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Plant Use  

Anna Maria Mercuri

Plant use is a familiar word pair that emphasizes how the great wealth of properties and characters of different botanical species has allowed humans to develop different aspects of their culture. On one hand, plants communicate chemically with each other; on the other hand, their wealth of chemical communication tools has attracted humans, who are interested in colors and smells, taste and food, fuel, wellness, and health. The traces of plants buried in archeological sites—the subject of archeobotany—allow us to reconstruct the steps of the relationship between humans and plants. Surprisingly, the study of botanical remains from the past shows complex uses since the very early stages of human cultures, dating back even before the beginning of the Holocene. The relationship with the environment was structured in forms of increased control, at least from the invention of agriculture (as something that had never existed before) onward, undertaking complex forms of exploitation in accordance with the different cultures in the different regions of the world. In more recent times, people and plants have also progressively developed a history of greater management and interdependence, including the development of agricultural landscapes, selection of domesticated species, and creation of gardens. The relationship with plants changes as society changes, leading to the loss of much knowledge in present times because of less connection and contact with nature. Knowledge and conservation of traditions dealing with plants are studied with ethnobotany, which explores plant use in the present day. Ecology for ecosystem services is the newest perspective on plant use, where perhaps trees return to play a key role in human existence without being cut down, and the green color of chlorophyll returns as a reassuring signal to the human species.

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Water Security and Scarcity  

Amber Wutich, Melissa Beresford, Teresa Montoya, Lucero Radonic, and Cassandra Workman

Anthropological thinking on water security and scarcity can be traced through four scholarly approaches: political ecology of water scarcity, water insecurity, water economics, and human-water relationality. Political ecologists argue that water scarcity a sociopolitical process and not necessarily related to physical water availability. The political ecological approach is concerned with power, global-local dynamics, and how water scarcity is unevenly distributed within and across communities. Water insecurity research is concerned with how injustice and inequity shape household and individual variability in water insecurity. Inspired by biocultural research, water insecurity scholars have used systematic methods to advance theories of how water insecurity impacts mental health, food insecurity, dehydration, and other human biological outcomes. Economic anthropologists explore how economic dynamics—including formal and capitalist economies, noncapitalist and hybridized economies, reciprocity, social reproduction, and theft—shape water scarcity and insecurity. Research priorities in economic anthropology include water valuation, meanings of water, and water as an economic good. Building from Indigenous scholars’ insights, relational approaches argue that humans have reciprocal obligations to respect and care for water as a living being. Water justice, these scholars argue, requires restoring human-water relations and upholding Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. All four of these research areas—scarcity, insecurity, economics, and relationality—are producing cutting-edge research, with significant implications for research agendas in the anthropology of water security and scarcity.