking Stock In Ethnobiology: Where Do We Come From?
What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Author(s) :Felice S. Wyndham, Dana Lepofsky, and Sara Tiffany
Source: Journal of Ethnobiology, 31(1):110-127. 2011.
Published By: Society of Ethnobiology
DOI: 10.2993/0278-0771-31.1.110

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. 6303 NW Marine Dr. parece sugerir que las sociedades satisfacen roles substancialmente diferentes. To make an estimate or appraisal. ethnobiologists need to take stock of the field as a collective. Given the ecological and humanitarian crises faced in the 21st century and the transformations in world Felice S.Journal of Ethnobiology 31(1): 110–127 Spring/Summer 2011 TAKING STOCK IN ETHNOBIOLOGY: WHERE DO WE COME FROM? WHAT ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING? Felice S.C. Dana Lepofsky and Sara Tiffany For ethnobiology as a field to achieve its full relevance in the scientific and social realms. Hacemos un llamado a la creación de sinergias y redes entre estas sociedades y a ampliar el espectro de quienes forman la etnobiologı́a para fomentar nuevas visiones y aplicaciones de esta disciplina en la crisis ecológica y social contemporánea. es necesario que los etnobiólogos hagan un balance colectivo de la misma. The ISE strives to be a meeting ground for all stakeholders internationally and draws more biologists. 1. Department of Anthropology. La SoE se fundó con un énfasis más académico. take stock in. Wyndham.C. v. Department of Archaeology. University of British Columbia. In 2008. Wyndham. We call for synergies and networking among these societies and a broader ethnobiology constituency to leverage the insights and applications of the field to contemporary ecological and social crises. University of British Columbia . The Free Dictionary Introduction Ethnobiology has the potential for far-reaching influence in a variety of applied and academic settings (Nabhan 2009).wyndham@ubc. La SEB también es una sociedad de orientación académica. International Society of Ethnobiology. Society for Economic Botany Para que la etnobiologı́a como disciplina logre una mayor influencia cientı́fica y social. Burnaby. as of resources or of oneself. Sociedad de Etnobiologı́a (SoE) y de la Sociedad de Botánica Económica (SEB). Society of Ethnobiology. ethnobotany. member interests and Sara Tiffany. The three societies share relatively few members. and the future they envision for each society and for the field as a whole. SEB is also an academically- oriented society with a strong focus on botany. El hecho de que las tres sociedades compartan relativamente pocos miembros. v. con el fin de determinar la demografı́a de estas sociedades. To trust. y el futuro que ellos prevén para cada sociedad y para la disciplina en su conjunto. The SoE was founded with an academic emphasis and draws most members from North America and anthropological traditions. believe in. V6T 1Z1 Canada (e-mail: felice. En 2008. B. take stock. Key words: disciplinary history. con una fuerte enfoque botánica. 1. suggesting that the societies fulfill substantively different roles for ethnobiologists.V5A 1S6 Canada (e-mail: dlepofsk@sfu. the members of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE).ca) Dana Lepofsky. 2. To take an inventory. La ISE se esfuerza por ser un punto de encuentro a nivel internacional para todas las personas e instituciones interesadas en la disciplina y atrae sobre todo a biólogos. Vancouver B. Society of Ethnobiology (SoE) and the Society of Economic Botany (SEB) were surveyed to determine the demographics of the societies. y la mayorı́a de sus miembros son norteamericanos y de tradición antropológica. Simon Fraser University. or attach importance to. se realizó un estudio sobre los miembros de la Sociedad Internacional de Etnobiologı́a (ISE). los intereses y prioridades de sus miembros.

among other disciplines. is composed of the worldwide networks of all the ethnobiological societies (Table 1). history and ecology. as do professionals in the social sciences and resource and human rights litigation (e. in particular. ethnobiology has consistently been at the leading edge in the development of ethics theory and practice in research (Bannister and Solomon 2009. non-governmental organizations (NGO). Ethnobiologists work with both academic and vernacular knowledge. 1999) and is well positioned to significantly advance a broader network and application (called for in Salick et al. However. Posey and Dutfield 1996). as defined in this paper. the Society of Ethnobiology. and action and policy groups that focus on the relationships between people and other life forms throughout time. cf. It also negotiates the spaces between epistemologies and ways of knowing the world. policy and action initiatives at all levels. . pharmacology. development. Laird 2002. and squarely face the problematic relationships between access to knowledge and resources in neo-colonial contexts.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 111 economies and ethnobiological knowledge systems. nutrition. biology. inhabiting this space always comes with the risk of falling through the cracks—of not being recognized in more established discourses and networks. Salomon et al. In short.. our challenge for the future is to find a way to nurture the objectives of individual academic societies while collaborating with a broad range of ethnobiology stakeholders to cultivate a more active role in research. Posey 1998. These examples suggest that ethnobiology is slowly and steadily emerging from being a less than ‘‘respectable scientific subject’’ (Wickens 1990:13. indigenous studies. academic programs. Posey and Dutfield 1996). This broad relevance is reflected both in the recent burgeoning of ethnobiology societies (Table 1) and in the small but growing number of scholars and university programs that recognize the importance of the insights.. 2004) as the ‘‘science of survival’’ (Kaua’i Declaration 1997). Gagnon and Berteaux 2009. the field’s formal societies. methods. McClatchey et al. we explore ways forward that will strengthen. and legal knowledge structures. From this position. ethnobiology’s relevance and unique strengths arise from its position at the interstices of many disciplines and between worldviews and epistemologies. and data that ethnobiological studies produce (Brook and McLachlan 2008). 2007). an active edge. have a special role in setting the course for future priorities and directions. Thus.g. in the context of an unprecedented moment of ‘‘taking stock’’ via member surveys of the International Society of Ethnobiology. Conservation biologists and ecologists.1 Ethnobiology is a field that draws on many traditions and intellectual lineages. acknowledge the impor- tance of traditional ecological knowledge in contemporary conservation efforts (e. as places of interaction and means for collective path-making. The field of ethnobiology. ethnobiologists play an important role as negotiators between local forms of knowing and academic. it weaves the middle spaces between cultural and archaeological anthropology. This is a creative place.g. In this article. revitalize. Working from the premise that indigenous or local knowledge-holders need to be instigators and partners in research or application. and the Society of Economic Botany. and make ethnobiology increasingly relevant to the world’s contemporary biocultural crises.

Japan] 2003? Ecological Society of America-Traditional Ecological Knowledge Section 2005 EthnoOrnithology Research & Study Group 2005 Nepal Ethnobiological Society 2007 Foro Etnobiologı́a Peru 2008 Sociedad Boliviana de Etnobiologı́a 2008 Society for Economic Botany. whose worldwide membership has grown to over . 1 Table 1. The three societies which are the focus of this paper are in bold. the International Society of Ethnobiol- ogy (ISE). and the Society of Economic Botany (SEB).112 WYNDHAM et al. Japan] 1996 Sociedade Brasileira de Etnobiologia e Etnoecologia (SBEE) 1997 Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal (ESON) 1997 African Ethnobotanical Network (AEN) 1997 Chinese Society of Ethnomedicine and Ethnopharmacology 1997 Uganda Group of the African Network of Ethnobotany/Ethnoecology (UGANEB) 1998 Grupo Interdisciplinario para el Desarrollo de la Etnomicologı́a en México (GIDEM) 2000s 2000 Sociedad Colombiana de Etnobiologı́a 2000 Kenya Ethnoecological Society (KES) 2001 The Ethnobiology Club.Europe Group 2008 Grupo Interdisciplinario de Trabajo Etnobiológico (GITE) 2008 Sociedad Latinoamericana de Etnobiologı́a (SOLAE) 2009 Netzwerk Ethnobiology Schweiz/ Swiss Ethnobiology Network However. Kyoto. Founded Name 1950s 1959 Society for Economic Botany (SEB) 1960s 1968 International Work Group in Paleoethnobotany 1970s 1971 International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) 1980s 1980 Society of Ethnobotanists (SEBS) [India] 1981 China Association of Ethnomedicine and Folk Medicine 1982 Society of Ethnobiology (SoE) 1986 Grupo Etnobotánico Latinoamericano (GELA) 1988 International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) 1988 Netherlands Association for Phytotherapy (NVF) 1989 The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) 1990s 1990 International Society of Ethnopharmacology (ISEp) 1990 European Society of Ethnopharmacology 1991 Sociedade Italo-Latino-Americana de Etnomedicina (SILAE) 1992 International Congresses of Ethnobotany 1993 Asociación Etnobiológica Mexicana 1994 The Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa (NAPRECA) 1995 Minzokushizenshi Kenkyukai [Society for Ethno-Natural History. The gap is also reflected in these societies’ lack of substantial membership growth in recent decades (although very recently we have seen dramatic jumps in the ISE and SoE due to focused membership drives). 31. Vol. No. the Society of Ethnobiology (SoE). These modest numbers are particularly striking when compared to related societies such as the Society for Conservation Biology. Timeline of the establishment of ethnobiology societies worldwide. New York Botanical Garden/City University of New York 2002 Pakistan Ethnobotanical Society (PES) 2002 Society of Ethnobotanists of China 2002 Tanzanian Society of Ethnoscience 2003 Ikimono Bunkashi Gakkai [The Society of Biosophia Studies. the distance the field has yet to travel to fulfill its potential is illustrated by the relatively small number of members belonging to three of the largest ethnobiological societies (Table 2).

co- writer and analyst of the surveys discussed here. These data are from member rosters rather than surveys and do not include institutional members. as well as more people from non-ethnobiology disciplines who would benefit from joining the conversation. the SoE. who use ethnobiology but do not participate in its formal societies. At the beginning of the 21st century. . They are motivated by and draw upon their constituencies’ needs and concerns. and each has an important role to play in the larger ethnobiology community. we present here the results of a survey of the members of the ISE.000 since its establishment in 1985 (Society for Conservation Biology 2010). we explore ways to cultivate networks between ethnobiological societies and individuals. Based on survey responses as well as our own experiences in the field. global ethnobiology collective. to be most effective in research. how can each group make a systematic effort to coordinate and network with existing and emerging initiatives? If ethnobiology as a field is going to achieve its full relevance in the scientific and social realms. Lepofsky is a long-time member of the SoE and its president from 2009–2011. Terralingua’s Portal On Biocultural Diversity Conserva- tion (2010) integrates concerns about language in biocultural diversity. history and role they can move forward to articulate with other local. and the SEB. a great many ethnobiology organizations and players are already in place. the Biocultural Diversity Learning Network (2010) is a nexus for community researchers and other ethnobiologists to access global research and resources to enable local initiatives. Wyndham has been involved since 2000 in ISE governance as executive secretary. as well as a member of SoE since 1995. each with a particular focus. To us this indicates that there are more people to be recruited. outreach and action. ISE SoE SEB Total membership 2009 (N) 374 356 802 Overlap with ISE (%) – 11 6 Overlap with SoE (%) 11 – 11 Overlap with SEB (%) 13 25 – Membership in all three societies (%) 6 6 3 10. membership numbers over-estimate the actual pool of people in international ethnobiological organizations (Table 2). regional and international organizations as well as individuals.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 113 Table 2. SoE and SEB each have several hundred institutional members who are subscribers to their journals. Of the three authors of this article. Rather than re-inventing resources. By recognizing each society’s particular strengths. Tiffany contributed as a research assistant. and to expand the role these societies can or should play in the unfolding field of ethnobiology and beyond. secretary/ treasurer. secretary and then co-leader of an ‘‘ISE re-envisioning’’ committee. ethnobiologists need to take stock of the broader ethnobio- logical community. As a first step in the process. For example. Percent overlap in memberships between ISE. The Open Science Network in Ethnobiology (2010) links educators to foster best practices in ethnobiology higher education. SoE and SEB in 2009. Furthermore. because some individuals belong to more than one of these societies. We do this as a way of understanding the composition and direction of the larger. The percentages are not symmetrical around the diagonal because each society has a different total number of members.

for this survey there may be higher representation from Southeast Asia (ISE Congress in Thailand 2006) and South America (ISE Congress in Peru 2008). Ford 1994. The International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) In 1988 the International Society of Ethnobiology was founded at the First International Congress of Ethnobiology in Belém. and in 2008. what they perceive as the pressing needs for ethnobiology. SoE 35%. we designed similar online surveys for the three sets of members. The surveys were precipitated by the ISE’s project to re-envision and revitalize its role in global biocultural concerns. Though the ISE has recently launched significant online interactive capacity as well as interim-year and occasional regional conferences.114 WYNDHAM et al. No. . and SEB. SoE and SEB Within the last two decades. 31. particularly from the ISE. SoE and SEB members. To achieve this. thus the online nature of the survey likely biased representation in favor of academic and NGO members willing or easily able to take an online survey. Brazil. distributed them via email. In general. Its aim was to engage the ethical and political issues in the field. and interest by some members and leaders of these societies to better coordinate activities. The surveys’ main goals were to collect and compare information about who our members are. many people were active in ISE Congresses but not members per se in intervening years. 1 We structure our discussion around Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece triptych painting. particularly the legacies of colonial. the percentage of members responding to our surveys (ISE: 27%. SoE. Vol. That the surveys were only available in English might have discouraged some members. SoE or SEB as organizations. We report here on the responses to those questions that were shared by all three surveys (see Wyndham and Tiffany 2009 for ISE-specific questions on proposed future developments in that society). In part. it is on the low side for making statistical inferences about target populations of less than one thousand (Creative Research Systems 2010). In the case of the ISE. This response rate is not high enough to extrapolate confidently to the entire memberships. and diversified (Clément 1998. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? About the Surveys and Survey Response Rate The results reported here come from surveys of the ISE. The views of these new members are not represented in the results reported here. Until recently. this recent history is illustrated by the diverse histories of the ISE. the field of ethnobiology has grown. However. its membership always bulges with regional attendees in the years of its Congresses. many members have slow or no internet access. SoE membership increased more than 10% and ISE membership increased 130% between 2008 and 2009. As a result of active recruitment programs concurrent with the member surveys. SEB 32%) is typical for special interest organizations. transformed. and how to move forward with collaborative projects between our societies. Where Do We Come From? Brief Histories of the ISE. The interpretations and discussion of the survey results are our views and do not necessarily represent the views of the ISE. Hunn 2008).

the ISE intrinsically relies on its connections with a wide network of individuals and regional organizations to realize its aims. Darrell A. and nation-states. The founding vision was to address the ecological and cultural crises faced by small-scale societies around the world. and to leverage ethnobiological insights to influence global politics and conservation. knowledge-holders. Its current composition and orientation very . At the core of the ISE’s mission is fostering and maintaining an ‘‘ethical space’’ (Bannister and Solomon 2009) where people with different agendas and worldviews can interact. the Brazilian government accused Darrell of sedition for overstepping bounds in his advocacy role with Kayapó leaders (McRae 1989:4). particularly with indigenous knowledge- holders. These efforts began with the Declaration of Belém in 1988 which called for ‘‘mechanisms to be established to recognize and consult with Indigenous specialists as proper authorities in all activities affecting them. learning and decision making about lands and resources that sustain cultural and biological diversity. At the same time. The mission of the ISE’s Global Coalition for the Defense of Bio-Cultural Diversity is to ‘‘unite indigenous peoples. to protect biocultural diversity. however. to our knowledge. and their environments. From its inception. Posey was instrumental in bringing a wide constituency of ethnobiologists to Belém. while providing an intellectual exchange of research results and best practices through biannual congresses. The Society of Ethnobiology (SoE) The Society of Ethnobiology is. their resources. and implementation of alternative. the world’s first ethnobiology society (Table 1). in part to focus international attention on the Kayapó struggles for resource and land rights in Brazil (personal interview. discuss and learn across geographical and cultural boundaries. discuss and address some of the most difficult issues of our time related to the health and well-being of humans and their environments. In a dramatic turn of events during the Congress. The ISE’s Code of Ethics (2006) is a testament to the society’s philosophical and practical commitment to respectful and equitable partnerships in research. This galvanized an international response and ensured the energetic mobilization of the new international society. scientific organizations. and environmental groups to implement a forceful strategy for the use of traditional knowledge. Though the ISE has struggled at times to maintain that ‘‘meeting ground’’ space for all constituents involved and has at times tended more strongly towards reproducing an academic-format society. people-centred conservation models’’ (Posey and Dutfield 1996:11). striving to tackle the often difficult ethical issues intrinsic to biocultural relations continues to be one of its defining characteristics. The ISE has cultivated a dynamic network of diverse constituents who come together every two years to raise. The Global Coalition interacts with international policy at the broadest level.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 115 industrial and neo-colonial relations between researchers. and that procedures be developed to compensate Indigenous peoples for use of their knowledge and their biological resources’’ (Bannister and Solomon 2009:156). Elois Ann Berlin and Brent Berlin 2008). the ISE has played a leading role in developing equitable partnerships in research. involvement of local peoples in conservation and development strategies.

From the outset. The timeliness of Emslie’s and Weber’s efforts is reflected in the strong positive response from colleagues in their first call for conference papers and in the success of the journal. The Society of Ethnobiology was officially founded and took over the responsibility of both the journal and conferences. Arizona. No. Numbers to the right of each bar are the number of articles in the category. and the various subdisciplines of cultural anthropology. diverse academic interests are still reflected in the SoE’s membership today. nutritional or medicinal uses of plants. paleoecology.1).116 WYNDHAM et al. 31. the papers presented in the journal reflected this visionary integration (Figure 1). Percents were calculated by the number of occurrences divided by the total number of articles in the issues included in that decade. commemorating Hargrave and Alfred Frank Whiting. Vol. were published in 1980 in the first issue of the Journal of Ethnobiology. From its inception. Emslie’s and Weber’s explicit purpose in starting the journal and society was to provide an academic forum that would both reflect and integrate the diverse aspects of ethnobiological research. in Weber’s words. Topical foci of articles from the Journal of Ethnobiology 1980–2009. As our results below show. tradition of recognizing strong links between archaeology. ethnomedical. In part. conceived and organized by Lyndon Lane Hargrave and Steven Emslie at Prescott College. was composed of scholars with ‘‘diverse research objectives and accomplish- ments [that] were essential if the journal was to reflect adequately and intelligently the rich variety of data and ideas which could be subsumed within ethnobiology’’ (1986:iv).’’ In 1982. interdisciplinarity was a defining feature of the SoE (Weber 1986). Topic categories were consolidated from Ford (2001:3 Table 1. This goal of integration and diversity was also reflected in the society’s first board which. Paleoethnobotany includes palynology. which Emslie and Steven Weber started in the context of their research company called the ‘‘Center for Western Studies. The proceedings from the second conference in 1979. Indig/Local subsis refers to indigenous plant use studies and any people-plant interactions used in local subsistence. One issue was randomly selected for each year of publication and topics of all articles were tallied by decade using the same potential categories for both Journal of Ethnobiology and Economic Botany. particularly because it was initiated during financially challenging times (Tippo 1982). much reflect its history. 1 Figure 1. this arose because both Weber and Emslie are paleobiologists in a U. Pharm/Ethnomed refers to articles focusing on pharmacological.S. biology. . The SoE began as a conference in 1978.

The Society of Economic Botany (SEB) The Society of Economic Botany was the world’s first academic organization to focus on issues related to ethnobiology. the focus on the uses of plants. strengthen. in part . in particular the relationships between people and plants throughout time. However. Since its early decades. The journal Economic Botany. phytochemical and ethnological studies of plants known to be useful or those which may have potential uses so far undeveloped’’ (Society for Economic Botany 2010).. Thus. the ‘‘economic applications of [fundamental botanical] principles and… the industrial utilization of plants and plant products’’ (Robbins 1947:3). The emphasis on ‘‘furthering the application of the knowledge of plants in general to human affairs’’ (Robbins 1947:4) is evident in the applied botanical (rather than anthropological) articles that predominate in the first 50 years of the journal (Figure 2). Over the years. the SoE has been an academic leader in ethnobiology regionally as well as internationally. The continued focus on utilitarian aspects. the society came together around an already established journal The journal’s initial subject was. Undoubt- edly. SoE and SEB memberships. Due to the influential role of the North American academy in general (e. as its title suggests. we begin by discussing the current composition of the ISE. What Are We? Survey Results For the ethnobiological community to move forward. preceded the society’s establishment by 12 years. the society has brought together world scholars who are strongly committed to ethnobiology. initiated in 1947 by Edmund H. Since its beginnings. academics outside of North America and Europe are often required to publish in North American or European journals) and the unique anthropological contributions to North American ethnobiological research. To this end. their current mission statement considers all relationships between plants and people to be in the domain of the society’s interests (Table 3. the economic importance of plants –as described by the then director of the New York Botanical Garden. Fulling at the New York Botanical Garden. it will help to understand its current structure. the SoE has developed a sense of extended family that has nurtured several generations of new ethnobiologists (Turner 2001). the shift to ethnobotany —the study of plant-people relations sensu lato— is reflected in the predominance of journal articles dealing with indigenous/local plant relations beginning in the 1990s (Figure 2). The three organizations have notably different demographic profiles.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 117 An unanticipated outcome of Weber and Emslie’s vision to promote ethnobiological knowledge was to create and cultivate a worldwide ethnobio- logical community. was in part influenced by the still fresh memory of wartime shortages and rations (Robbins 1947:4). however. particularly by Western societies. Society for Economic Botany 2010). For example. is still evident in its journal articles through the 1990s (Figure 2) and in the society’s on-going concern ‘‘with basic botanical. and expand.g. SEB has explicitly broadened its scope.

In part this reflects the fact that undergraduates are less likely to join academic or professional organizations than more advanced . with the important exception that SEB is recruiting fewer younger members. One journal issue was randomly selected for each year and topic categories of all articles were tallied by decade using the same potential categories for both Journal of Ethnobiology and Economic Botany. Table 1. SEB 15%). ethnomedical. The SoE demography is a relatively healthy one. Numbers to the right of each bar are the number of articles in the category. SoE 34%. Applied/Agricultural refers to articles focusing on industrial/agricultural (non-medicinal) applica- tions of useful plants. No. nutritional or medicinal uses of plants.118 WYNDHAM et al. The SEB demography is most similar to SoE. we would also have seen low numbers of members in their twenties. Although a large number of the respondents in all societies are students (ISE 22%. but may also reflect the difficulty of retaining long-term members when the group only visits any one continent every decade or so. Pharm/Ethnomed refers to articles focusing on pharmacological. In contrast. Note that the scale for the 1950s differs from the other bar charts. Indig/Local subsis refers to indigenous plant use studies and any people-plant interactions used in local subsistence. 31. 1 Figure 2. We suspect that had we divided the age categories in the survey differently. Paleoethnobotany includes palynology. Percents were calculated by the number of occurrences divided by the total number of articles in the issues included in that decade.1). reflecting each organization’s duration (Figure 3). none of the societies is doing well recruiting members younger than twenty years old. Topic categories were consolidated from Ford (2001:3. Vol. almost half of the people who responded to the ISE survey are in the 36 to 50-years old range. Topical foci of articles from Economic Botany 1950–2009. in which younger scholars are recruited and then stay in the society. The smaller percentage of members above 50 years old in ISE may in part reflect that the society is only 22 years old.

of members Canada Geographic scope World-wide research World-wide research World-wide research of research (majority in Asia) (majority in N. Figure 3.S. America) Disciplinary Mainly biology/botany Mainly anthropology Mainly applied botany/ origins of biology members Vision for the To actively promote the To promote and To foster scientific society inextricable linkages perpetuate the research and between biological and interdisciplinary education on the past. students. To and the environment. of biological diversity cultures worldwide. but also that we have not explicitly tried to reach this age group.S.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 119 Table 3. and future the vital role of relationships of uses of plants. Declaration of Belém. SoE and SEB. The initiation of student chapters by SoE and SEB. Code of Ethics. Number on top of each bar is the number of respondents. plant knowledge to ethnobiology including First academic society Global Coalition arm paleoethnobiology and journal to focus involved in First journal of on ethnobotany. understand the complex relationships that exist between human societies and their environments. Age distribution of survey respondents. ISE SoE SEB Geographic origin World-wide Primarily U. international fora ethnobiology. and the Indigenous and local plants and animals relationship between peoples in stewardship with human plants and people. and research protocols for ethnobiology. and cultural heritage. cultural diversity and study of the present. and Primarily U. . Unique Focus on international Focus on integrating Focus on applications of contributions social justice and diverse aspects of economic/ useful to ethnobiology political issues related ethnobiology. Summary of distinctiveness and commonalities of focus among the ISE. and the ISE’s new ‘‘international emerging ethnobiologists network’’ are attempts to rectify this trend by actively recruiting younger members. including past and which includes present relationships recognition of land between peoples and resource rights.

Number on top of each bar is the number of respondents. As formal membership in an ethnobiological organization may not be of interest or possible for many indigenous peoples around the world. these low numbers cue a need to consider how to make the societies more useful or relevant to indigenous constituents. In contrast. and only 4 of the SEB’s 51 annual meetings were outside of North America. the SoE had held all of their 32 annual meetings in North America. Where survey respondents live.8%). The SEB’s botanical roots are reflected in the large number of respondents who are affiliated with the biological sciences. Nevertheless. although the SEB also has a sizable membership in Europe. where there are active regional ethnobiological hubs (dense networks). Conversely. but a majority of research is undertaken in the Americas. Europe is well represented. SEB 76%) their research reflects a variety of disciplinary traditions (Figure 6). distributed throughout the world.5%. ecology. Mexico is included with Central America. in areas such as India and China. each society should continue to recruit and dialogue with indigenous perspectives. but not surprisingly. 1 Figure 4. Vol. Based on the survey responses. the ISE held 9 of its 11 congresses outside North America. SEB 3. No. thus. SoE 71%. and environmental studies. Members of all three societies are conducting research throughout the world (Figure 5). Canada and Mexico). which makes sense in that there is no Europe-wide society for ethnobiology. The predominance of North American members in both SoE and SEB and the emphasis on North American research in SoE is in part reflected in and perpetuated by the locations of the societies’ annual conferences. horticulture.S.120 WYNDHAM et al. the ISE is an important resource for them. indigenous representation is poor in all three organizations (ISE 4%. or Canada. particularly for SoE and SEB. In contrast. ISE and SEB members’ research tends to be more international than that of SoE members. The online surveying technique certainly biased our response pool in favor of those with easy access to email and internet. which in the case of the ISE likely reduced representation from a sizeable constituency of recent indigenous members from South America. As of 2009. All three organizations have members throughout the world (Figure 4). as do the majority of SEB respondents. SoE respondents overwhelmingly live either in the U. the United States figures prominently. we see fewer members.. Seventy-seven percent of ISE members live outside of North America (U. Although the majority of respondents from all three societies identify themselves as academics (ISE 80%. 31. SoE 1. which is strongly North America focused.S. most SoE respondents are associated with cultural anthropology or archaeology .

the historical development of ethnobiology was initiated from the fields of ethnology and anthropology (Ford 1994. as we see strongly represented in ISE respondent affiliations. there are slightly more men than women in SEB (men: women. . ethnobiological inquiry similarly took root primarily in biology.S. Respondents could choose more than one location. SoE Figure 6. In North America. The strong associ- ation with anthropology and its subdisciplines in the SoE. Disciplinary affiliations of respondents. tradition of anthropological ethnobiology. Number on top of each bar is the number of respondents. reflects the different origins of the field of ethnobiology. and only secondarily with the biological or environmental studies. but the ISE recruits so many international members that this orientation is not reflected in its members’ disciplines per se.S. The difference in disciplinary histories may also have influenced the gender balance within the societies. botany and pharmacology.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 121 Figure 5. Mexico is included with Central America. Few ISE respondents (5%) identify as archaeologists (paleoethnobotanists. Respondents could choose up to three disciplines. ISE 46:54. In other parts of the world. etc.). Where respondents do research. percentages are reported here out of the total choices made rather than total number of respondents. which came to be best represented in the SoE. Number on top of each bar is the number of times this option was chosen. 2001) and included a holistic archaeological perspective. Parallel developments of the study of ‘‘useful plants’’ in botany and agronomy in U. Many of the ISE’s founders came from the more holistic U. institutions (particularly the New York Botanical Garden) resulted in the economic ethnobotany now represented by the SEB (Wickens 1990). Although women are well represented in all three. percentages are reported here out of the total choices made rather than total number of respondents. adding a social justice or political perspective. ISE members tend to be more affiliated with the natural sciences than the social sciences. zooarchaeologists. though less so than SEB members. but not in the ISE or SEB.

we explore these niches further as a starting place for both strengthening linkages between the societies and building stronger identities within each society. advocacy. 50:50. anthropology has had an almost equal representation of women.S.’’ the majority were satisfied with current levels of collaboration and interaction. and SEB (N5140. the write-in comments strongly advocated for collaboration on educational initiatives. SEB 60:40). at least in training and entry- level academia (Burton et al. What are we? The results of our surveys and our personal experiences with the societies lead us to suggest that they occupy different and complementary niches in ethnobiology (Table 3 and Figure 7). while the ISE encompasses issues of policy. Scope and domain of the founding vision and purpose of the ISE. Vol. Within the field. one obvious way to increase ethnobiology’s profile and to encourage synergies among ethnobiologists is for the existing organizations to be more closely linked and coordinated. 87%). SoE and SEB.122 WYNDHAM et al. since in the U. Similarly. 1 Figure 7. According to our survey. which have historically been more male- dominated. over the last four decades. 31. research methods and practice in an international ethnobiology arena. In particular. the slightly greater representation of men in the SEB community may reflect that it draws more from botany and agricultural sciences (Figure 6). Of those who did not ‘‘desire increased collaboration. The gender balance within SoE may be due to its anthropological roots. No. In this section. The SoE and SEB represent strong applied and academic exchange networks from different disciplinary lineages in North America. a majority of respondents from the ISE (N568. 1994). 67%) desire increased collaboration with other ethnobiological organizations. . 61%). SoE (N570.

might examine the ways that structural inequities are perpetuated by differential access to biological resources. it has the potential to significantly promote the field of ethnobiology to a diverse set of scholars and communities worldwide. a critical theory perspective in ethnobiology is made possible. social. while receiving input from and sharing information with hundreds of local ethnobiologists and activists in each new congress site. the SEB and SoE regionally. Rather than duplicate the services of local and regional societies that are rooted in local energies and resources. The SoE is in a good position to positively impact other organizations (within and outside of ethnobiology) across the globe because of its flagship journal’s wide readership. For example. 2003. for example. Thus. As the oldest of the three organizations and the one with the largest membership. The SEB has also bridged disciplines within North America. McClatchey et al. indigenous networks and policy mechanisms). The SEB has also been seminally influential in North America and abroad due to its highly respected journal Economic Botany. bringing anthropologists and botanists together in ways that revitalize both. and threats to cultural rights and resources. broad North American membership. leading the development of methods for teaching and advancing the field of economic botany and ethnobotany (Hamilton et al. the historical significance of North American intellectual lineages on the field. the leadership of prominent ethnobiologists in the society and because of higher levels of funding. agronomy and horticulture. and political dimensions of plant/animal/people interactions. Over the long term. travel and publishing influence that North American academics have generally enjoyed. annual conferences and the Journal of Ethnobiology. Due to its anthropological tradition. 1999). economic and ecological transformations. and its members’ ties to international development projects for half a century. it retains a relatively small core membership that is active in international circles (especially international policy. the SoE plays an influential role in the worldwide ethnobiological research community. its strong ties in the well- supported fields of botany. The SEB has provided a stable organization for a sizeable membership in North America and abroad. the ISE aims to provide a hub to link them with international policies. Because of this structure. Peru precipitated the founding of the Bolivian Society of Ethnobiology (Sociedad Boliviana de Etnobiologı́a) and strengthened the Peruvian Ethnobiological Forum (Foro Etnobiologı́a Peru). diverse research and practice developments around the world. the ISE is in a good position to play a liaison role among regional ethnobiology societies (as well as non-academic organizations. With the growing recognition of the importance of globalization. for example). Parallel to the SEB’s shift from focusing primarily on economic botany to incorporating more ethnobotany in the broad sense. the 2008 ISE Congress in Cusco. we also see a general transformation in the field of ethnobiology towards increased recognition of the cultural. which. The SEB initiated a European chapter and plans are underway for chapters in other continents as well.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 123 The ISE is structured to take advantage of a global membership base with its roving congresses that move to a different continent every two years. growing and changing organically as needed. and the .

At a global scale. indigenous or ecological defense groups and relevant policy groups are operating within partially connected networks. To step up to the plate and bring ethnobiology to greater prominence in addressing contemporary social and ecological problems. are situated to take up the challenge of bringing ethnobiological perspectives to bear on contemporary problems. No. Each of these societies fulfills a particular role. We propose the term ‘sister societies’ to denote societies that have forged formal or informal collaboration and coordination agreements. drawing on the needs and energies of its constituencies (Figure 7).’’ We envision this as a time when the field plays a heightened role in addressing the needs of a world coping with rapid ecological change and shifting political economies. which is of. to regional and international societies and policy groups. Indeed. To date. and new colleagues and new societies are emerging around the world. associations or NGOs. the need for ethnobiology’s vision and skills for understanding complex interconnections between people and other living things through time is increasing dramatically. situated in the interstices of diverse groups of stakeholders and worldviews. are particularly suited to articulate a broad communication network. the societies have mostly operated as distinct entities with little explicit collaboration. we propose drawing on the strengths of the regional and international societies in ways that increase overall synergy yet respect the distinct character of each society (Figure 8). an ‘‘Ethnobiology 5. It is beyond the scope of this article to articulate a comprehensive plan to achieve this. at least as many ethnobiology-oriented non-governmental organizations. Hunn (2008:15–18) succinctly laid out a history of ethnobiology’s salient cumulative transformations. we suggested above that it is time to systematically cultivate relevant interconnections to increase our overall profile and influence. As we have seen in this exercise of ‘‘taking stock’’ of three influential ethnobiology societies. followed by the cognitive Ethnobiology 2 of the 1950s and the ecological Ethnobiology 3 of the 1970s. 1 ISE globally. Ethnobiologists. Vol. One way to influence the future of the biocultural world is for ethnobiological organizations to more actively shape a next phase of development. Where Are We Going? Strengthening the Ethnobiology of the Future Recently. from individual knowledge-holders and researchers through local groups. the field continues to diversify. by. Given the ecological and humanitarian crises faced in the 21st century and the global transformations in world economies and ethnobiological knowledge systems. we propose that ethnobiologists have the capacity and responsibility to play a larger role in the way this century unfolds. we propose that such a development must emerge out of local and regional initiatives and that our societies’ main role in this is to strengthen and link up with existing ethnobiology communication and resources networks. We need a sea change .124 WYNDHAM et al. and for indigenous knowledge holders in collaboration with immigrant researchers. Almost 40 academic-oriented societies with an ethnobiology-related focus are listed in Table 1. Hunn’s historical summary ends with the emergence of an Ethnobiology 4 in the 1980s. 31. Hunn traces a beginning with pre-theoretical studies which he calls Ethnobiology 1.

generated by the mobilization of collective will and cooperation to strengthen existing organic. These relationships create a resilient.. NGOs. it encompasses ethnobotany. As such. the study of relations between people and plants. People and Plants International [PPI]).g. Regionally-based membership societies such as SoE and SEB. of an inter-regional meeting ground. of which some (e. reciprocal networks of ethnobiologists worldwide. and other regional actors bring unique lineages of inquiry and depth of place-based experience. Societies with no predominant regional base such as the ISE can take up the role. policy. Idealized reciprocal relations and information sharing between ethnobiology societies and related interests.g. information clearing house. as needed. the Global Coalition arm of the ISE) interact with international/ policy action groups (top). as the study of relations between people and the living world. subsequent discussion and commentary has . biocultural conservation.Spring/Summer 2011 JOURNAL OF ETHNOBIOLOGY 125 Figure 8. indigenous rights and ethics. which in turn subsumes economic botany. Notes 1 The term ethnobiology is used in this article in the broadest sense.. organic network that grows and shrinks as needed. This will amplify the voice and relevance of ethnobiology as a field in the realms of science and the humanities. the study of uses of plants. Individual and local interests (bottom) interact with regionally-based organizations (middle). Louisiana. and an institutional means of communication to policy/ ethics bodies such as the UN permanent forum and other international organizations (e. Acknowledgements A version of this paper was presented at the 2009 meeting of the Society of Ethnobiology in New Orleans.

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