|email@example.com||# Posted on January 6, 2015 at 13:29|
Nik Petek – Final essay
Current Themes and Debates in Global Environmental History: Final Essay
List of seminars attended
List of seminars for which complementary work was done
List of seminars led
Diary of seminar reflections and feedback given/received
The characteristic, which allowed the unit to achieve its goal, was its mixing of previously distinct academic disciplines such as history, archaeology, conservation, etc. It spurred each student to step out of the framework that was constructed in his/her previous studies and explore further. Moreover, the focus was more on societal relevance, causes and applicability rather than the science of ecology. This was appreciated by the students who in the future want to have an impact on society or a particular industry.
The unit had a great scope of topics. The seminars dealt with, what I deem, introductory topics which tackled issues of concepts (Ingold 2000b; Ingold 2000a), the history of environmental history (Radkau 2014), and the problems the field has already faced (Rackham 1996). The great majority of seminars attended engaged us students in discussions on world-systems (Moore 2010b; Moore 2010a; Moore 2011), power and power-struggle, and questions of authority and rights (Robin 2011; Carruthers 2012). A welcomed addition were also discussions with Ms. Persson and Ms Norberg-Hodge which allowed us to see how the idea of environment and ecology is perceived and shaped in a political and a popular sphere.
Getting to know the field
Radkau, in his book The Age of Ecology (2014), traces back the roots of environmentalism to the Romantic period, when it became vogue, and even further back to the 1660s in Great Britain (Radkau 2014, p.11). Although criticised for putting a lot of emphasis on Germany (K. Berglund, reflection 17.11.2014), it nevertheless details environmentalisms’ beginnings, and reveals its various guises. Importantly, the book contextualises the environmental discussion and clearly shows what events shaped it, e.g. health (Radkau 2014, p.35). The contextualisation made me realise that we are dealing with perceptions of the environment. For example, “discussing nuclear power in the seminar, [we agreed that it] is one of the greenest and cleanest sources of energy, but countries avoid building them and people are reluctant to have them because they are considered unsafe and create a huge waste disposal issue, and people are scared of radiation. Radkau told us that a German official was an advocate of nuclear energy until the Chernobyl accident” (N. Petek, reflection 17.11.2014). Through the seminar we learnt that we need to keep in mind the perception of the environment and what shaped it. We are dealing with subjective constructs which have the capability of influencing other people and the environmental discussion locally and globally.
While Radkau’s work was dealing with the history of the environmental movement, Ingold’s essays (2000b; 2000a) problematized the common concepts, ‘landscape’ and ‘indigenous’, that we use in the environmental-ecological discussion. My interests lie particularly with the notion of ‘landscape’, how to define it and how to study it. In my reflection I was focusing on the (in)applicability of his definition of landscape. “Because the theory of his framework is based in phenomenology, any interpretation of the archaeological record with this framework will not be objective, due to the archaeologist not being of the period and landscape studied. The question still remains, how archaeologists can best use Ingold’s work” (N. Petek, reflection 14.4.2014). While his work is hard to apply archaeologically, his book The Perception of the Environment is able to construct a holistic account of how people perceive and construct an idea of the environment, and how each culture/individual can perceive the same landscape differently. This weaves well into Radkau’s work, as Ingold provides a subconscious mechanism through which people constructed their perceptions of the environment that Radkau was writing about.
Whereas Ingold and Radkau both produced environmentally focused publications, Rackham (1996) focused on bad or pseudo-ecology, providing glaring examples of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the available data and records. Both M. Ramsey (reflection 17.3.2014) and I (reflection, 12.12.2014) commented that the obvious advice is very welcome. “Because it is obvious and commonplace we usually forget about it and it is particularly valuable to students learning to use various sources of information” (N. Petek, reply to R. Morag 12.12.2014). Particularly when dealing with historical sources it is always important to understand their own context.
The economics of power and the power of economics in society and ecology
While Moore and Hornborg were more focused on the effects of power and economics on the ecology and the environment, Science, Society, and Power (Fairhead & Leach 2003) teaches us how science can be and is politicised and how it is used in struggles for power and legitimacy in conservation and forestry. The book can act as an example of how trans-national relationships can affect the way in which research is done, through incoming donor money. More than by the book, my interest was sparked by the lecture on the dark earths of West Africa. “Many correlations could be drawn between the African dark earths and pastoralists’ abandoned bomas in East Africa” (N. Petek, reflection 28.4.2014). I was particularly drawn to this topic in the way one could approach it from a research perspective as an archaeologist, looking at soil, vegetation patterns, remote sensing etc.
The three seminars combine well to problematize power and the use of economic power and resources. It also taught me that power and authority can considerably affect research, not just what you are allowed to research, but also what you as a researcher perceive as an interesting question.
The politics of conservation
This scientific imperialism can oftentimes be seen in conservation projects, which were discussed by Robin (2011). Science is given the ultimate word when it comes to biodiversity, conservation and the preservation of the environments, although as Robin (2011, p.35) states, the sciences are under pressure and are including more social sciences, humanities and arts with a focus on stress deliberation and analysis. A sentence that stuck with me from that seminar was that “Biodiversity is a white man’s word” (L. Robin, pers.comm. 8.9.2014). By that Robin meant that it was used by white Australians (the dominant group in Australia) who were themselves the biggest destroyers of the environment, but then pushed the Aborigines out of their land. The sentence stuck with me because it is similar in Slovenia, “where food labelled ‘organic’ or ‘bio’ is out of reach for the general population. In that sense, even in countries like Slovenia, conservation and biodiversity also become the dominant group’s word” (N. Petek, reflection 8.9.2014).
Like with Moore, Hornborg, and Fairhead, power plays an important role with Robin’s research. Robin and Carruthers clearly showed us the politics around conservation, such as through the establishment of a national park, and that conservation is determined not by local communities but by those in power.
The environment outside of academia
Norberg-Hodge (1991) tried to engage with the general western public, whose society and economy was being pushed into globalisation and stressful situations, by writing about the Ladak culture. She described the Ladak as a calm people, content with basic necessities, and who with the help of Buddhism lead peaceful lives. The book was stressing the importance of the local compared to the global. Norberg-Hodge was criticised for idealising the Ladak as the perfect archetypal culture, but we needed to remind ourselves that the book’s target audience were not academics, but the general public. The lesson that we can take home is that always make your message audience focused. Furthermore, even though she was criticised for the idealisation of the role that Buddhism and localisation played in their culture, it still sparked a heated debate. The questions we posed during the seminar were consistently related to the importance of the local, and to Buddhism’s relationship to nature and the attitude of life it promotes (W. Steining, reflection 27.5.2014; Y. Gao, reflection 27.5.2014; etc.). My stance on the discussion of the global and the local, and the lifestyles they promote, was that “people will not want to give up globalisation and the commodities this has brought. People have grown used to these commodities and without globalisation technology would get prohibitively expensive” (N. Petek, reflection 26.5.2014).
While Norberg-Hodge targets the general public, Persson works for an NGO that lobbies politicians. Her discussion prompted me to reflect on the correlation between labour, economy, and care for the environment. “How does the relationship that people have with their employment affect how they feel about nature and how their work directly or indirectly affects the environment? Research has shown that people who work on a product from start to finish are happier and more interested in it. Furthermore, egalitarian developed countries (e.g. Japan, Sweden, Finland) are also the ones which care more about climate change than the non-egalitarian developed ones (e.g. USA). In the more egalitarian countries people are also happier doing their job and happier in general” (N. Petek, reflection 9.6.2014). While Maria Wilen replied by pointing out that Sweden has a high suicide rate, she also points out that “it is time to find out what makes people realize the state of the environmental threats and then be willing to participate actively for a sustainable economy” (M. Wilen, reply to N. Petek 10.6.2014).
Norberg-Hodge and Persson have the job of transferring research findings from the academic to the public sphere, and they have to be picky with their choice of information in order to receive empathy from the general public through the idealisation of the Ladak lifestyle, or to achieve changes in policy and law through the government.
The group dynamics were also worth noting, as different people were more prominent depending on their knowledge of the topic. An inspirational characteristic of the group was that it consisted of people who wanted to change the world or parts of it, and they saw research as a prominent force in what can contribute to that change.
Reply To: Final assignment
Start › Forums › Courses › Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History › Final assignment › Reply To: Final assignment