Citizens, Experts, and Anthropologists: Finding Paths in Environmental Policy

By Haenn, Nora; Casagrande, David G. | Human Organization, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Citizens, Experts, and Anthropologists: Finding Paths in Environmental Policy


Haenn, Nora, Casagrande, David G., Human Organization


The papers in this special section address anthropology's relationship to the creation and implementation of environmental policy. The authors describe anthropologists attempting to flatten hierarchical decision making by acting as cultural brokers who must navigate public advocacy, multidisciplinary research and collaborations with environmental managers, natural resource exploiters, or government agencies. The essay describes how an anthropology that builds trust via holistic ethnography, ethics, and credibility contributes to policy success and allows for policy collaboration to enhance anthropology as a discipline. Involving students in policy will help them build skills and confidence necessary to engage policy throughout their careers.

Key words: environmental anthropology, policy, advocacy, politics, ethnography

The papers in this special issue were inspired by the "Environment, Resources, and Sustainability" conference held at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in the fall of 2002. The conference and these papers represent moments in an ongoing conversation regarding anthropology's relationship to policy creation and implementation. Inga Treitler and Douglas Midgett provide a succinct overview of the conference in their contribution to this collection. In this introduction, we discuss the papers in light of two questions intended to strengthen the links among anthropology, policy, and sustainable environmental management. The first question considers what kinds of political coalitions will be necessary to gain the broad-based consensuses necessary for environmental change. The second asks what kind of anthropology works best in these settings. The individual papers offer distinct answers to these questions, and this introductory essay attempts to juxtapose those distinctions to establish a broader framework from which we might pursue connections between anthropology and policy. The papers share an ambitious quality: a persistent desire that anthropology's relevance be translated into government action. Here we explore the broader theoretical framework implicit in the papers and suggest ways anthropologists might help to clear paths toward equitable environmental policy solutions.

Political Coalitions for Environmental Change

As these papers relate, anthropologists committed to matters of policy are anthropologists committed to teamwork. The teams themselves vary from local environmental justice groups (Checker) to multidisciplinary research projects (Casagrande et al.) to policy arenas that combine environmental managers, natural resource exploiters, state agents, academics, and lay citizens (see Blount and Pitchon; Treitler and Midgett). Teams may be highly localized (as Checker's work suggests) or, as Trietler and Midgett advocate, anthropologists may be at the center of attempts to leverage global policy initiatives toward sustainable ends. Altogether, these papers support a growing awareness that coalitions for environmental change must encompass a series of identity differences, including class, race, ethnic, national, and professional differences. (We would add gender to this list, an identity difference relatively unexplored in this collection.) Phrased in this way, anthropological skills in delineating and negotiating across identity differences would place the discipline at the heart of environmental policymaking.

What role would anthropologists play in these coalitions? The papers collected here suggest a few well-considered (and sometimes contested) roles, including translator, advocate, researcher, knowledgeable authority, coalition builder, and activist. In short, the anthropologists in these papers often find themselves in the position of cultural broker. As past explorations of the topic convey, the role of broker in policy settings is not always an^asy position for anthropologists (Okongwu and Mencher 2000; Shore and Wright 1997). For example, in their recent article "Toward an Anthropology of Public Policy," Janine Wedel and coauthors (2005) demarcate public policy as simultaneously a research topic and an action arena. …

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