Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

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April 15, 2014 at 19:10 #12367
 Sabbath Sunday

Reply to Yaqi by Sabbath Sunday

I agree with you Yaqi on the factor of categories by Tim Ingold ie, ancestry, generation, substance, memory and land. These are common factors but in my opinion, Tim’s approach in this case, he wanted to break down his genealogical and relational models for easy grasping. In this case he identifies land as the common ‘field’ for all to be referred on. I also agree with you on the issue about who should be called an indigenous dweller on a given land. As it is argued by Tim, even those who claim that they were on land before the new settlers (colonialists) must have replaced the original dwellers although not known in history. And of course their claim of identity maybe is encouraged by their oppression and marginalization by modern states.

On Tim’s argument about landscape, it is true that it is always on changing course. However, this is initiated by humans’ everyday activities as they adjust themselves in the environment and also geological and other natural forces are in play, like river and sea action, erosion, earthquakes etc. Much as this process continues, humans, as argued by Tim, have also developed some consciousness towards their environments and attack some kind of passion to it, that’s why the issue of memory, you have also observed, generation and ancestry are elaborately discussed in chapters eight. Thank you for bringing up these issues.

April 15, 2014 at 21:37 #12368

Reply to Erika’s post
By Yongliang Gao

I agree with you that Ingold’s book is deep and complex to understand. What surprises me is that you think Ingold’s idea “to perceive the landscape as the qualitative and heterogeneous, as well as discussing the entity of it, let us resurrect it and make it complex and dynamic. Even though this kind of approach may pose some new issues in understanding the environment, at the same time it fulfills the gaps in the network of interdependent between nature and human”. Just like you said, Ingold is an ideological mentor to you and I can see that from this quotation. But I don’t understand what do you mean by “it fulfills the gaps in the network of interdependent between nature and human”. Besides, I don’t see any benefits to “resurrect it and make it complex and dynamic”. For me, If tedious text doesn’t help simplify or clarify anything, then it’s unnecessarily wordless. Apart from that, I also have a question mark where you claim that “as the environmental historians, this approach offers us different paradigm to interpret the boundaries that create the relationship between human and the nature.” I’m curious of the different paradigms Ingold offers to you. As for the chapter “Building, dwelling, living: How animals and people make themselves at home in the world”, I have no comments on it as I haven’t read it.

April 16, 2014 at 09:35 #12385

Comment on Anna’s text by Wenzel

I can largely agree with you, Anna, in that Ingold implicitely confronts us with a unnecessary either/or – choice between two models of the formation of indigenousness by only finding critical words for the genealogical model. He also seems to deny that people to create strong bonds to their parents and grandparents, that these or other elders can be an important source of education and self-definition.
But I think that this impression is mainly due to the slightly abstract writing style and black-and-white contrasting tendencies of his.
If we look closer at f.ex. his explanation of substance under the relational model, it seems that his relational model actually can imply the other one in specific cases: “Persons are conceived as passing along lives of movement and exchanging substance at the places where their respective paths cross or commingle.” (p.145) For me this means that in his definition, indigenousness can actually be “passed on” along a genealogical line, if the persons we look at here are parents and children “commingling”. On the other hand, the model also opens for people becoming indigenous without having been born from such a person: a stranger that comes into such a community and “becomes” indigenous while coexisting with their indigenousness could start to perceive himself as one of theirs.

As you, I am wondering about Ingold’s intent when questioning common patterns of categorisation. In the beginning of the chapter, he says, regarding indigenous people: “At the time of colonisation, they were the original inhabitants. This is no guarantee, of course, that their forbears had not, during some earlier wave of population movement, displaced a yet earlier people, nor is it to deny that people of settler origin might develop deep and lasting attachments to the land.” I found this quote very promising and was thus disappointed by the rest of his reasoning, as it didn’t try to transcend such categorisations, but only proposed a different way of shaping them, which shows how little he reflects that there would be political ramifications of his scrutiny, even if he tries to avoid it. In this perpective, I agree that his definition of these people as hunter-gatherers is slightly strange. As Morag said when commenting my text, “there is a lot of abstraction and quite a bit of impracticality in applying some of Ingold’s ideas. I suppose a lot of that is rooted in the way the world is organized and thought about today.” Ingold might propose a lot of interesting solutions to things, but probably only in a world where people’s perception are largely in line with his.

April 16, 2014 at 10:34 #12389

Reply to Erika’s reflection by Yaqi Fu (04-14 seminar)

Coincidently I get almost the same impression with you when I tried to read Ingold’s book. There are many concepts which would be abstract and hard for me to fully understand, meanwhile some ideas and perceptions from him are newly developed and have changed many of my stereotypes as well. I agree with you that the new definition of landscape made by Ingold is a quite interesting change that would turn the attention of environmental research from human to more about nature. Nature, a living subject as Gaia then comes to the center of acting in environment history. In your optional choice chapter, the question about “build environment” and “man-made” in my opinion at one side would help reconcile the long existing dichotomy but on the other side may also drag us to the thinking that man should control the nature.

April 16, 2014 at 10:35 #12390

Reply on Gao’s reflection:

I agree with Gao that Ingold’s distinction between landscape and land is not really clear-cut and confusing. Nevertheless, I think he is right in his assumption that landscape and land are different in terms of what they represent: the quality and quantity of surface. Ingold writes: “You can ask of land, as of weight, how much there is, but not what it is like” (Ingold 2000: 190). You are right that land is countable, measurable and thus comparable and that it is part of the landscape. But as are forests, hills, buildings, lakes and rivers. You might be able to count the surface of all these things – but then you reduce them from living and non-living things to three-dimensional objects. Or in other words: you loose the quality of the landscape, that means the colour of the grass, the shape of the church’s rooftop or the ups and downs of a hilly area. You are right, land IS part of the landscape but only one small part that makes up something more complex in combination with others. Referring to your second critique, that seems to be a methodological question: if I can value one landscape over another only according to my individual preferences, it is not a standard that makes it countable for everyone, means it is not universal. Thus landscapes are not comparable in an objective way.

Coming to the other part of your reflection, I would defend the argument of some of our fellow students that there should be a third model for hybrid identities such as the “Stockholm Samí”. They might still have a strong connection to Sapmi or in other terms Norrlands but their major identification point seems to be their ancestry. However, you are right that the situation would be completely different if a Samí person would be forced to move much further from his “native land”. Then, I suggest, the extend to which they can feel as Samí would depend on the size of the group of “colonizing Samí” (a strange but interesting idea). As Ingold does not exclude living people from ancestry people could teach each other the basics of living, even in a different landscape. As long as it is not radically different than the Scandinavian of coruse – a Samí community in the Tansanian savanna would not remain long as such I think. Concerning your second critique: I agree with you that the Samí live in a quite good situation compared to other ethnic or indigenous minorities in other countries. However, we should not forget that the Samí have experienced very harsh oppression for decades, including forced sedentariness, marriages and the prohibition of the Samí language in the public sphere. And they still face the destruction of herding sates and ritual places by large mining projects which are backed up by the Swedish state (in Gallok for example). Here, Ingold’s hypothesis seems to be correct: the Samí cannot live there identities because Western companies and the Swedish state see them detached from the land they dwell in. I guess, the best we can do is to not generalize the ways of identification by indigenous people and always treat them as individual cases.

April 16, 2014 at 11:31 #12393

Comment on Erika’s reflection

It seems two people have commented on your reflection, Erika…I don’t know why that happened, though.

Erika, I agree with your statement in the first paragraph, where you claim that the applicability of Ingold’s theory to our field of practice is somewhat hard to achieve. To me reading about the advantages of the relational model or the mental experiment, where Ingold takes the reader inside Bruegel’s painting in order to situate yourself inside a landscape, inside a taskscape that binds the trees, the field, the peasants, the church into a common, shared sociality, almost verged on sentimentality. However, Ingold has a way with words that compels the reader to actually envisage the situation of being-there-in-the-world. As you said, this does feel as if he is a kind of mentor that guides the reader to see the landscape in a new way. But, when he suggests that his theory might be of interest to legal studies (regarding the legal definition of »indigenousness« or to archaeologists on the field, I remain unconvinced.
Regarding the chapter »Building, dwelling, living«. I have read it some time ago, but I remember that Ingold extends Heidegger’s claim that to be is to build, so to speak, to non-human nature, even what common sense denigrates as inanimate objects. Heidegger builds his claim with the help of clear and lucid etymology, where he proves that to be and to build have a common proto-Indo-European root (I don’t remember it clearly, though). To me that was fascinating, since it claims that a dwelling is not simply a shelter, but a modus of existence. I agree with you that Ingold makes a worthy argument, when he extends Heidegger’s »building is dwelling« notion to animal dwellings. Reading that chapter made me feel cozy, feel at home-in-the-world.

April 16, 2014 at 13:53 #12395

Reply to Nik Tepek by Ellen Lindblom
I have not read Ingold before as you have but the chapter on the temporality of the landscape was the one I considered useful and inspiring, as a theoretical framework – a way of relate to and think of the interactions going on in the landscape- when doing studies. I also think that I already in person think a bit as Ingold describes; I feel connected to landscape – in the past and the present and I agree with you on the entanglement of everything. Even though I can´t agree with Ingold fully as you do when he describes weave of living “things” in the lecture “Bringing things to life” from 2008, as a literal thing. For me it is more on a philosophical level and a good approach to start with, but a kite or a stone (even when moving and interacting with the surroundings) is not the same for me as an animal (including humans)- with a mind- interacting and moving in the landscape.
I often “go into” pictures and connect with the landscape in the same way as Ingold describes when he uses the painting Corn Harvest by Pieter Bruegel the elder, to clarify his point; we already know how it feels to dwell in such a landscape due to our muscular memory. Thus I agree with you on that matter that no one ever “floats above” the landscape – we exist with and in it- and different things- places, buildings, stones, plants, humans, mountains etc. has also different temporalities. Both these points are something to regard when studying human-nature relation, to come away from that dichotomy with it´s in built boundaries.
I am a sociologist and not an archeologist but your reasoning seems fair and I take you on your word that Ingolds theories are hard to apply in practical archeology. They are more on a philosophical level, a way to relate to the world.

April 16, 2014 at 14:27 #12396

In response to Michael Deflorian:

I really like the point that you bring up Michael about the difficulty of “scaling-up” phenomenological perspectives. Whether that is an individual human beings ability to connect intentionally and consciously with global landscapes as opposed to uncritical abstract inherited notions of environment, or transferring the relational model of identity formation onto larger social or political structures.
Discussing indigeneity is such a difficult thing to do as drawing the boundaries for this group is an impossible task. Certainly for better or for worse there are transnational networks like the UN and World Council on Indigenous Peoples that facilitate points of articulation between many local communities identifying as indigenous. Yet anthropologists like Tim Ingold also play a role in legitimizing and withholding indigenous status on people through their discourse. I actually believe that indigenous is a problematic label to affix to people, and drawing on ethnographic examples of hunter-gather world-views to deconstruct this misnomer unfortunately serves to legitimize it, and as you point out Michael this has very real political ramifications.

December 22, 2014 at 12:38 #15852

Reflection, Markus Nyström

Reading Ingold, I feel the need to restate the basics of colonial discourses. Colonial discourses are not only “ways of speaking and therefore understand the world” about colonized people – the power, or potency, of such discourses comes when they are internalized, when the colonized people think that they should be servants to the colonizers. When the worldview of the colonizers is accepted as true by the colonized, that is when colonial discourses reach their full potential.

In chapter 8, Ingold criticizes the current and, in some sense the universal, genealogical way of defining indigenous peoples, saying that it “fundamentally misrepresents” how indigenous people “actually constitute their identity […]” (p. 133). The way I see it, knowing a little bit of the history of archaeology and anthropology, this seems to me like wellmeant but ultimately counterproductive attempt to make amends for older atrocities of the disciplines. Let me explain. In the early days of anthropology and archaeology, the disciplines were fueled by much of the time’s nationalism and colonialism. Very roughly, the goal of archaeology was to establish a “common past” of the nation states’ people (ignoring diversity), and the goal of anthropology was to understand and better subjugate foreign peoples. The categorizations of anthropology – a discipline sided by social darwinism and racial biology – were many times wrong and harmful (the history of the Swedish state’s view and categorization of sámi is a case in point). To make amends for the historical wrongdoings of these disciplines, it seems almost like the disciplines have flipped over to the other, postmodern, relativistic side. I read Ingold in that vein.

The deconstuction of rigid categories is the hallmark of postmodern research, in my view, and deconstructing the definition(s) of inigeneity, as Ingold is doing, fits in that tradition. Even if wellmeant, this deconstruction is potentially dangerous for the indigenous themselves as the “geneaological model” is the only thing they have got against the onslaught of (neo)colonial forces. If the genealogical model is removed without a clear, legally functioning system in place, the result will undoubtedly be an extented dispossession by the already dispossessed, which I am sure is not what Ingold is after. That is why his standpoint can potentially be counterproductive.

I further regard this as a rather academic endevour. Go to these places, talk to these peoples, and it is usually quite clear to them who is who and what is what. Their categorization may – just like the academic dito – not hold under the relentless deconstructing scrutiny of postmodernity, but they are in effect, they are real. As I am writing this in late december 2014, there was recently a political scandal where an member of the Swedish parliament said that sámi are not swedes. The mainstream media went berserk, and colleagues demanded the MP’s resignation from office. But in sámi media, instead, there were people agreeing with the MP – sámi are not swedes, they argued, and that is the reason why the sámi have other rights to land and water than swedes. Furthermore, it is commonplace within Sápmi for people to refer to different persons as “swedes” or “sámi”. In this context, saying that sámi are not swedes are like saying that a man is not a woman, or a rich person is not poor – it fits perfectly with an already existing, and incredibly old, local way of distinguishing between the two different groups. Nothing spectacular. What I mean by these examples is that there are many times layman definitions that work quite well in practice even though they may or may not work under academic scrutiny.

With all this said, I do believe the Swedish legal framework for whom is allowed to vote in the elections to the sámi parliament to be rather good. There are two criteria: 1) that you yourself primerily identify yourself as sámi (in contrast to swede!), and 2) that you, your grandparents or grand grand parent, speak or spoke sámi in the household. No proof of genealogical connections are needed, even though the language requirement works as a kind of proxy for establishing genealogical connections. Theoretically, a swede can partake in sámi culture, learn the language, raise his/her children in the sámi culture and identity, and that person’s children can then be allowed to vote in the sámi parliament, thus being granted the formal identity of sámi. In other words, the sámi identity is not per definition locked in “blood lines” but cultural and language. Furthermore, the definition does not lock the sámi identity to certain qualities (like they used to do, when reindeer herding and nomadic way of life was part of the definition). Of course, being allowed to vote for the parliament does not give you any special rights to land and water, there the legal framework is still tied up with reindeer herding, which is one reason why there are plenty of internal friction within the sámi community.

I salute Ingold for having the guts to lead an academic discussion on the subject, but I do believe he has to more clearly work out an alternative system – a system that works legally and that makes sense to the people he is actually refering to. Whether the current on-the-ground way of categorization is a result of internalized colonial discourses is another, important discussion. But if an alternative categorization is suggested, like the one Ingold suggests, is not that a new infuence of top-down ambition to categorize?

December 22, 2014 at 13:06 #15860

Reply to Anna Shoemaker

I wrote my reflection before reading yours, but it seems that we found similar points of criticism against Ingold. I agree with you fully when it comes to the risks involved with deconstruction the genealogical model and too fear that it may, eventually and against Ingold’s best intentions, lead to a loss of influence for the ingigenous peoples.

At the end of your reflection you touch, like Michael Deflorian also do, on the idea that the genealogical and relational models could work together. I believe so to and, furthermore, I belive they are already working together in practice. In many ways, I think the genealogical model is a form of legal shorthand, it is a way out of the tricky issues of law. At the same time, I belive – and it is my experience – that there is a lot of other things “going on” within indigenous peoples’ identity formation than dry genealogy. Relationship to land, other “narratives” than the dominant culture’s, etcetera – things that fit better with the relational model. Furthermore, indigenous identities develop and change over time, they are not rigid and locked. They are many times “hybrid” (which in this case is a fancy way of saying that they are developed and changed and not static). This fact, I belive, would be a counter argument to Ingold, as it is obvious that indigenous identities do change in their “life lines” and are not locked and static by genealogy.

What the issue boils down to, I believe, is not how indigenous people identify themselves but how we construct the legal framework so that these cultures and languages are not destroyed. That is the most pressing issue. And in this regard, the shorthand of genealogy just might be better to keep in place.

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