Conference Panels

CULTURAL ANALYSIS, ENVIRONMENTAL CONTESTS AND ECOLOGICAL FUTURES

Co-convenor: David Trigger (contact person), Anthropology, University of Queensland
Email: david.trigger(at)uq.edu.au
Co-convenor: Linda Connor, Anthropology, University of Sydney
Email: linda.connor(at)sydney.edu.au
Co-convenor: Adrian Peace, Anthropology, University of Adelaide
Email: adrian.peace(at)adelaide.edu.au

Recent anthropological writing has presented diverse cultural analysis of environmental issues, climate change and nature. With reference to our own work in Australia, this research broaches contested visions of climate change (Connor 2010), competing discourses concerning iconic species such as whales (Peace 2010), and ideals of nativeness as they inform ecological restoration strategies in parallel with assumptions about cultural belonging in society (Trigger et al. 2010). What is the significance of 'culture' for our understanding of these kinds of contests and imagined future worlds? How do people matter in the work of those committed to addressing such challenges as preservation of 'wild rivers' in the north (e.g. Cape York Peninsula), river health in the south (e.g. the Murray-Darling system), sustaining biodiversity (e.g. when culling of native or exotic species is proposed) or coping with global warming? This session invites contributions addressing the intersection of environmental issues with cultural identity, senses of place and contesting visions of nature.

Connor, Linda 2010. Climate change and the challenge of immortality: Faith, denial and intimations of eternity. Proceedings of conference: Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds, http://anthroendsofworlds.wordpress.com/.

Peace, Adrian 2010. The whaling war: Conflicting cultural perspectives, Anthropology Today 26, 3: 5-9

Trigger, D., Y. Toussaint & J. Mulcock 2010. Ecological restoration in Australia: environmental discourses, landscape ideals and the significance of human agency, Society & Natural Resources 23, 11: 1060-1074, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920903232902.

  • SESSION 1     Room: 1.59 ARTS (AUSTIN)     Tues 5/7/2011     Time: 11.00-12.30     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Belonging, indigeneity and the anti-Traveston Crossing Dam campaign in southeast Queensland, Australia.
      • Kim de Rijke, University of Queensland
    • Paper 2: Contesting Conservation: The transformation of Chilean Patagonia's Chacabuco Valley
      • Charmaine Jones, University of Queensland
    • Paper 3: Is Nothing Sacred? The Cultural and Environmental Politics of Environmental Impact Assessment and Zoning in Bali
      • Carol Warren, Murdoch University
  • SESSION 2     Room: 1.59 ARTS (AUSTIN)     Tues 5/7/2011     Time: 13.30-15.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: 'Cultural flows' or allocations: Water policy in Australia and indigenous interests
      • Marcia Langton, University of Melbourne
    • Paper 2: Indigenous Involvement in Land Rehabilitation in Australia
      • Nicholas Herriman, La Trobe University
    • Paper 3: "Why can't they leave things natural': Nyungars, contested visions and Aboriginal heritage in a rapidly changing environmental context
      • Edward M. McDonald, Ethnosciences/Curtin University; Bryn Coldrick, Amergin; and Will Christensen, Curtin University
    • Paper 4: The cultural construction of 'a river': Wiradjuri understandings of 'country' in central New South Wales
      • Gaynor Macdonald, University of Sydney
  • SESSION 3     Room: 1.59 ARTS (AUSTIN)     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 11.00-12.30     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Experimental publics: practices and intelligibility of climate change action in a carboniferous zone
      • Linda Connor, University of Sydney
    • Paper 2: Climate change, assisted migration and conservation biology: examining cultural preferences and scientific practice
      • Yann Toussaint, University of Western Australia
  • SESSION 4     Room: 1.59 ARTS (AUSTIN)     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 13.30-15.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: When wine speaks for land: critical comments on economic and environmental identification with places in the Clare Valley, South Australia
      • Daniel Raftery, Australian National University
    • Paper 2: Debating knowledge: science, local knowledge, and developing senses of place in a mining dispute.
      • Erin Hobbs, University of Western Australia
    • Paper 3: 'Saving' Tañon Strait : Social Movements, Discourses and the Politics of Environmentalism in Central Visayas, Philippines
      • Kaira Zoe K. Alburo, University of the Philippines-Cebu/ University of San Carlos
    • Paper 4: The 'Natural Contract': From Levi-Strauss to the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court
      • Erin Fitz-Henry, University of Melbourne

SESSION 1

Chair: Linda Connor

Paper 1: Belonging, indigeneity and the anti-Traveston Crossing Dam campaign in southeast Queensland, Australia.

Kim de Rijke, University of Queensland

This paper analyses the manner in which questions of belonging and indigeneity became evident in the context of the campaign to stop the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam on the Mary River in southeast Queensland, Australia. Certain criteria were implicitly employed when such issues were at stake, criteria mostly based on ancestry and practical experience, and which gave substance to the meaning of 'being local'. Within the campaign these were also linked to questions of emplaced authority and the ways in which people could speak on behalf of the affected area, particularly noticeable at small town-hall public meetings during which local interactions were most immediate and personal. In Australia generally, with a history of Indigenous dispossession and contemporary Indigenous land issues such as native title, land rights and cultural heritage protection, the assertion of emplaced moral authority by settler-descendants also speaks to the meaning and practice of indigeneity more broadly (Dominy 1995, 2001, Mulcock 2005, Trigger 2008). In the context of the campaign and Aboriginal participation, the signing of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) by an Aboriginal party in 2008, which gave approval for the project to proceed by those who asserted native title interests, provoked tension not just between campaigners and the Aboriginal party, but also amongst Aboriginal factions. The dam proposal in that sense confronted settler-descendants, including both long-term residents and newcomers to the area, as well as Aboriginal people with the need to negotiate contested forms of community, emplacement and belonging.

Paper 2: Contesting Conservation: The transformation of Chilean Patagonia's Chacabuco Valley

Charmaine Jones, University of Queensland

Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, North American founders and CEOs of renowned outdoor clothing companies, have used their personal wealth, influence and business savvy to become two of the most powerful expatriate land owners in Chile and Argentina. In Chilean Patagonia's Aysén region, the Tompkins' charitable foundation purchased the historical Chacabuco Valley Station ('the Estancia'), seeking to reverse the effects of agriculture and protect endemic wildlife and biodiversity from industrial development. In the United States and Europe the Tompkins are represented as eco-superheroes fighting the evils of the industrial world, but commentary from Aysén tends to be much more critical. Many residents of the Chacabuco Valley area are infuriated by the idea of outsiders having decision making powers on land use. Similarly, the expatriate land purchases have sparked intense controversy in sectors of Chilean government and industry, which see the development and progress of the nation being held in check by the Tompkins' ecophilanthropy. The situation in the Chacabuco Valley speaks to a complex of matters regarding contests over nature in the Aysén region and more broadly anthropological debate regarding cultural identity and sense of place. In the daily running of the Estancia employees performed and expressed an identity linked to a form of land use rooted in and enriched by historical ties and cultural norms. By examining accounts of the transformation of the Chacabuco Valley I will demonstrate the tensions within the conservationist discourse and among Aysén residents, as well as explore how identity and place may be re-imagined in contested contexts.

Paper 3: Is Nothing Sacred? The Cultural and Environmental Politics of Environmental Impact Assessment and Zoning in Bali

Carol Warren, Murdoch University

Among the pivotal issues framing debates over the impacts of globalization on Bali has been the question of commercial development at sacred sites. Competing interpretation of religious principles prescribing balance in relationships between humans and the natural and supernatural worlds has been a battle ground in the legal and discursive struggles dominating Bali's cultural and environmental politics over the past two decades. In this period, they have surfaced most vehemently in what might be considered the relatively mundane and technical domain of spatial planning and environmental impact assessment. This presentation considers the often tendentious treatment of pervasive dichotomies - sacred and profane, tradition and modernity, culture and economy, identity and alienation, environmental preservation and use - in debates surrounding impact assessment and zoning laws as they purport to control tourism and real estate development on the island. The politicisation of these binaries confounds regulatory and evaluation practices in profound and often perverse ways. This case study explores some of the paradoxes of technologizing the sacred in the cultural and environmental politics of Bali's engagement with modernity, focusing on impact assessment of the mega-developments in the Suharto period and the struggles over implementation of spatial planning laws in the present era of decentralization and reform.

SESSION 2

Chair: David Trigger

Paper 1: 'Cultural flows' or allocations: Water policy in Australia and indigenous interests

Marcia Langton, University of Melbourne

What are 'cultural flows'? This term has become a catch-all term for vague expressions of indigenous 'water values' and by extension, rights to water allocations. Despite the anthropological literature on water as a matter of cultural importance in Aboriginal Australia, one of the significant failings in Australian water policy and legal reform is the identification and description of Indigenous values in forms that are feasible to implement and interpret in governance and cultural heritage processes. Indigenous claims for justice and equity within allocation and management systems depend to a large extent on anthropological or quasi-anthropological critiques of the social values in water that various groups claim in highly competitive water allocation policy processes. This paper describes how the exclusion of Indigenous knowledge and associated social and cultural considerations from environmental water management has come about and how such exclusion is the inevitable outcome of the quasi-anthropological formulations of indigenous 'water values' and their translation into almost meaningless policy-speak.

Paper 2: Indigenous Involvement in Land Rehabilitation in Australia

Nicholas Herriman, La Trobe University

In this paper, I present findings from various research locations, focusing on Indigenous involvement in rehabilitating and maintaining damaged ecosystems. First, I seek to analyse the interaction of different parties involved in the program (Indigenous people, environmental organisation, sponsoring organisation and me, participating and observing in the program). Second, I seek to analyse the coming together of the Indigenous and environmental science traditions. Third, I seek to evaluate possible benefits from the perspective of Indigenous people involved. For Indigenous people taking part in the project, benefits may include the regeneration of traditional knowledge, the opportunity to return to 'country' and, specifically, to maintain and learn about cultural places; the opportunity to work in groups, with friends and family; the formal skills and certification which are obtained; or, the lack of other employment and education opportunities.

Paper 3: "'Why can't they leave things natural': Nyungars, contested visions and Aboriginal heritage in a rapidly changing environmental context

Edward M. McDonald, Ethnosciences/Curtin University; Bryn Coldrick, Amergin; and Will Christensen, Curtin University

The Indigenous Nyungar people in the South West of Western Australia have a way of thinking about and relating to their physical environment(s) which may be referred to as holistic environmentalism. This perspective emphasises interdependencies and balance between various dimensions of the environment, including humans themselves and spiritual imminences that are seen as a continuing source of life and power. The same approach emphasises geographic interconnectedness, discouraging the sort of compartmentalisation that often goes with what are essentially arbitrary administrative boundaries, private property boundaries and living spaces now defined by roads, rail links and the like. The Swan Coastal Plain and its hinterland are undergoing rapid changes with large-scale urban development, a growth in tourist facilities, the expansion of mining and industrial projects and so on. A number of observers have noted that “rapid development” has created a “sense of loss, powerlessness and anger” among Nyungar people and point out that the loss of natural bushland, coastal dune systems and other topographical features is connected to a perceived loss of cultural landscape and heritage. In this paper we examine how the provisions and operations of the Aboriginal Heritage Act of Western Australia have provided an arena for the contestation of different visions of the natural/cultural environment and of identity, while at the same time providing Nyungars with a political and economic resource that frequently also exacerbates inter- and intra-group conflicts.

Paper 4: The cultural construction of 'a river': Wiradjuri understandings of 'country' in central New South Wales

Gaynor Macdonald, University of Sydney

The rivers of south eastern Australia have once again flooded into inland seas, taking lives and livelihoods with them. One of the first great floods of the Murray-Darling was in 1844, when the death toll was nil for Aboriginal people but devastating for non-Aboriginal people. This paper explores Aboriginal understandings and practices on the three rivers which defined Wiradjuri-speaking territory: the Macquarie-Bogan, the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee  the central rivers of the Murray-Darling system. I argue that the Euro-Australian concept of 'a river' is still conceptualised in terms of British/European models and this continues to impede our ability to adequately live with the extraordinary and contradictory nature of these very different hydrosystems. In contrast, in this paper I develop my understanding of Wiradjuri knowledge and water management as this was encapsulated in myth, ritual and social practice.

SESSION 3

Chair: Adrian Peace

Paper 1: Experimental publics: practices and intelligibility of climate change action in a carboniferous zone

Linda Connor, University of Sydney

This paper explores the environmental narratives and political practices of several community groups in a region of Southeastern Australia - the Hunter Valley of New South Wales - which is both highly carboniferous and intensely vulnerable to climate change effects. Causal thinking, modes of activism, and democratic imaginaries of three organisations - Rising Tide, Climate Action Network, and Transition Towns - are discussed with reference to concepts of ecological citizenship, environmental justice, and the intelligibility of climate change politics in everyday practice.

Paper 2: Climate change, assisted migration and conservation biology: examining cultural preferences and scientific practice

Yann Toussaint, University of Western Australia

In this paper I review debates occurring within the ecological sciences over the desirability  or otherwise- of introducing (selected) species likely to be affected by climate change into areas that lie outside of their known ecological ranges. Drawing on anthropological theory, the writings of eco-philosophers such as Holmes Rolston III , Robert Eliot, and David W Orr, and debates occurring within journals devoted to conservation biology and ecological restoration, I discuss the various motivations for those proposing- and opposing - such tranlocation programs. In elaborating on these themes I also draw on fieldwork conducted amongst scientists and conservationists to consider how, for many, such proposals challenge their sense of what is an appropriate level of intervention into 'Nature' and cause them to examine their own roles as environmental advocates. Finally I draw on ethnographic research conducted amongst conservationists and landholders into the importance of local species in contributing to a 'sense of place' and consider how such connections to landscape might be challenged or sustained under various (re)introduction and translocation projects - or indeed how they might be challenged if it were decided that existing conservation programmes should be discontinued given their likelihood of failure under altered climate scenarios.

Discussants: David Trigger, Linda Connor, Adrian Peace

SESSION 4

Chair: Linda Connor

Paper 1: When wine speaks for land: critical comments on economic and environmental identification with places in the Clare Valley, South Australia

Daniel Raftery, Australian National University

Recent policy contributions have detailed dramatic impact of global warming on Australia's agricultural sector (Garnaut 2008). To mitigate such impacts, particular imperatives have been defined, including a shift to so-called 'value-added' production. Wine is one such agricultural commodity given a privileged position in such adaptive scenarios (Diamond 2005). This paper charts the development of a particular 'value-added' industry in the Clare Valley wine region of South Australia, and, with reference to ethnographic research, asks two specific questions: 1/ How has the identification with particular areas through the work of winemaking influence the specific valuing of places; and 2/ what implications does the way this land is valued have for the imperatives to protect the avowed character of these places? The character of the relationship between the political imperatives that relate to agricultural production, and the agricultural enterprises that are central to this production, has long been a focus of anthropological concern (Netting 1974). With some notable exceptions (Warner 2007), however, scarce attention has been paid to the way in which the 'quality turn' (Goodman 2003) relates to contemporary challenges of sustainability. I draw critical attention to the contradictory tendencies posed by political goals of sustainability, and evaluate how winemakers from the Clare region are managing such challenges.

Paper 2: Debating knowledge: science, local knowledge, and developing senses of place in a mining dispute.

Erin Hobbs, University of Western Australia

In a small coastal town in Western Australia, public scrutiny of decision-making processes in mining development has brought the complex relationship between scientific knowledge and local knowledge into question. This particular landscape had remained relatively unexplored by Anglo-Australian colonists until the mid 1970s, when the tourism and mining boom began encroaching upon the area. The resulting flurry of mining exploration and scientific research programs aimed at assessing the environments' ability to support mining has left many local residents questioning the ability of scientific knowledge to assess the environment. For many, their personal experiences of the landscape over a number of years have given them a very different understanding to the narrative being constructed by the growing body of scientific knowledge. Despite many local residents' frustrations, the prevailing assumption of the moral authority of science in decision-making has also strongly impacted upon many local residents' personal experiential knowledge of the local environment, creating new environmental beliefs and values that are continually changing throughout the course of the dispute. To varying degrees, ethnographies of similar conservation disputes tend to focus on the ways in which local knowledges and practices are incommensurable with the scientifically developed management policies that challenge them. In this paper, I focus on the ways in which local residents and developers debate the role of society in managing the environment on the basis of both scientific and local ecological knowledges. In doing so, I highlight the ways in which the two supposedly oppositional knowledges are impacting upon each other, creating new ways of knowing, and belonging to, the local environment.

Paper 3: 'Saving' Tañon Strait : Social Movements, Discourses and the Politics of Environmentalism in Central Visayas, Philippines

Kaira Zoe K. Alburo, University of the Philippines-Cebu/ University of San Carlos

This paper examines the competing discourses concerning the control over resources at the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape in central Philippines. Considered a global center of marine biodiversity, Tañon Strait is not only an area for marine conservation and a source of livelihood for several fishing communities, but it is also a site of recent oil exploration activities, making it a contested space for various groups with competing interests. As a case study, we look at the formation of a nascent social movement based in Metro Cebu, central Philippines, that has led the campaign against oil exploration at Tañon Strait called Save Tañon Strait Citizens' Movement (STSCM). This paper explores how the discourse of Tañon Strait is re-imagined, subverted and resisted by social actors as a result of oil drilling and consequently how this discourse has effectively carved out a space into the public sphere of Cebuano society. The paper concludes that the struggle over Tañon Strait opens up new spaces for creating alliances in ever shifting fields of power, and thereby imagining new forms of environmentalisms anchored on the politics of place.

Paper 4: The 'Natural Contract': From Levi-Strauss to the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court

Erin Fitz-Henry, University of Melbourne

At a time when social contracts between states and their citizens have become increasingly tenuous (Comaroffs 2006), and business contracts regularly insist on terms and conditions that are widely perceived as little more than "legal" means of ensuring near-feudal levels of indebtedness (Mattei and Nader 2008), small groups of environmental activists in Ecuador, India, and the United States are pushing for legal recognition of an even more radical and far-reaching contractual relationship - that between human beings and the natural world, or what Michel Serres once termed, "the natural contract" (Serres 1995). In 2008, the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly became the first juridical body in the world to legalize just such a contract. With the assistance of the U.S.-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, representatives at the Assembly in July of 2008 re-wrote their 1998 constitution to include a landmark series of articles delineating what they called, "the rights of nature" - a notion long familiar to indigenous communities, actively propagated by anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss at the French National Assembly as early as the 1970s (Levi-Strauss 1990), and often mocked by mainstream Western jurists for its conceptual "confusion" about the sorts of entities that can properly be said to have "rights." Drawing on the experiences of five activists currently engaged in the first national-level lawsuit to make use of these rights - a universal jurisdiction case brought in an Ecuadorian court against British Petroleum for its violations in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010 - this paper explores the possibilities, limitations, and paradoxes of such an extension of rights-based discourse at a time of near-universal default on social and financial contracts.