Community-based participatory research (CBPR) refers to a methodological and epistemological approach to applied community projects in which researchers and community members collaborate as equals in the research process. Also known as participatory action research (PAR), CBPR has gained considerable acceptance both as a set of methods for identifying and addressing local issues of concern and as a vehicle for applying the principles of equity, cultural humility, mutual learning, and social justice to the relationships between researchers and communities. Although somewhat distinct from applied anthropology, CBPR shares with ethnography in particular an attentiveness to rapport building and community engagement and an overall validation of local knowledge. There is little consensus regarding the threshold of community participation necessary for a given research project to be considered CBPR. However, at a minimum the approach requires that community members define the problems to be assessed, provide consultation on the cultural and social dimensions of the study population, and serve in an advisory capacity over the entire project. The history of CBPR and its antecedents reflects its twin values as a pragmatic approach to researching and addressing local problems and as an emancipatory social justice project that seeks to diminish the hierarchical relationship between researchers and community members. Specifically, the pragmatic perspective was developed in the United States by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s (and subsequently by the anthropologists Laura Thompson and Sol Tax), while the emancipatory approach derives from the work of educational theorist Paulo Freire in Brazil in the 1970s. Community Advisory Boards (CABs) play an outsized role in the success of CBPR projects, since they typically represent the community in these studies, and thus maintain oversight over all aspects of the research process, including the study design, sampling and recruitment protocols, and the dissemination of findings. Accordingly, nurturing and maintaining trust between researchers, the CAB, and the community constitutes a foundational practice for any CBPR study.
Community-Based Participatory Research
Anthropology of Peace and Justice Studies
Eric Montgomery and Elizabeth Drexler
The early 21st century has seen the largest protests for social justice in the history of the U.S., including the Women’s Marches of 2016–2020 as well as the Movement for Black Lives. Meanwhile, the Farmers’ Protest in India constitutes the largest and most expensive protest in the history of the world. Cases of state and political violence and genocide around the world have been addressed in transitional justice processes and peace agreements or commemorated in various forms. And yet, even as individuals and groups mobilize for peace and justice, violence and oppression continue to proliferate around the world. What we identify as the anthropology of peace and justice encompasses the empirical analysis, theoretical engagement, and practical advocacy of anthropologists across the subfields. These anthropologists work to identify, conceptualize, and study individual and collective engagement with violence, oppression, injustice, and efforts to make change, seek justice, and establish sustainable peace. Anthropological theory and methods are well suited to capture emergent, ongoing, and innovative struggles for justice that occur in a range of social, cultural, political, and institutional realms drawing on collective cultural and symbolic actions. Today’s anthropologists engage with issues of violence, conflict, inequality, and struggles for justice and equity. We highlight theoretical, methodological, analytic, and ethnographic elements that distinguish anthropological approaches to peace and justice studies from other disciplines that examine this domain. Anthropologists engaging immigrant rights, movements for racial justice, indigenous rights, climate justice, gender equity, the Fight for $15, Occupy Wallstreet, gun violence, and issues of authoritarian rule and neoliberalism (market-oriented principles and government deregulation) in the era of globalization continue to build this vibrant and expanding area of anthropological concern.
Amy Johnson, Chris Hebdon, Paul Burow, Deepti Chatti, and Michael Dove
The Anthropocene is a newly proposed geological epoch that situates humans as geological agents responsible for altering Earth systems as evidenced in the geological record and directly experienced through the earth’s changing climate. There remains significant debate regarding when humans manifested change in Earth systems, as well as how human influence in planetary processes is evidenced geologically. As of 2022, “Anthropocene” has yet to be adopted as an official category of geological time by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geologic Sciences. Its influence has nonetheless outpaced academic debate, informing politics, policies, and opinions worldwide. In this context, anthropologists engage the Anthropocene simultaneously as a coupled biophysical and geological fact and an imaginary shaping human relations to Earth and environment. While upholding the validity of the Anthropocene as a reflection of accelerating planetary-scale environmental changes, anthropology is notable for asking critical questions about how the concept is developed and mobilized and what mainstream interpretations of the Anthropocene hide from view about life on our changing planet. Anthropology has been especially sensitive to the ontologies of time latent in the Anthropocene debates, recognizing the plural ways time is lived globally and how the concept of the Anthropocene interacts with ideas of past, present, and future. Moreover, in concordance with the standpoints of Indigenous theory and feminist and queer studies, and in conversation with critical scholarship of power and justice, anthropology has contributed to ongoing discussion about the criteria used to evaluate the Anthropocene’s beginnings, advancing discussions about the complicity of political economies of capitalism, colonialism, and plantations in the production of the Anthropocene. The engaged ethnographic approaches central to contemporary anthropology have thus deepened understanding of how the proposed Anthropocene epoch is lived and how its framing is changing human relations to environment and responsibilities for Earth’s future.
Global Human Rights
Peter W. Van Arsdale
Global human rights, writ large, impact the entire human condition. They span cultural, social, economic, ecological, political, and civic realms. They pertain to how people are treated, protected, and respected. They are interrelated, interdependent, and of importance to all people, yet in actuality—as they play out—do not apply equally to all people. They have not been formulated by representatives of all societies, have not been accepted by members of all nation-states, and have not—in any sense of an entirety or set—been formally approved by many important transnational rights-oriented organizations. However, as commonalities are considered in the way rights emerge and evolve, there are many. Certain principles are foundational. The processes are as essential as the products. The aspirations are as important as the achievements. The subject of human rights can be addressed from many angles. Some authorities suggest that philosophy provides the overarching umbrella, dating from the era of John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704). From one perspective of history, which features emergent religious interpretations, duties and obligations that are situated in various diverse cultural traditions are central. From another perspective of history, which features seminal events such as wars and genocides, the actions and reactions of various actors—from victims to warriors—become central. From the perspective of law, covenants and protocols designed to advise, protect, and aid prosecution emerge prominently. From the perspective of political science, the ways in which citizens engage the political process as rights and wrongs are debated is key. Other disciplines, from psychology to theology to journalism, also contribute significantly. By way of contrast, cultural or social anthropology takes an ethnographic perspective. The cultural context is specified, with case-specific narratives often featured. Documentation of encounters (one-to-one, group-to-group, institution-to-institution) is crucial. Past, present, and potential future issues are addressed. The actions of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, as well as service providers, advocates, and everyday citizens, stand out. Field research, both theoretical and applied, is part and parcel of what anthropologists do. There is no single “theory of human rights.” However, there are a number of prominent paradigms, theories, and models that inform anthropological work in human rights. Of note are statist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist models, with the cosmopolitan of particular interest to anthropologists given its emphasis on individuals rather than states. Viewed differently, from the perspective of power and its abuses, the theory of structural violence is very useful. Case studies of perpetrators of abuse are usually more difficult to develop than those for victims, yet are particularly illustrative of power differentials. Ultimately, improvements in the ways in which abuses are dealt with and the ways in which the human rights regime (i.e., the systematized body of discourse, norms, resources, and protocols) ultimately can change for the better for everyday citizens, are tied to processes of socialization, internalization, and obligation. Rights are not static, but rather, very dynamic.
Sustainable development was famously defined in the 1987 Brundtland Report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” In the decades that followed, anthropologists have made clear that the term requires a more specific redefinition within its context of late capitalism. For anthropologists, sustainable development evokes the effort of extending capitalist discipline while remaining conscious of economic or environmental constraints. Yet they have also found that sustainable development discourses frequently pitch certain forms of steady, careful capitalist extension as potentially limitless. Anthropologists have broadly found “sustainable” to be used by development workers and policy experts most widely in reference to economic rather than environmental constraints. Sustainable development thus presents as an environmentalist concept but is regularly used to lubricate extraction and energy-intensive growth in the name of a sustained capitalism. The intensifying impacts of climate change demonstrate the stakes of this choice. Anthropological interruptions and interrogations of the sustainable development concept within the unfolding logic of late capitalism range from the intimate and local realm of economic lives, to the political ecology of resource extraction, to the emerging ethnography of climate change. Anthropologists investigate sustainable development at these three scales. Indeed, scale is an effective analytic for understanding its spatial and temporal effects in and on the world. Anthropologists approach sustainable development up close as it has been utilized as a short-term disciplinary instrument of transforming people identified as poor into entrepreneurs. They can zoom out to see large extractive industries as, themselves, subjects and drivers of a larger-scale, longer-term framework of sustainable development. They also zoom out even further, intervening in emergent responses to climate change, a problem of utmost urgency that affects the globe broadly and far into the future, but unevenly. The massive environmental changes wrought by energy-intensive growth have already exceeded the carrying capacity of many of the world’s ecosystems. Climate change is at once a grave problem and a potential opportunity to rethink our economic lives. It has been an impetus to redefine mainstream approaches to sustainable development within a fossil-fueled capitalism. However, a deliberate program of “neoliberal adaptation” to climate change is emerging in sites of sustainable development intervention in a way that promises a consolidation of capitalist discipline. Anthropologists should thus engage a more robust ethnographic agenda rooted in environmental justice.
Jeanne Féaux de la Croix
Collaborative and transdisciplinary research are ambitious and influential streams of thought in current anthropology. Collaboration represents a family of ideas often described as “transdisciplinary” in other disciplines. Proponents argue that collaborative models explicitly create greater recognition of research relationships and produce a more socially engaged research process. This research philosophy claims to produce more just, theoretically innovative, and robust research outcomes. Advocates highlight both the value and the difficulty of reformulating research relationships in this way, specifying conditions such as the need for heightened personal and programmatic reflexivity in the process. Debates over the essence of collaborative practice intersect with key theoretical questions around the (co)production of knowledge and power, including issues of representation, reflexivity, engaged and public anthropology, the nature of fieldwork, and tensions around the institutional logics of evaluating research excellence and usefulness. The collaborative ethos bears many similarities with earlier and related fields such as action anthropology and decolonizing agendas. The current popularity of the term should be viewed critically in the context of wider scientific and societal logics. The institutional homes of collaboration can be found in countries subscribing to democratic and human rights ideals, and those experiencing a strong push for Indigenous rights. Because of potential risks in self-consciously declaring collaboration, such research is relatively rare in authoritarian settings, though often practiced with a lower profile. Uncertainty also in predefining research outcomes is discussed as essential, producing both unexpected findings as well as potential failures. General patterns of reciprocity and degrees of power-sharing are differentiated along three axes. The more politically radical the outlook of the researcher, the less control over the project the researcher tends to exert. Second, the more socially similar researcher and counterpart are to one another, the higher the degree of power-sharing and reciprocity. Third, the more heterogeneous the kinds of people the project draws together, the more negotiation and potential friction it entails. The very popularity of the collaborative principle holds some risks, such as potentially leading to abusing collaboration as a source of “cheap” research labor. Further, often the unfamiliarity of funding reviewers with the principles of open-ended research design and value of alternative research products from standard academic publishing patterns can pose difficulties in realizing research. In addition, the often longer timeline of reaping the potentially huge benefits of collaboration also poses risks, especially for precariously employed researchers. In sum, the demanding discussion and practice of collaboration quickly takes on core disciplinary questions and uncertainties: what is good anthropology, who is it for, and how do you get there?
Energy Anthropology Scholarship, Practice, and Advocacy
Although anthropologists have described, analyzed, and theorized about energy and culture for decades, in the 21st century there has been a tremendous increase in ethnographic research and public engagement on a wide range of energy issues. Human-induced global climate threats along with activist calls for action are increasingly challenging anthropologists around the globe to rethink their roles, methods, and paradigms. Anthropologists are engaging in energy research, public debates, and action on energy policies, extraction processes, offshore oil, nuclear waste and power plant meltdowns, energy consumption, failing electrical grids, renewable energy, and the people and environments they impact. Emerging from this growing engagement is an international, globalized anthropology of energy, with diverse, interdisciplinary branches linking to the humanities, information sciences, semiotics, public policy, climate sciences, energy institutes, environmental health, geospatial sciences, engineering, science and technology, and other disciplines. Energy anthropology has spawned primary energy source–specific anthropologies of energy for coal, oil, and gas (a subset of which is the anthropology of fracking); nuclear energy, hydropower; bioenergy; solar energy; wind energy; and geothermal energy as well the electricity generated from many of these primary sources. Anthropologists conducting ethnographic research, policy analysis, advocacy, and activism for these various anthropologies of energy have employed a wide range of theoretical frameworks and constructs. A few examples include social practice theory, critical global ecologies, environmental justice, political ecology, feminist political ecology, institutional economics, game theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and settler colonialism. At the same time, there is a trend away from grand, abstract, explanatory theories to focus on contextual details in power relationships, differing conceptualizations of energy, and specific impacts of the various energy regimes on communities and their environments. Concepts that have emerged in energy anthropology analyses, such as extractivism, petrocultures, energyscapes, energopower, energopolitics, hydrosocial territories, cultural flows, aeolian politics, radiogenic communities, nuclearity, and nuclear colonialism, are explained in the sections highlighting the range of issues and approaches in specific anthropologies of energy. A number of common issues of concern cross-cut anthropological work on the different primary energy sources and electricity. The links between energy and political and economic power are the focus of a significant amount of energy anthropology. This focus ranges from intercountry power dynamics such as those between Paraguay and Brazil, over energy generated by the Itaipu Dam, to state deployment of electricity to extend territorial control within Turkey. It includes state-foreign company collusion to push Indigenous and minority people from lands wanted for hydropower dams, wind farms, solar farms, geothermal power plants, or tar sands oil extraction in many countries. A number of the analyses examine colonial, postcolonial, and settler colonialism exploiting resources and people and expropriating their lands. Also of concern are inequalities based on race, gender, caste, minority, or ethnic status that are caused or exacerbated by energy production and distribution. For example, high-caste elites in India deny electricity access to low-caste households; women have more limited access than men to the grid in Kenya; and electricity powers the mines in Zambia but not the homes of the minority people displaced by the construction of the dam that powers the mines, or the communities disrupted and displaced by the mining operations. Energy anthropologists also have focused on the exploitation of Indigenous and minority groups for uranium mining and milling in Africa and the US Southwest with no protection from radiation. They have shed light on the human impacts of nuclear testing over many Pacific Islands and biomedical research that was conducted to investigate the impacts of these tests without the consent of the impacted people. They also have examined the impacts of the mechanization of mining that has left miners without livelihoods in many countries. Other issues explored in energy anthropology include the impact of energy extraction and production on the health of people and the environment; differing conceptions of and discourse about various types of energy and their uses; the impact of electricity on social, economic, cultural, and political life; and community resistance to various forms of exergy extraction. Energy anthropologists work in universities and associated energy research centers, energy think tanks, government agencies and congressional offices dealing with energy policy, international multilateral and bilateral agencies with energy and climate change programs, national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and energy industries. They engage in energy ethnography; critical analysis of energy practices and programs; energy policymaking and policy analysis; energy program assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation; energy product design; energy advocacy; and energy activism.
Human and Nonhuman Rights to Water
All living kinds, human and nonhuman, require rights to water. A UN Declaration upholds rights to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for humans, and some environmental legislation seeks to assure minimal flows of water in ecosystems. However, such rights are situated within complex social and political relations that are often far from equal. The distribution and management of water is entangled in issues such as ethnicity, class, gender, and levels of enfranchisement, and is heavily dependent upon how beliefs and values about water are represented in dominant narratives. Although water has been regarded a “common good” for millennia, many forms of collective ownership of freshwater have been overridden by colonial appropriations and by attempts to enclose and privatize water resources and to reframe them as commercial assets. An accelerating global water crisis caused by climate change, intensifying farming, and the over-allocation of water resources reveals unsustainable pressures on freshwater ecosystems. There have been concomitant losses of access to water for less powerful human communities, and most particularly for nonhuman beings. As a result, approximately two hundred species become extinct every day. Widespread environmental degradation has caused indigenous communities to critique the exploitative practices of colonial societies and to promote alternate and more egalitarian visions of human-nonhuman relationships. Inspired by these alternate cultural beliefs and values, and sometimes in alliance with indigenous people, conservation organizations and environmental activists have sought ecological justice to protect nonhuman beings and their habitats. Many are demanding that the UN should declare “rights for nature” and that the International Court of Criminal Justice should define “ecocide” as an international crime. Anthropologists have challenged dominant dualisms about culture and nature, providing accounts of diverse cultural worldviews in which all living kinds inhabit a nonbifurcated world. They have underlined the fluid interelationalities between human and nonhuman beings and the material environment. Building on a strong disciplinary history of advocating for human rights, they are exploring ways to articulate nonhuman needs and interests, for example, in new forms of river catchment management. There is growing consensus about the need to encourage forms of “pan-species democracy” that will ensure that all living kinds have sufficient rights to water and to the conditions that enable them to flourish.