Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Re-Placing the Space of Community: A Story of Cultural Politics, Policies, and Fisheries Management1

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Re-Placing the Space of Community: A Story of Cultural Politics, Policies, and Fisheries Management1

Article excerpt

Getting communities involved in resource management has seen increasing attention from a variety of disciplines. Within anthropology, sociology, geography, political science-even in the natural sciences and policy circlesgrassroots perspectives have been argued essential to developing new frameworks built on local knowledge and institutions (e.g. Pinkerton 1989, Dyer and McGoodwin 1994, FAO 2000). This focus on community seems to imply a building interest in how participatory, "anthropological" ideas might lead to new "liberation ecologies" (Peet and Watts 1996). Indeed, despite early modernists' dire predictions and postmodernism's traveling predilections, notions of community figure prominently in identity politics and debates. This relevance has enabled the idea of community to play a polysemous role in challenging the "privileging of time over space" (Smith and Katz 1993: 67) in social theory. Work on the production of space, uneven geographies of development, and the politics of identity have pointed to the multiple ways that communities may be configured (Harvey 1989, Soja 1989). From being environmental anchors in the common property literature to reworked sites of connection in the new geographies, the notion of a community has been "good to think."

But the concern here is the re-constitution of community in a policy world dominated by particular notions of the subject, rationality, and space and place. This concern speaks directly to tensions in anthropology stemming from the tug and pull between history and geography in time- and place-specific ethnographies (Fabian 1983, Gupta and Ferguson 1992). If anthropology's pursuit of culture has rested on a now-criticized view of space and place, it is a view with wider roots in so-called Western tradition.2 Thus how community appears in policy is inextricably related to how anthropology and culture are characterized. Put another way, the marginalization of anthropology in public policy is related in part to the persistence of discourses that locate community and culture outside modernity and rationality. The effect of this is to undermine the critical capacity of anthropological notions of culture to analyze power and practice, as well as to undermine the potential that alternative spaces like communities offer for political engagement.

These issues appear in fisheries around the world as nation-states struggle with declines in fish and fishers (McGoodwin 1990). Such difficulties have led to policies that waver between economic efficiency and social responsibility, and bring with them implicit notions of community and social life. Examples include the European Union's efforts to overhaul its Common Fisheries Policy, where fishery-dependent regions play an important if ambiguous role in social policies; fishing nations such as Iceland and Norway, where concerns over market-dominated management involve issues of nation, place, and identity; and the United States, where reauthorization of legislation governing fisheries management grappled with the social and economic impacts on fishing communities. By focusing on these constructions of community, primarily in federal fisheries policy in the United States, I hope to provide an understanding of the different meanings and practices that inhere in community, for this sets the parameters for grassroots engagement as well as anthropology's relevance (Brosius et al. 1998).

These reflections are based on a kind of fieldwork in which I am one of a handful of anthropologists in the National Marine Fisheries Service,3 charged with conducting sociocultural research including how regulations impact communities. Though the work of operationally defining and field-researching community is still a work-in-progress for federal fisheries (see clay 2000 for some of the issues involved), my concern here is less the definitions of community that make sense to anthropologists than the broader context in which they are interpreted and enacted. …

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