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Wolfram Dressler and Sally Babidge

The changes in anthropological theory and perspectives on identity and difference can be explored in the context of three major periods of development: the colonial, postcolonial, and postdevelopment periods. In the colonial era, anthropologists drew heavily on the idea of social evolution located in the works of Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, and E.B. Tylor. In their work, lower-order “savages” (i.e., indigenous people) were thought to evolve socioculturally into higher-order, “civilized” Europeans. In the postcolonical period, the wave of independence throughout much of the developing world led social anthropologists to interpret how different groups came to self-identify with people and situations in a relational sense in an emerging postcolonial context. Ethnographers considered how people identified with certain social and cultural characteristics as being contingent upon their shared understanding of these features in relation to group membership and how others perceived such characteristics. Since the 1990s, social anthropologists have considered conceptions of indigeneity and other identity work with greater nuance, focusing on the layered processes that constitute identity. Recent scholarly contributions have considered how and why people have socially constructed their identities through reflections of self, sociopolitical positions, and culture relative to individual and group experiences in society. In particular, three intellectual streams have begun to reconceptualize identity formation: social positioning, articulation, and transnational identity building.


Even as globalization offers new opportunities to many and opens numerous political opportunities for social movements and other forms of political organizations, globalization also often disrupts existing forms of beliefs, values, and behaviors, as well as the global environment. The impacts of human activities on the global environment have become increasingly evident. Tangible evidence of global climate change is now becoming apparent in many places, as glaciers and permafrost melt, rainfall patterns change, and species move or die out. Indeed, the scale of human activity has seriously altered the biogeophysical state of planet Earth. The shifting patterns of industrial and intellectual production associated with globalization have also resulted in the relocation of environmental externalities from one country to another. The growth in global trade has made it easier to “export” negative environmental impacts to countries less able to afford strict regulation and less willing to impose it. Moreover, the “commodification of everything” has changed more traditional patterns of pollution and waste production in unforeseen ways, especially through cultural globalization—that is, the worldwide diffusion of high-consumption norms that put a premium on things. As such, there has been a growing turn toward efforts to use market tools and mechanisms to “globalize” environmental remediation. The three general categories for such “solutions” include the commodification of the “right to pollute”; ecological modernization, or reducing externalities throughout a commodity chain; and altering consumer preferences and motivating “virtuous” consumption.