Science, Society and Power: Environmental Knowledge and Policy in West Africa and the Caribbean

Article excerpt

GEOGRAPHY, ENVIRONMENT, & DEMOGRAPHY James Fairhead and Melissa Leach. Science, Society and Power: Environmental Knowledge and Policy in West Africa and the Caribbean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xi + 272 pp. Photographs. Tables. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $70.00. Cloth.

Environmental anthropologists, geographers, and historians are by now familiar with the work of James Fairhead and Melissa Leach and their focus on environmental narratives or orthodoxies. In fact, their groundbreaking work in Guinea (1996) established environmental narratives as a core theme of the interdisciplinary subfield of political ecology. Their latest collaboration seeks to locate the powerful scientific and political interactions that shape environmental knowledge and narratives in the context of a globalized "vortex" of environmental interests. In many ways, the book is an ethnography of the global environment-development business. The authors follow a logical pattern, beginning by outlining the need to study the interplay between science and society in the developing world, as well as the value of taking a comparative ethnographic approach. By next establishing the relevance of tropical forest biodiversity concerns to this topic, the authors arrive at an issue central to their research: In our globalizing society, how are local experiences drawn into the concatenation of transnational corporations, multilateral donors, and international NGOs (all with a stake in policy and research)?

Using Guinea and Trinidad as case studies, Fairhead and Leach begin their exploration of this complex topic. They raise a number of interesting points. They show, for example, how international biodiversity concerns tend to dominate local research agendas, leading to (among other issues) an obsession with counting species and a privileging of "wild" over more managed landscapes, regardless of the actual diversity in each area. This has led to the championing of hunter knowledge over farmer's knowledge, and a tendency to conflate agrobiodiversity with wild plant diversity.

The work flows smoothly, with each succeeding section building upon the preceding sections and with chapter conclusions refocusing the information conveyed toward the authors' goal. …


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