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J. Terrence McCabe

Rangelands cover more of the earth’s surface (25–45 percent) than any other type of land. The primary livelihood strategy for people living in these lands is the raising of livestock, with an estimated thirty million people in Africa alone depending on livestock for their basic subsistence. Pastoral people are found all over the world, and regardless of what continent on which they are found, the environments in which they live are characterized as marginal, being too dry or cold for cultivation. These ecosystems are also subject to unpredictable extreme events, most commonly droughts. The impact of the environment on pastoral people’s decision-making and livelihoods and the impact of livestock on the environment have been the subject of anthropological inquiry since the 1940s. Beginning with E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s work in the Sudan and Owen Lattimore’s work in China, many aspects of the literature on pastoralism have developed in concert with the larger literature on ecological and environmental anthropology. How to define pastoralism has also been the subject of anthropological debate, and how to define a livelihood as “pastoral” has been complicated by more recent research revealing that people have moved in and out of livestock keeping for millennia. However, the degree to which people depend on livestock, both in terms of subsistence and identity, lies at the core of any definition of pastoralism. In many respects, the anthropological and ecological study of pastoralism has led the way in the theoretical development of the study of human/environment relationships. Theoretical advances have also had important policy implications. The idea that pastoralism will inevitably lead to environmental degradation (the tragedy of the commons argument) has influenced governments and development agencies to advocate for reduced mobility and reduction of the number of livestock kept by pastoral households. This understanding has been challenged by an examination of rangelands as nonequilibrium systems, which would require a rethinking of pastoral development policies and programs. Now ecological anthropologists and other social scientists are examining the resilience of these coupled social and ecological systems as rangeland ecosystems are increasingly fragmented and subject to climate change.


Philip Carl Salzman

Pastoralists depend for their livelihood on raising livestock on natural pasture. Livestock may be selected for meat, milk, wool, traction, carriage, or riding, or a combination. Pastoralists rarely rely solely on their livestock; they may also engage in hunting, fishing, cultivation, commerce, predatory raiding, and extortion. Some pastoral peoples are nomadic and others are sedentary, while yet others are partially mobile. Economically, some pastoralists are subsistence oriented, others are market oriented, and others combining the two. Politically, some pastoralists are independent or quasi-independent tribes, others, largely under the control of states, are peasants, while yet others are citizens engaged in commercial production in a modern state. All pastoralists have to address a common set of issues: gaining and taking possession of livestock, including good breeding stock. Ownership of livestock may consist of individual, group, or distributed rights, managing the livestock through husbandry and herding. Husbandry is selecting animals for breeding and maintenance. Herding is ensuring that the livestock gains access to adequate pasture and water. Pasture access can be gained through territorial ownership and control, purchase, rent, and patronage. Security must be provided for the livestock through active human oversight or restriction by means of fences or other barriers. Manpower is provided by kin relations, exchange of labor, barter, monetary payment, or some combination of these. Prominent pastoral peoples are sheep, goat, and camel herders in the arid band running from North Africa through the Middle East and northwest India, the cattle and small stock herders of Africa south of the Sahara, reindeer herders of the sub-Arctic northern Eurasia, the camelid herders of the Andes, and the ranchers of North and South America.


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.


Nonofho Mathibidi Ndobochani

Africa is the cradle of humankind, with the origin, evolution, and dispersal of hominids understood from this continent. It was not left out in the quest for knowledge on how human beings lived in the past, where they lived, what they used and ate, as well as changes that occurred through time. The development of archaeology in Africa, as elsewhere, had two aspects to it—the volume and inclination of work done as evidenced by extensive fieldwork and publications, and the change in approach that saw a shift toward philosophical and methodological concerns. Terminology broadened as there was a shift from merely establishing evidence of occupation and the presence of material culture, to studying the subtleties and processes underlying the material culture. The human mind is complex; it generated a dynamic material culture temporally and spatially, and notwithstanding the environmental impact on past cultures, humanity also colonized landscapes. Appreciation of an interchange between humanity and the environment became necessary to sync and contextualize the development of ideas, concepts, and worldviews, and whether they emerged from within societies or were externally influenced, they were shared across time and space—necessitating multidisciplinary approaches to studying the past. To an archaeological scholar in Africa, the problem is compounded. The study of the past has always been from an observer’s point of view, resulting in the call to “decolonize archaeology”—Africans were alienated in studying the past and the tendency was to have them not see this past as their heritage. Archaeology must be relevant to Africa’s issues of environmental management, food security, and socioeconomic challenges such as youth and women’s empowerment. What can the discipline offer? Is the archaeology of Africa accessible to its population, and do we see possibilities for an intergenerational beneficiation of Africa’s past? Most importantly, Africa still has a wealth of knowledge to offer in the study of the paleoenvironment, human evolution, food production and processing, historical ecology, multidisciplinary approaches, and computer technology. Their contribution to a better understanding of the rich, complex, and dynamic African past is of utmost importance.


M.P. Pimbert, N.I. Moeller, J. Singh, and C.R. Anderson

Agroecology is an alternative paradigm for agriculture and food systems that is simultaneously: (a) the application of ecological principles to food and farming systems that emerge from specific socioecological and cultural contexts in place-based territories; and (b) a social and political process that centers the knowledge and agency of Indigenous peoples and peasants in determining agri-food system policy and practice. Historically, agroecology is associated with a multifaceted body of transdisciplinary knowledge. The academic literature emphasizes the role of scientists in developing an interdisciplinary agroecology over the past ninety years. However, the practice of agroecology is much older, with deep roots in many Indigenous and peasant societies of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Polynesia. Although these societies never adopted the term “agroecology,” their time-tested practices in growing food and fiber illustrate many principles of modern agroecology. The transdisciplinary field of research on agroecology examines how agroecology contributes to equitable and sustainable food and fiber production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Agroecology builds on people’s knowledge, Indigenous management systems, and local institutions through “dialogues of knowledges” with social science, natural science, and the humanities. The study of Indigenous and peasant agri-food systems has thus been pivotal for the development of both agroecology and anthropology. The agroecological perspective is based on a transformative vision of the relationship between people and nature. Economic anthropology has unearthed a wide diversity of systems of economic exchange that are informing work on agroecology, including the vital importance of Indigenous and peasant economies, gift economies, circular economies, subsistence, and economies of care. These are pushing agroecologists to think outside of the box of dominant commodity capitalism. Agroecology is also based on a radical conceptualization of knowledge systems, whereby work on cognitive justice, epistemic justice, Indigeneity, and decoloniality is upending the dominance of Western, scientific, Eurocentric, and patriarchal worldviews as the basis for the future of food and agriculture. Agroecology is also underpinned by radical notions of democracy and new conceptualizations of popular education, transformations in governance, and empowering forms of participation. While the transformative agenda offered by agroecology is deeply contested by proponents of industrial and corporate food and agriculture, agroecology is increasingly important in academic and policy debates on sustainable food, farming, and land use. Exploring the relationship between agroecology and anthropology is both fruitful and timely because it can help re-root agroecology—which is increasingly at risk of becoming an abstract and devitalized concept—in the fundamentally localized practices and culture of agri-food systems.