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portant role to play in generating more environmentally


Anthropology and Environmental benign ways of living which might secure a better future
Engagement for humankind and the rest of the natural world.
As review articles, all the essays are informative and
potentially useful, pointing the way towards work that
kay milton could be followed up in more detail. In this sense, they
School of Anthropological Studies, Queen’s University serve their purpose as introductions to environmental
Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland, U.K. anthropology and its various subfields. In particular,
(k.milton@qub.ac.uk). 29 viii 01 Tsing’s analysis of the relations among environmental
history, science studies, political ecology, and cultural
New Directions in Anthropology and Environment: anthropology in the creation of particular strands of in-
Intersections. Edited by Carole L. Crumley with A. terdisciplinary scholarship is insightful, especially when
Elizabeth van Deventer and Joseph J. Fletcher. paired with Dove’s demonstration of and reflections on
Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2001. 308 pp. interdisciplinary borrowing in ecological anthropology.
Several essays, especially when taken together (for in-
stance, those by Tsing, Leatherman and Thomas, Bro-
Teachers of courses on anthropology and environment sius, and Ingerson), stimulate reflection on the relation-
have long been in need of a comprehensive text through ship between political ecology and political economy.
which to introduce this field to students, so it was with Others (for instance, those by Winthrop, Dove, and Har-
some anticipation that I approached Crumley and col- desty and Fowler) emphasize the temporal perspective,
leagues’ collections. The book is divided into three sec- asking how knowledge of the past makes sense of the
tions, each containing four or five essays. The first sec- present and vice versa. Against this general endorsement,
tion, through contributions by Tsing, Maffi, Kempton, however, I find myself asking three questions.
Hardesty and Fowler, and Dove, addresses cultural un- First, and most important given the book’s explicit
derstandings of nature and environment. These chapters purpose, can this collection of essays capture the imag-
consider how various analytical approaches, used in dif- ination of students and turn them on to environmental
ferent fields (environmental history, political ecology, anthropology? I have no doubt that it will inform and
cognitive anthropology, archaeology of landscape, and so stimulate some of those whose inclinations already lie
on), can throw light on human understandings of envi- in this direction, but I wonder whether it can do more
ronment. The second section, which contains essays by than encourage those already converted. The only con-
Leatherman and Thomas, Johnston, Brosius, and Spon- tribution that seems to have been written with this pur-
sel, considers how social and cultural factors, including pose in mind is Sponsel’s on the rewards of studying and,
political actions, globalization, and religion, shape hu-
perhaps, personally engaging with spiritual ecology.
man—environment relations and, all too often, create
From the opening words—“Read this chapter at your
and foster injustice. These essays all advocate greater
own risk: you might get hooked on religion!”—this essay
attention to culture in the search for understanding of
entices and challenges more openly than the others do.
and solutions to so-called environmental problems. The
It could be argued that the subject matter of environ-
final section, with essays by Winthrop, Ingerson, McCay,
mental anthropology is enticing enough in itself, but in
and Poncelet, looks more closely at case studies and eth-
a world of countless competing interests we have to
nographies and their lessons for the application of an-
strive to attract people to what matters to us. Most of
thropological perspectives.
All the essays are, to varying degrees, review articles, these essays seem to me to rely too heavily on the subject
summarizing research in a particular subfield of envi- matter to speak for itself. The reviews and suggestions
ronmental anthropology in recent years and in some they contain could have been written for an academic
cases over a much longer period. Most of them also sug- journal or for a conference of already knowledgeable
gest future directions for research or for applications of scholars. Minds new to the field, as students’ minds gen-
research or draw attention to particularly interesting or erally are, would benefit from more infectious
useful developments. Each essay thus combines sub- enthusiasm.
stantive knowledge of a body of work with a commit- Second, is there anything genuinely new about the
ment to particular lines of inquiry or to causes such as lines of research these essays suggest? The word “new”
environmental equality and justice. The authors are in a book title is always a hostage to fortune, challenging
united in their conviction that anthropology has an im- reviewers to list all the research that already does what-
ever is being advocated. As I read, in Kempton’s essay,
Permission to reprint items in this section may be obtained only of the need to understand indigenous wisdom and prac-
from their authors. tice, I thought of Paul Richards’s work on Mende agri-
520
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Volume 43, Number 3, June 2002 F 521

culture, Vandana Shiva’s on indigenous forestry in India, Section of the American Anthropological Association
and Darrell Posey’s on Kayapo ecology, among others. and that most of the contributors participated in that
As I read Brosius’s critique of anthropology’s traditional Section’s inaugural session in 1996. It is also clear that
concern with the local—“To assume that the topology some of the chapters have been developed from original
of simple locality has salience any longer is not merely presentations to that session. But what was the vision
naive, but irresponsible”—I struggled to think of any an- that drove the volume, and how was it planned? Are we
thropologist colleagues who still made this assumption. to assume that it was five years in being developed from
Indeed, it has been more or less obsolete since the early original papers (in which case, the claim to be presenting
1990s, when Appadurai and Hannerz, among others, “New Directions in Anthropology and Environment” be-
were emphasizing what many of us had already comes even less credible)?
grasped—that cultures never have been discrete units.
This is not quite the book that teachers of courses on
Making exaggerated claims to “newness” is not a crime,
anthropology and environment have been waiting for,
and, given that such claims can always be argued for as
but it goes some way towards filling that niche. It high-
well as against, it might not even be an error of judge-
ment. But it raises false hopes, attracts criticism, and is lights some important developments in the field, and it
easily avoided. This volume demonstrates that environ- forcefully advocates anthropology’s engagement in en-
mental anthropology has become such a huge field of vironmental discourse. Some chapters, those of Sponsel,
inquiry that no one scholar or group of scholars can be Dove, and Ingerson, in particular, will become central to
expected to know it all and, therefore, to know when my course reading lists, while some others might be rec-
something is genuinely new. ommended as useful illustrations. As a whole, the col-
Finally, how did this volume come into being? On this, lection satisfies in some important ways but disappoints
the introduction is annoyingly oblique. We are told that in relatively minor ones, which is, after all, as much as
it is a product of the Anthropology and Environment most academic writers can hope to achieve.

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All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/t-and-c).