Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 25, 2004|Volume 32, Number 32|Four-Week Issue















Michael Dove (left), coordinator of the combined-degree program, is pictured here with students in the program. They are (from left) Andrew Mathews, Shafqat Hussain, Jonathan Padwe, Anne Rademacher and Julie Velasquez Runk.

F&ES - Anthropology Combined Degree

Unique program adds human dimension to ecological studies

Fueled by his passion for community forestry, Andrew Mathews spent almost two years in the forests of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, where his work combined forest management and sustainability with a political and social framework.

"You have a forest and you establish management rules but what do you do when the regulations are ignored or they are out of step with the people who live there?" says Mathews, a doctoral student at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

It was his penchant for viewing forest ecology through the lens of a social framework that led Mathews to the combined-degree doctoral program in F&ES and the Department of Anthropology.

Mathews, who recently defended his dissertation, is one of eight students at Yale who are pursuing the combined degree. In the past dozen years, 10 students have worked toward a degree that combines anthropology and environmental science in a program started by former provost Alison Richard.

The program, which was formalized in 2003, is in keeping with F&ES dean James Gustave Speth's stated goals of strengthening intra-university ties and making F&ES a global school of the environment.

The combined anthropology-environmental studies program -- the only one of its kind in the United States -- bridges the divides between the social and natural sciences, theory and practice and local and global levels of analysis, explains Michael Dove, coordinator of the combined-degree program.

"There's an ongoing debate about how best to study the global environment," says Dove, the Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology and professor of anthropology. "It is tempting to sit in a conference room in Tokyo, Paris or New Haven and think that one can develop global policy, forgetting that little, if anything, actually happens at the global level, but only at the level of individual people, households and communities."

The students' intensive research projects have taken them to developing countries -- such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, Cambodia, Pakistan and India -- where development and environmental conservation often seem to be at odds.

While many of the courses at F&ES incorporate a social and cultural perspective on the environment, these issues are the central focus of the combined anthropology-forestry and environmental studies program. It offers an approach in which human development and sustainability are equally weighted.

"Anthropology takes a human perspective and puts it into an environmental setting," says Oswald Schmitz, professor of population and community ecology and former director of the F&ES doctoral program. "We need to train a new generation of people who understand that dimension."

To Schmitz, the anthropological perspective in forestry and ecological practices and policy is a matter of common sense. He points as example to the change in the philosophy toward preserving tropical forests. The idea of maintaining the forest by barring people from it is being replaced with a focus on integrating human interaction with ecological needs and encouraging sustainability.

In studying the impact of humans on an ecosystem, students explore both the contemporary use of resources by people and the legacy of historic uses. Beginning with local dynamics, they focus on understanding how communities are integrated into national, regional and global socioecological systems, Dove says.

The now-discredited tendency to blame all environmental degradation on local communities stems in part from a research focus on the community alone, he notes. "It is vital to study the wider social forces involved in degradation, including those that impact less-developed countries but originate in the industrialized nations."

Students in the program have been regular recipients of awards supporting their research from the Fulbright program, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency and a number of private foundations. Mathews, for example, has received Fulbright, Switzer and NSF fellowships.

Anne Rademacher, who earned her master's degree at F&ES and expects to complete her doctorate in the fall, was awarded the Rappaport Prize by the American Anthropological Association for her dissertation research on the cultural politics of river restoration in Katmandu, Nepal. Her study examines the different kinds of restoration projects along the two rivers that converge in the capital city of Nepal, the fastest-growing city in Southeast Asia.

Depending upon the observer, these rivers are freighted with religious, political and developmental significance, Rademacher says. "There are many different groups making claims on the river and framing their understanding of river degradation and river restoration in different cultural terms," she notes. These groups include landless migrants who have colonized the riverbanks, human rights groups concerned about the migrants living in a floodplain, cultural preservationists focused on Nepal's social and religious heritage and national and international development agencies concerned about improving water quality and solid-waste management.

Students in the combined-degree program work closely with the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Dove says. The center and its various area study councils contribute funding and support language studies for doctoral students pursuing the combined degree and doing research abroad.

Language study is an integral part of the combined-degree program. "All of the students in the program have studied a national language and often a local one as well, starting at Yale, and continuing with intensive language programs during the summer or in their place of study," Dove says.

Student Jonathan Padwe, who has made multiple summer visits to Cambodia, is studying three languages: Khmer, the national language; French, the archival language; and Phnong, the tribal or local language. He is pursuing long-term research in Cambodia this summer.

In most cases, the students in the combined-degree program carry out their research in formal collaboration with local governmental bodies, universities and communities. For example, Julie Velásquez Runk negotiated a 100-page collaborative research agreement with the Wounaan tribe in the Darien Peninsula in Panama before beginning her fieldwork. Like many of the students in the program, she has made explicit efforts to share the results of her completed research with the community she studied.

Earning a doctorate in anthropology and forestry and environmental studies means graduates are flexible in their career trajectory, Dove says. They can pursue academic careers in environmental studies or anthropology, or work with international conservation and development agencies.

Whatever path graduates of the program choose to pursue, they will be able to apply to it "unique insights into the global environmental challenge of the 21st century," says Dove. His hope is that "the hybrid nature of the combined-degree program, partaking of multiple disciplines but beholden to none, gives us one of the best shots at figuring out what critical questions we haven't even asked yet."

-- By Stacey Stowe


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Campus Notes


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