The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations: Volume 36

Cover of The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations
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(20 chapters)
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Part I: Climate, Environment, and Conservation

Purpose

To illuminate the underlying logic of western Kansas farmers’ decisions to irrigate at unsustainable rates and the state’s regulatory policies and practices that enable depletion of the Ogallala aquifer.

Methodology/approach

Ethnographic interviewing of 39 western Kansas farmers, state water management personnel, and archival research.

Findings

Farmers occupy an ambiguous position as petty capitalists who focus attention on their own farms with seasonal planning horizons, and they hold a view of “good stewardship” that melds economic and noneconomic considerations, and that provides a rationale for unsustainable irrigation practices. The state resolves the contradiction between the finite groundwater resource and ideological commitments to economic growth by devolving responsibility for water management to groundwater users.

Research limitations/implications

While the small sample size is likely to be representative of the larger pool of irrigators, further research with other farmers representative of the region will be necessary to verify findings.

Social implications

Depletion of the Ogallala aquifer contributes to farm consolidation and community decline, and the ecological costs will leave future farmers and remaining communities without the benefits of groundwater. Western Kansas will likely have to revert to a system of dryland farming.

Purpose

This study examines how small famers in southern Costa Rica think about environmental issues and climate change in agricultural practice and sustainability, assuming local models about these issues must be understood as dynamic representations which are modified in response to both changing conditions and new ideas.

Methodology/approach

Ethnographic research in Coto Brus, in southern Costa Rica, in the late 1990s and mid-2000s forms the basis of this analysis.

Findings

Farmers in this area understand environmental issues in terms of local controllable circumstances around environmental issues. This puts them at odds with government agents and outside researchers, who offer solutions based on their perceptions of the situation rather than farmer perceptions. Farmer resistance to proposals which do not solve problems that farmers see as important frustrates government representatives, who perceive these actions to be arbitrary.

Research limitations

The research is quite limited in time and space, giving only a quick snapshot of a complicated and ongoing problem.

Practical implications

Different models for understanding problems and a lack of understanding of how other stakeholders perceive the situation has made it harder to improve the sustainability of agriculture in southern Costa Rica. Similar dynamics can be seen elsewhere and suggest that a greater attempt to engage with local models and understandings can improve development and acceptance of innovations and improvements.

Originality/value

The exploration of conflicts between local and national/scholarly understandings of environmental issues suggests a way forward, engaging with local understandings and concerns to change behavior.

Purpose

This chapter presents a case study on smallholder vulnerability and adaptation to long-term desiccation in the West African Sahel. Climatologists recognize Sahelian desiccation as a long-term multi-decadal dry period that persisted from roughly 1968 to 1995. This study draws on fine-scale ethnographic and daily rainfall data to elucidate local perspectives on this broad regional process. As such, this provides a window on the local lived experience of regional climate variability.

Methodology/approach

This study draws on multiple periods of ethnographic fieldwork in two different Mossi areas in north-central Burkina Faso (West Africa). Fieldwork consisted of key informant interviews, household surveys, and participant observation. The authors incorporate daily precipitation data from two meteorological stations provided by the General Directorate of Meteorology of Burkina Faso. Researchers assembled this data and graphed daily rainfall totals for individual rainfall seasons in the years preceding each period of fieldwork. The qualitative and quantitative data are analyzed by using a Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) framework.

Findings

The study finds that local perceptions of increased rainfall variability correspond to patterns evident in daily rainfall records for individual stations. Additionally, the authors document how rural producers are negatively affected by both intra-seasonal and multi-decadal rainfall variability. Mossi smallholders have adapted through new cropping patterns, livelihood diversification, and investments in agricultural intensification. These adaptations have been largely successful and could be adopted by other Sahelian groups in their efforts to adapt to climate change.

Research limitations

Fieldwork took place over several years in two different departments and five localities. The two anthropologists used a common livelihoods analytical framework but different research protocols over this time span. Thus, the data collection was not systematic across all locations and time periods. This limits the degree to which results are representative beyond surveyed localities at their respective points in time.

Originality/value

This study presents local views and perceptions of regional climate variability and ecological change. It is a rare bottom-up perspective supplemented with precipitation data.

Purpose

This chapter attempts to critically examine the wildlife conservation discourse that argues for curtailing the livestock grazing inside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, situated on the India’s international borders with China in southeast Ladakh. The conventional conservation discourse points at the (supposed) greed of the Changpa pastoralists in accumulating an increasing number of pashmina goats as a primary environmental cause of wildlife loss in Changthang; however, there is a critical lack of insight into the political and historical mechanisms that lie within the dynamic interaction between resource access and socio-economic inequalities, critical for understanding Changpa pastoralism today.

Methodology/approach and findings

Ethnographic inquiry into the Changpa economy before the closure of Ladakh–Tibet border trade in 1962, and afterwards, has highlighted the political and economic transformations in the area, as well as the cultural politics of market integration and increasing inabilities of the mobile Changpa pastoralists to access vital productive resources. Inequalities reflected in the contemporary livestock data, acquired from the pastoralists, underscore the processes of institutional bricolage, non-cooperative labour, exchange/wage herding and capital-dominated market networks, making pastoralism impossible for several of the households.

Originality/value

The chapter argues against making livestock withdrawal a major aim of conservation sciences. It calls instead for the recognition of state-provisioned commodified pashmina rearing, seen through the prism of changing abilities and shifting institutions, where unequal access to productive resources is a reflection of both historical dispossessions and also economic impoverishments of Changpa today.

Part II: Negotiating the Social and the Economic in Exchange Relations

Purpose

This chapter highlights the agency of Nigerian immigrant business owners in constructing their business-related social networks. Literature on immigrant business owners emphasizes their social network embeddedness as a key explanatory factor in their economic integration. I show here ways in which members of one immigrant group purposely shape these networks into the most advantageous form: impersonal/socially distant suppliers, personal/socially close employees, and impersonal/socially distant customers.

Methodology/approach

Data for the chapter come from 36 semistructured qualitative interviews conducted in New York City with Nigerian small business owners and participant observation in their businesses.

Findings

Nigerian immigrant business owners in New York tend over time to shift from business networks of primarily Nigerian or other socially close suppliers, employees, and customers, to networks of mainly socially close employees, and socially distant suppliers and customers.

Research limitations/implications

The chapter’s concern is limited to Nigerian immigrant business owners in New York City. Others in other places may behave differently.

Originality/value

The literature on immigrant business owners is dominated by Asian and Latin American examples while this chapter features the experiences of Nigerian immigrants. It also presents a group that does not fit the widely accepted disadvantage hypothesis of immigrant self-employment. Finally, where many studies treat social networks as static structures, this chapter emphasizes the agency of immigrants in altering the composition of their networks to maximize their position in it.

Purpose

The chapter examines and challenges the assumed necessity of a linkage between remembered series of exchanges, amicable social relations, and prestige found in the work of Marcel Mauss and many subsequent theorists of reciprocity and gift exchange.

Methodology

The chapter uses the nearly 500 year history of the giving and taking of the Koh-i-noor Diamond by rulers of South and Central Asia, commencing with Babur, the first Mughal emperor, and ending with Queen Victoria, which includes some gift giving and much taking by force, to explore what happens when only two of the three elements Mauss assumed central to understanding gift exchange are present.

Findings

Based on a review of the historical material, the chapter demonstrates that though historical narratives or memories of exchanges were central to enhancing the prestige of the parties to the exchange and the diamond itself, that process could and did occur in the absence of any on-going amicable social relations, including in situations in which exchange or transfer of the diamond were coerced and nothing was given in return to the dispossessed former owner of the gem.

Originality/value

By suggesting an alternative configuration of the factors necessary for the association of exchange and prestige, the chapter provides the opportunity to reconsider assumptions common in the literature on gift exchange and further enhance our understanding of this central element of social theory.

Purpose

To expand understandings of conflict, this chapter offers a detailed assessment of how exchange is enacted within local heroin markets. Addressing drug dealing and heroin users’ buying drugs for their peers (i.e., brokering), this research expands how illegal drug markets are commonly understood. A generalized framework is presented that highlights patterns of exchange.

Approach

Findings come from a 36-month study of a demographically diverse sample of 38 heroin users in Cleveland, OH. Methods involved open-ended, semi-structured interviewing and participant observation, conducted by the author and a team of graduate students.

Findings

Instead of framing exchange as either an economic or social act, this chapter shows how trade in heroin markets is often both. Here Gudeman’s (2001) dialectic between market and community is embodied in inter-subjectivities of traders, promoting both trust and conflict. In this context, conflict is the result of perpetual ambiguity all market participants can experience.

Research implications

Applying a blended notion of exchange as both social and economic offers new insight on conflict and expands its orientation beyond narratives of political economy. Here, in addition to the economics that often promote conflict, the social elements of exchange (e.g., reciprocity) are emphasized.

Originality

Research has understood conflicts in drug market operations through trader characteristics (e.g., poverty, race, class, privilege). This chapter emphasizes opportunities for conflict irrespective of individualized characteristics by outlining structural elements of exchange.

Purpose

This chapter contrasts two “careers in dope” (Waldorf, 1973), one a Hispanic crack dealer and the other a White trafficker of powder cocaine. The first dealer worked openly on the street, in the urban style; the latter dealt indoors, exclusively through networks of kin and friends, the only way to sell drugs in the suburbs. This chapter seeks to establish “suburban” drug sales as a particular modality, with dynamics specific to its context.

Methodology/approach

Two in-depth case cases are examined. They are drawn from a larger set of oral interviews that explore the life histories of drug dealers, with an emphasis on how they sold marijuana and cocaine, and how and why they quit selling.

Findings

First, the suburban style of drug sales has much to do with the mitigated risks White people face as dealers. Second, suburban dealing illuminates the limits of conventional economic theory to explain drug dealing universally.

Originality/value

Because suburban drug deals happen among friends and kin relations they are never anonymous. Making sense of economic transactions among intimates raises a number issues fundamental to economic anthropology: the ambivalence of gifts in socialeconomic relationships, and more generally the integration of economic phenomena in social dynamics.

Part III: Adaptations to Socioeconomic Conditions

Purpose

Although markets are intensely social, stock markets are peculiar in that they are normatively anonymous spaces. Anonymity is a difficult-to-achieve social accomplishment in which material identity information is successfully stripped from participants. The academic literature is conflicted regarding the degree to which equity markets are anonymous and how this influences traders’ behavior.

Methodology/approach

Based on focused, tape-recorded ethnographic interviews, this chapter investigates the work practices of professional investors and brokers to describe the conditions under which brokers veil or reveal investors’ identities to their competitors, and thereby shed light on how anonymity is socially produced (or eroded) in global stock markets.

Findings

The social structure of brokered financial markets places brokers in the awkward situation of sitting in an information-poor structural location for so-called “fundamental information” while being paid to share information with professional investors who sit in an information-rich structural location. A resolution to this material and social dilemma is that brokers can erode the market’s anonymity by gifting identity information (“order flow”) – the previous, prospective, or pending trades of their clients’ competitors – thereby providing traders a competitive advantage. They share identity information in three types of performances: transparent relationships, masked relationships, and the transformation of illicit material identity information into licit and sharable “fundamental” information. Each performance partly erodes transaction-level and market-level anonymity while simultaneously partially supporting anonymity.

Practical implications

Laws and regulations requiring brokers’ confidentiality of their clients’ trades are easily and systematically eluded. Policy makers and regulators may opt to respond by increasing surveillance and mechanization of brokers’ work so as to promote a normatively anonymous market. Alternatively, they may opt to question the value of promoting and policing anonymity in financial markets by revising insider trading regulations.

Originality/value

Even well-regulated markets are semi-anonymous spaces due to the systematic exposure of investors’ identities to competitors by their shared brokers on a daily basis. This finding provides an additional explanation for how professional investors can imitate one another (“herd”) as well as why subpopulations of investors often trade so similarly to one another.

Purpose

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the phenomenon of innovation in a particular setting in Japan, and more specifically to trace a local initiative toward the creation of an “innovation ecosystem” in a large city and its surrounding region in Western Japan, with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship and economic revitalization.

Methodology/approach

The analysis in this chapter is based on ethnographic fieldwork, including participant-observation in meetings and events held to promote entrepreneurship and collaboration in the region, as well as interviews with city officials, managers, and entrepreneurs related to the activities of the creation of the “innovation ecosystem.”

Findings

In the chapter, I show how the emergence of the ecosystem metaphor for business innovation informs practices and imaginaries in which relations, co-creation, and natural growth become central as models of and for innovation processes in a context of crisis, in ways that generate not only innovation but the ecosystem itself.

Originality/value

The chapter provides historical and social context to the metaphor of the innovation ecosystem that is receiving increasing interest globally, and provides insights into how innovation activities and the enacting of the “innovation ecosystem” take place in practice.

Purpose

This chapter examines how Maragoli women farmers’ plot-level crop control, individual, and household variables affect yields. This chapter contributes to a holistic understanding of the ramifications of quantitative and qualitative factors informing women farmers’ plot-level undertakings and yields as well as their innovative and creative strategies for optimizing output. It broadens the existing debate in the sub-Saharan African agricultural production literature by suggesting a composite measure of plot-level crop control as one factor influencing women farmers’ yields even in situations where land is owned by someone else. It also provides a rich discussion of the various and interlocking qualitative factors distorting women farmers’ incentive structures, efforts to increase plot-level yields and their strategies for minimizing the detrimental effects of the same.

Methodology/approach

A multimethod quantitative and qualitative ethnographic case study approach was used in this study.

Findings

This chapter demonstrates that women strategically bargained and invested more of their productive resources on the plots where they anticipated the greatest individual gains.

Practical implications

This chapter underscores women farmers’ ability to boost agricultural output when there are appropriate incentives for them to do so and suggests the theoretical and practical relevance of secure control and property rights over the products of the land not for the household (head), but for the cultivator. The chapter demonstrates and reaffirms that Africa women farmers respond appropriately to incentives and suggests that there is need for a customized, renewed, and sustained emphasis on women farmers’ empowerment and inclusion in all levels in the agricultural sector in order to actualize increased yields. Investing in women farmers and implementing policies that narrow existing gender disparities in African agricultural production systems is holistically beneficial.

Purpose

This chapter examines the economics of alternative healing in Brazil.

Methodology/approach

Two narratives are selected from extensive observations and interviews over a period of years. The presentation chronicles the accounts of people experiencing physical symptoms who sought further advice from friends and relatives after visits to conventional medical providers failed to cure them.

Findings

In response to a recommendation from one of those consulted, one person went to a spirit “received” by a Kardecist/Spiritist healer-medium while the other obtained treatment from an otherworldly being at an Umbanda center. The respective “therapeutic” procedures are described and analyzed in terms of the beliefs and the worldviews of each of the traditions. If satisfied with the outcome, the patient fulfills an implicit bargain with the otherworldly being(s) and its religious group by adopting their beliefs and practices. This conversion is “payment” for the healing services rendered.

Social implications

Since some treatments are successful and others are not, the implications of this exchange is that many Brazilians may change their religions several times during their lifespan. As a result of this behavior individuals circulate among the several religious groups that are always in competition with each other.

Originality/value

The analysis provides a distinctive insight into, and original way to understand, alternative health care in Brazil.

Cover of The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations
DOI
10.1108/S0190-1281201636
Publication date
2016-09-01
Book series
Research in Economic Anthropology
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78635-228-6
eISBN
978-1-78635-227-9
Book series ISSN
0190-1281