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Sustainability and Communities of Place

Edited by Carl A. Maida

272 pages,

ISBN  978-1-84545-016-8 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (April 2007)

ISBN  978-0-85745-146-0 $34.95/£22.00 Pb Published (March 2011)

eISBN 978-0-85745-284-9 eBook

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The concept of sustainability holds that the social, economic, and environmental factors within human communities must be viewed interactively and systematically. Sustainable development cannot be understood apart from a community, its ethos, and ways of life. Although broadly conceived, the pursuit of sustainable development is a local practice because every community has different needs and quality of life concerns. Within this framework, contributors representing the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, geography, economics, law, public policy, architecture, and urban studies explore sustainability in communities in the Pacific, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and North America.

Contributors: Janet E. Benson, Karla Caser, Snjezana Colic, Angela Ferreira, Johanna Gibson, Krista Harper, Paulo Lana, Barbara Yablon Maida, Carl A. Maida, Kenneth A. Meter, Dario Novellino, Deborah Pellow, Claude Raynaut, Thomas F. Thornton, Richard Westra, Magda Zanoni

Carl A. Maida is a professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. A medical anthropologist, he has conducted ethnographic fieldwork on health and the environment in metropolitan Los Angeles. Previous publications include Pathways Through Crisis: Urban Risk and Public Culture (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), Children and Disasters (Routledge, 1999), and The Crisis of Competence: Transitional Stress and the Displaced Worker (Routledge,1990).

Series: Volume 5, Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology

LC: HC79.E5 S86455 2007

BL: YC.2008.a.6656

BISAC: SCI026000 SCIENCE/Environmental Science; SOC002000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/General

BIC: RNT Social impact of environmental issues; JHM Anthropology

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Where, When, for Whom? Past, Present, and Future of a Local Rural Population in a Protected Natural Area (Guaraqueçaba, Brazil)

A rethinking of development models has occurred during the latter half of the twentieth century. For the most part, this rethinking has been critical of purely economic models that only emphasize growth and do not take into account the needs and aspirations of the affected population and risks to the natural environment. Perroux's works (1961), those of the "Club of Rome" (Beckerman 1972; ONU/EPHE 1972) and, lately, Sachs' works (1990) bear witness to this shift in thinking. In the 1990s, the concept of sustainable development came to the forefront. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) first used this notion in its global strategy of conservation (Jacobs and Munro 1987). It was then taken up again and developed by the Brundtland Report (WCED 1987). Despite the successes of the 1992 World Conference on Environment, sustainable development still remains rather blurred and is beset by many differences of interpretation. It is marked by contradictions (Pezzey 1989). No fewer than sixty different definitions have been noted by Latouche (1995). From a development perspective, it integrates a number of dimensions that were not initially included: the acknowledgment that available resources are not infinite, the recognition of the value of biodiversity, the demand for social equity, and a concern for long-term and intergenerational solidarity. It is easy to reach agreement on some statements of principle, but consensus can hardly be found when looking for concrete definitions, identification of priority actions, and the formulation of criteria necessary for evaluating development policy. Vagueness remains, particularly with regard to scientific concepts that could support the notion of sustainability. Among others, different French authors (Dubois and Mahieu 2002; Elame 2001; Jollivet 2001, Martin 2002) have already started the necessary work of critical reflection.

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Alaska Native Corporations and Subsistence

Paradoxical Forces in the Making of Sustainable Communities

In America's largest state, Alaska, the environment is not an issue but the issue. This is clearly reflected in the state's conflicted material and symbolic status as "the last frontier," which brands it as both an unspoiled wilderness for preservation and a land of vast untapped resources for industrial development. Somewhere between the wilderness preservationists, whose influence has helped make Alaska a land of parks, preserves, and tourism, and the industrial developers, whose power has shaped Alaska's natural resource-based economy, dwell Alaska Natives, who historically have sought sustainable relationships with the lands they have inhabited for centuries, if not millennia. Today, Alaska Native economies are pushed from both sides.

On the one hand, Alaska Natives have been transformed into "corporate Indians," shareholders in business corporations created by the U.S. Congress to help them manage real estate and monies awarded through land claims. On the other hand, Alaska Native rural, noncommercial or subsistence economies are also protected by federal law. When the state's Native (Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut) communities were reengineered from small-scale subsistence-oriented economies into for-profit corporations by the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, many predicted that corporate capitalism would swallow their cultures and assimilate them into the mainstream American economy and society. Thirty years after the advent of this experiment, we are in a better position to assess this prediction. Indeed, ANCSA has been an unprecedented experiment not only in social engineering among aboriginal peoples but also in corporate engineering, for ANCSA corporations differ from common capitalist corporations in important ways.

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Communities Out of Place

This land is mine
This land is me
These two lines come from the Australian musical One Night the Moon, directed and coscripted by Australian indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins. Based on actual events in the Australian outback in 1932, the film tells the story of a pastoralist couple whose child, after waking up at the bright moonlight streaming into her bedroom, wanders into the night chasing after the moon and is lost in the bush. The father refuses the help of an Aboriginal tracker and orders him off his land, an action with tragic consequences. In this scene, the father's refrain, "This land is mine," is juxtaposed by Albert the Tracker's refrain, "This land is me."

This scene and this refrain capture one of the key differences between conventional proprietary models and traditional custodianship. The fundamental concern for devising appropriate recognition and protection for indigenous cultural resources in the land is the imperative toward reconciling that protection within already existing forms of ownership under conventional laws of property and intellectual property (this land is mine). However, solutions based on consistency with such laws, for the purposes of protecting cultural and traditional knowledge, are contrary to customary laws of indigenous Australian custodianship with respect to land and the traditional and cultural knowledge found within that land (this land is me). According to customary Aboriginal laws, as explained by a senior traditional lawman of the Ngarinyin people, "I don't own the land, but the land owns me ... That's why it's so important for us, because the land owns us" (Mowaljarlai 1995).

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"Talking About Kultura and Signing Contracts"

The Bureaucratization of the Environment on Palawan Island (the Philippines)

In the Philippines, legislative requirements and bureaucratic procedures associated with indigenous claims over land and resources do not create a facilitating environment for sustainable culture and community-based practices. The old, strictly punitive protectionism is now being replaced by equally dangerous "community-based" forest management programs. Indigenous communities are no longer evicted from their territories; instead, they are asked to enter into agreements with the state. In spite of their promising features, community-based forest management agreements (CBFMAs) may contribute to the erosion of community livelihood and social cohesion while having adverse effects on fragile forest ecosystems.

Today, the Batak of Palawan1 are inescapably trapped in a "state discourse" on property rights and environmental protection, with which they have great difficulties coping. Furthermore, they are all too aware of how state bureaucracy cannot be challenged through straightforward descriptions of their knowledge and beliefs. The latter, in turn, cannot be translated into the language of bureaucracy (Novellino 2003b).

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Does Everyone Suffer Alike?

Race, Class, and Place in Hungarian Environmentalism

While doing research on environmental politics and activism in Hungary, I interviewed an environmental lawyer in Budapest. We talked at length about how the sweeping legal and economic changes of the post-socialist transformation affected the environment. Referring to the broad array of environmental problems left in the wake of the transition from state socialism to the first stage of Eastern Europe's presumed inclusion in global capitalist markets, he said, "Environmental issues don't discriminate because everyone is so vulnerable."

The statement "everyone is so vulnerable" illustrates a widely held belief among Hungarian environmentalists. Activists frequently present the environment as a consensus politics: everyone benefits from clean air, water, and green spaces. The 1980s movement against the damming of the Danube River mobilized broad support, drawing on the significance of the river as a national symbol, historic site, natural monument, wildlife habitat, and drinking water source (Harper 2005). Danube activists presented environmentalism as a force for democratizing state socialist central planning, and in the late 1980s, the Danube movement was an important factor in the development of an organized political opposition. Its role in the expanding venues for public participation contributed to the democratic reputation of the environmental movement since 1989, reinforcing the notion that environmental politics cuts across class divisions and provides a "commons" for democratic participation because no one can ultimately escape the effects of environmental degradation of the natural commons.

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Attachment Sustains

The Glue of Prepared Food

The geographer Mabogunje (1990: 128) has observed that one of the early problematics of African urbanization focused on "demographic development and the emergent social differentiation among urban Africans." This raised interest in so-called segregational issues, such as the ethnic segregation that grew out of migration histories and that was kept alive by colonial policies. More recently, writers like Hannerz (1987, 1992; see also Mintz & Price 1985) have moved on to consider the manner in which separate cultures come together and hybridize, suggesting that "this world of movement and mixture [as] a world in creolisation" (Hannerz 1987: 551) is a promising metaphor for the African urban milieu as part of the globalizing world.

At one end of the creolizing continuum there is the culture of the center, with its greater prestige ... at the other end are the cultural forms of the farthest periphery, probably in greater parochial variety. (Hannerz 1992: 264)
Groups organize themselves along this continuum, "mixing, observing each other, and commenting on each other" (ibid.: 265). There are asymmetries of cultural flow, with different points of origin and reach.

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Globalization, Local Practice, and Sustainability in the High Plains Region of the United States

While researchers have examined economic and environmental factors affecting agricultural sustainability in the High Plains region of the United States, they have paid relatively less attention to sociocultural factors intrinsically linked to agricultural decision-making and the future of communities. Anthropologists can contribute to public policy decisions through a holistic perspective that takes into account both local practice, particularly the social relations in which agricultural practices are embedded, and an understanding of broader contexts (see Okongwu & Mencher 2000). This is not to deny the reality of local response, whether it entails resisting larger forces or embracing them. However, a broader perspective is needed to evaluate change over time. Regional, national, and international processes all shape the future of local communities.

Discussions of sustainability and communities of place have also sometimes treated farming communities as if they were socially and culturally homogeneous. However, this essay will argue that rural communities are not synonymous with farm families (see Scott et al. 2000) and in fact may be characterized by increasing diversity in terms of occupation, type of agricultural enterprise, and ethnicity (Benson 2001). The idea of local practice begs the question of exactly who is participating in regional culture; to what extent, if any, a collective identity exists; and how state and national policies shape local practice, as well as being shaped by it. The effects of globalization profoundly affect rural communities in the United States, as elsewhere, ranging from shifts in traditional markets to fluctuating energy prices and international migration. Highly mobile capital attracts equally mobile, and ephemeral, human populations. What changes have taken place in Kansas's agriculture during the last few decades?

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Quality of Life, Sustainability, and Urbanization of the Oxnard Plain, California

The latest unplanned, random, urbanizing landscapes no longer adhere to traditional categories, such as urban, suburban, town, or rural. Agricultural land is being used for these landscapes, which are characterized by dispersed industry, homes, and stores. Daly and Cobb (1989) suggest that this use of agricultural land has its roots in the maximized profits of industrialization; more productive farms would require fewer farmers. Price does not take ecological or social consequences into account. This leads to an unsustainable model and the expedient of a land sell-off. Ultimately, in spite of the technology and intensification lavished on the production of food and fiber crops, the land itself is being degraded beyond repair; maintaining agricultural land is becoming an example of diminishing returns. Wendell Berry (1977) has written that the culture of agriculture is being lost and, once lost, will be irrecoverable.

Not unlike earlier planned suburbias, this form of sprawl promises the right of access to "pristine countryside," albeit with a simultaneous disregard for the countryside's degradation (Marx 1991). Sprawl contributes significantly to the reality of fewer farmlands; in many counties nationwide, even the excellent quality of the soil is not a deterrent to development (Sorensen and Esseks 1997). Development patterns invariably require more infrastructure, and so infrastructure is created and capitalized by an economic nexus of "outside" interests from the surrounding metropolis and beyond. Hence, the terrain has become politicized within California's agricultural regions. Supporters and detractors of growth each defend their claims and their often contradictory notions of community, land use, and sustainable development.

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Linked Indicators of Sustainability Build Bridges of Trust

Citizens who pursue environmental initiatives in community contexts face an ecology of social and economic issues that is extremely complex and often difficult for the outsider to penetrate. This fact alone suggests the need for local residents to be intimately and powerfully involved in partnerships with professionals who address sustainability concerns. Further, there is strong reason for professionals who work in community settings to maintain a detachment regarding their own professional expertise. Professionals tend to be specialists, while residents tend to be generalists: they are the experts on local systems. Frequently, academic or professional specialties contribute to a discourse that is narrower than is required to address the complexity of local issues. Dealing with single issues in isolation from each other may play a powerful role in creating models for action, but such a strategy is seldom effective in addressing complex issues, especially in rapidly changing conditions.

Several Minneapolis neighborhoods fronting the Mississippi River have worked closely with both professional and academic experts to take solid, practical steps toward building a more integrative approach. Central to these initiatives is a conviction that environmental, social, and economic issues cannot be separated. As partners in the first U.S. effort to engage residents in creating sustainability indicators for their own locales, residents of Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods built new bridges of trust, linked issues that had been fragmented, and defined pioneering indicators. These are not only important to their locale but also useful as tools for other locales globally.

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The Design of the Built Environment and Social Capital

Case Study of a Coastal Town Facing Rapid Changes

In the last century the design of the built environment has faced considerable paradigm changes. The functionalist approach to design emerged in architecture and planning in the nineteenth century (Pérez-Gómez 1983), as these professions became enamored with the technological products of the Industrial Revolution. Functionality and universality of solutions were the premises of the Modernist movement, which proposed the creation of a new world for a "new technological man." Modernism prevailed for half a century, reaching its peak during the reconstruction period following World War II. In the postwar era, the first signs emerged that the new technological man did not, in practice, fit well in the new built environment based upon "universal" design principles. In the 1960s, neighborhood activism and social movements emerged "in a struggle to preserve and enhance places that mattered" (Ley 1989: 53). In academia, an interdisciplinary approach also emerged as a way to make sense of a world that did not fit into the Modernist framework. In this way, and to counter the functionalist approach, phenomenological, anthropological, and sociological approaches came to be applied to design practices. These disciplines began to influence post-Modern design and its attendant concerns with place and with the alienation of people from their surrounding environment as a result of industrialization, urbanization, and the machine aesthetic of Modernism (Ley 1989).

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Sociomaterial Communication, Community, and Ecosustainability in the Global Era

In an important intervention in the literature on environmental political economy, John Dryzek (1996) explains how debate over the possibility of constructing an ecosustainable future for human society has largely swirled around two perspectives on human nature. On the one side is Homo economicus, the instrumental, "rational" actor of neoclassical economics. And, on the other side, there is Homo ecologicus, the new, ascetic ecological subject of "Green" social theory. For Dryzek, it is abundantly clear that little space exists in instrumental rationality for the ecosensitivity required by a future environmentally responsible social order. On the other hand, he is concerned with the possible authoritarian political outcome of inculcating the new ecological subjectivity and the extent of the social regression entailed in certain Green visions of self-sufficient microcommunities. What troubles him to an even greater extent is the very endeavor of both sides to reduce the issue of environmental political economy to "psychology" in the first place. As Dryzek (1996: 30) posits, the need for social science derives precisely from the fact "that society, and social structure, are not reducible to psychology." Thus he proposes a twofold solution for thinking anew about the political economy of environmental sustainability. First, Dryzek (1996: 38) argues for "an ecological political economy [that] would concern itself with the structure, organization and operation of political-economic systems as they confront ecological problems." Second, Dryzek (1996: 28) argues for "human intersubjectivity and communication" as the nexus through which the processes of institution-building for the future eco-sustainable order are to be articulated. However, while I am in agreement with the above characterization of social science and the task of political economy, and accept that social "communication" broadly conceived has an important role to play in remaking our social communities, Dryzek's article never considers a set of deeper, more pressing questions that spring from his insights.

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The Prospect of Sustainability in the Culture of Capitalism, Global Culture, and Globalization

A Diachronic Perspective

Recent analyses of capitalism have focused on the cultural practices of consumption. While all human beings consume, a central preoccupation of advanced capitalism is consuming. Moreover, consumption has become the cultural telos of capitalism. As Tomlinson (1992: 122) suggests, what has cultural significance are the high levels of consumption in advanced capitalist societies. For these societies introduce a particular set of meanings people attach to their consumption practices and to the significance of such practices for their sense of purpose, happiness, and identity.1 Of course, such practices are not static but change over time. What has often been overlooked in cultural studies of consumerism is the dynamic nature of culture. Consumption is not a universal process; rather, as with other forms of global knowledge conveyed through the culture industries, consumption practices are situated activities. As an encounter between the materiality of cultural commodities and the cultural formation of a consumer, consumption occurs in a particular context, namely a locality. Global forces like mass consumption display their effects in particular locales; therefore, local realities can no longer be thought outside the global sphere of influence.

Similar to consumption, globalization is not simply a process of exporting "sameness," as Storey (2003) suggests. Some critics argue that globalization can be understood, as Pieterse (1995: 45) points out, "as a process of hybridization which gives rise to a global melange," while others regard it as a process of homogenization. The latter view, however, overlooks the countercurrents, namely the impact non-Western societies are making on the West and on one another. Storey (2003) asserts that globalization produces two contradictory effects, sameness and difference; there is a sense that the world is becoming similar as it shrinks under the pressure of time-space compression, but also that it is characterized by an increasing awareness of difference. Globalization has thus made the notion of a neatly bounded sociocultural isolate even more untenable. Therefore, anthropologists cannot focus on a spatial unit merely as a self-contained isolate. Colonial and capitalist interventions are part of the picture, as are earlier migrations and histories. This essay will explore how global culture has come to eclipse local knowledge, especially with respect to resource needs, and has thereby moved localities to embrace more universal consumption practices.

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