EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Interdisciplinary research and nature-society interactions
Location U6-37
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Georgeta Stoica (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement - IRD France) email
  • Bruno Delesalle (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) email

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Discussant Roberta Raffaetà

Short Abstract

Through a discussion of interdisciplinary research on the socio-ecological systems, this panel addresses questions about the forms of anthropological knowledge production trying to see how the other disciplines (ecology, biology, economics etc.) engage with anthropological knowledge.

Long Abstract

Interdisciplinarity has become a buzzword in the academia and now more than ever research projects are built on interdisciplinary collaborations. Especially researches focusing on nature-society interactions experienced a need of interdisciplinary approaches and opened new spaces of collaboration between ecologists, biologists, anthropologists and not only. It is well known that achieving the goal of working together is not an easy task and often researchers encountered obstacles arising from different methodologies or theories. Through a discussion of interdisciplinary research on socio-ecological systems, we will address questions about the forms of anthropological knowledge production. This panel invites papers that ethnographically enhance knowledge about particular cases that are based on interdisciplinary research in order to explore some of the following questions: What role do researchers with different scientific backgrounds play in the interdisciplinary research and how the collaboration works? What are the advantages and disadvantages of interdisciplinary research? How the other disciplines engage with anthropological knowledge? What kind of "new" interdisciplinary knowledge is produced? How can we integrate the ethnographic data with the data coming from other disciplines? What happens when we have the same research object and different research methodologies?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Semantics in interdisciplinary research

Author: Bruno Delesalle (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes)  email

Short Abstract

Scientists involved in interdisciplinary research have to face a challenge: to be fully understood by colleagues from other scientific domains. It implies that a same meaning is given to the words, especially when common words are used or when specific words are used in various disciplines.

Long Abstract

The fundamentals of interdisciplinarity are to bring together scientists from various disciplines. They have their own theoretical concepts, investigation methods, ways to report findings and, of course, specific vocabulary. This vocabulary has developed for either descriptive or conceptual purposes. Obviously, it is useful to have technical words to describe a structure or a process. Also, it can be interesting to have some privacy in the discipline as the jargon used can be only understood by members.

Interdisciplinarity exactly requires the opposite scheme. As it implies to communicate, every words have to be fully understood by any scientist involved, whatever the discipline. The question especially arises when common words are used as their sense may differ or indicate a different concept in another discipline. For example, in ecology, a population is a group of individuals belonging the same species, living in the same place whereas, in social sciences, various criteria, referring to e.g. politics, , language, culture can be involved. It may also concern specific words used in several disciplines, but not with the same meaning. Resilience is a perfect example, which usually describes the way a system return to its previous state after a perturbation and is usually opposed to resistance. However, the word was firstly used in physics to describe how a material resists to shocks.

Addressing this question in anthropology as welle as in natural sciences and economics, would be fruitful to avoid misunderstanding between scientists and to take a full benefit of this interdisciplinary approach.

Mis/understandings, incertitude, and their potentials. Anthropology within a multidisciplinary research endeavour on climate change in the River Po Basin (Italy)

Author: Mauro Van Aken (University of Milan-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

Through the experience of a multidisciplinary project involving anthropology on environmental change “The future that has already taken place”, focused on the climate system in the Po river basin (Italy), we will highlights the potentials of main mis/understanding and common questioning at work.

Long Abstract

The multidisciplinary project "The future that has already taken place", focused on the climate system changes in the Po river basin in the course of last century (Italy), has put together disciplines, which have seldom spoken and worked together: geophysicists, geologists, hydrologists, institutions of the applied world (the Authority of the Po riven basin management) and anthropologists and other researchers in social and human sciences, coordinated by a non-university institutions, the Museum of Science of Technology "Leonardo da Vinci" of Milan. Five spheres are thus put to work together: hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, biosphere and "anthroposphere", this last coordinated by an anthropologist.

The focus will be not on the denial of the mis/understanding at work, but on the emphasis of relatedness and interdependence within the socio-ecological system of the basin: we will highlight thus the common questions that develop from these mis/understandings, the process of incertitude more than disciplinary certitude, of failures in communication and of joint desire in common questions of research and sustainable futures.

Same main issues at stake in the encounter with anthropology will be developed: the relevance and meaning of "data" in history (between hydrometric measurements or ideas of "nature"); the relations between global and local dynamics; the nature/culture dichotomy in the production of knowledge; the meanings and role of "culture".

These are analysed into the wider politics of knowledge in neolibelar setting, where out of rhetoric and in practice, interdisciplinary work is not evaluated as "productive" and sterile disciplinary confinement is just increasing.

Exploring the scope and limits of interdisciplinary in scientific research: genetics, epigenetics, biomedicine, and the nature/culture debate

Author: Eugenia Ramirez-Goicoechea (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, UNED)  email

Short Abstract

Life Sciences and Sociocultural disciplines have traditionally ignored each other, mainly because of conceptual dualism and disciplinary specialisation. Based on ethnographic work, this paper explores the scope and limits of a biosociocultural turn in scientific theory and research.

Long Abstract

Life scientists have often neglected or misunderstood anthropological contributions to the study of humans and humanity. So have social and cultural scientists done, with Biology and other 'sciences' (Ecology, Ethology, Evolution…), as if humans were independent of the phenomena they investigate. This division has impinged on the development of a holistic approach to the complex biosociocultural beings into which we have evolved and developed.

A conception of 'culture' as materialsymbolic practices, and 'biology' as a non-linear developing current of life, as eco-systemically intertwined processes, is a fundamental starting point if we want to transcend dualistic thinking and disciplinary enclosure.

'Borderline' research (social epigenetics, environmental epidemiology, neuro-anthropology, embodiment, ART/IVR studies, social neurocognition, affective neuro-social sciences, multispecies ethnography, …) shows that hybridity is not only necessary but worth it.

Notwithstanding, there are still strong caveats for such a turn.

Deeply entrenched dualistic onto-epistemologies and worldviews, essentialised classificatory systems and categories, linear causal thinking, within strongly regulated ecosystems of knowledge (legitimate practice and truth validation, institutionalised procedures and protocols, enclosed epistemic communities, corporativism, etc.) configure specific landscapes for specifically orientated theoretical and empirical research. In that, they inevitably preclude openness, flexibility, and conceptual conflation, impinging on cross-disciplinary talk and collaborative research. For this matter, aspects concerning scope, focus, scale, temporality, eco-systemic interconnections and networks, generativity, global dynamics, etc. are no less relevant.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Genetics, Epigenetics, and Biomedicine research institutions in Catalonia and Madrid, I will explore the possibilities of such a conceptual shift, both in theory and practice.

The translocation of the concept of "culture" between primatology and social anthropology

Author: Mateusz Stepien (Jagiellonian University)  email

Short Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to track a migration of the concept of "culture" from social anthropology to primatology, and then to compare the ways the concept of "culture" has been understood in these two fields.

Long Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the new phenomena associated with the concept of culture used in evolutionary sciences, especially in primatology (see authors such as Whiten, McGrew, Boesh, de Waal, Horner, Carpenter) and a concomitant decrease in its popularity (and perhaps utility) within social anthropology. A process called "naturalization of the social sciences" (anthropology included) is accompanied by less evident process of "anthropologization" of the evolutionary sciences. But such "anthropologization" is done selectively. The question is, what are the factors responsible for the reception of the certain concepts, theories, studies developed in anthropology? How evolutionists deal with problems and dilemmas (e.g. the conflict between the "behaviorists" and "psychologists") essential for classical social anthropology? Do they remain unresolved, abolished or are still hidden? On the other hand, "naturalized" social anthropology (more generally - social sciences) absorbs some contents of the concept of culture, which is based on specific way of its conceptualization stemming from the logic of a scientific discovery essential for evolutionary sciences. So, will naturalized anthropology absorb an unified understanding of the concept of culture developed in evolutionary sciences? Finally, this analysis allows one, both to compare ways the concept of "culture" has been understood in social anthropology and evolutionary sciences (especially in primatology) and to identify a main mechanisms responsible for translocation of the concept of "culture" between these two fields.

Interdisciplinarity as experience of flexibility and rigor

Author: Françoise Lafaye (ENTPE/UMR CNRS EVS)  email

Short Abstract

Interdisciplinarity deeply modifies the way you do Anthropology. Flexibility is needed in the approach – finding the right issue takes time while the method requires constant adjustment – and rigor in the interpretation: interdisciplinarity compels you to summon up a good knowledge of the discipline

Long Abstract

Leaning on an international research: Sustainable Manufacturing (SusManuf), funded by The G8 Research Councils Initiative, we propose to discuss how working with 5 teams of chemical researchers from France, USA and Japan compelled us to rethink how to do Anthropology. Flexibility is needed in the approach - choosing the right issue to work on takes time and many tries while the method requires constant adjustment. And rigor is needeed in the interpretation as interdisciplinarity compels you to summon up a good knowledge of the discipline.

Chemical researchers asked for a social researcher at the beginning of the project. But they had a preconceived idea of what a social anthropologist could do: they expected him or her to analyze the acceptance by consumers and producers of the new material they were designing. Using their own question on acceptance, and after explaining to them what Anthropology is about, we used the characteristics of their hybrid material (nanotechnology with polymer) and the way they described this material (as environmentally-friendly) to build the anthropological part of the project. It deals partly with controversies about nanotechnology, and involves questionning anti-nanotechnology activists; and partly with innovation and environmental concerns, and involves questionning chemical managers. During the project, chemical researchers were alternatively colleagues and informants, and we had to find and imagine an adequate approach while remaining within the limits of our discipline.

"It's not an exact science": ethnographic reflections on interdisciplinary socio-ecological research methods training

Authors: Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh)  email
LAH Heslop (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword not only in research but also in teaching. This paper draws on ethnographic reflections of an interdisciplinary research methods training field course at an ecology lab to examine interdisciplinary interactions between anthropology, geosciences, and marine biology.

Long Abstract

Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword not only in relation to academic research projects but also in relation to teaching, where whole degree programmes increasingly reflect interdisciplinary approaches to so-called 'wicked problems' such as global environmental change. Reflecting on our ethnographic experiences as anthropologists on interdisciplinary research methods training field courses at an ecology lab in the Maldives, this paper examines interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions between anthropology, geology, and marine biology. Our paper explores how diversity within putative categories such as 'social science' and 'natural science' are obscured when anthropologists become representatives of 'social science', marine biologists become representatives of 'life science', and geologists become representatives of 'geoscience'. Teaching interdisciplinary research methods captures the complexity of Marilyn Strathern's (2005: 127) configuration of interdisciplinarity as simultaneously a 'tool' to address problems that lie athwart specialisms (a means), and a goal to be striven for (an end). Teaching interdisciplinary methods is a sin qua non for interdisciplinary research, but how differently do diverse researchers identify the 'field' and the 'challenge'? We suggest that, whilst collaborative research methods training might open up opportunities for future interdisciplinary conversations, such conversations and the networks they produce do not necessarily operate within a common theoretical understanding. The paper is an anthropological critique of how geologists, biologists, and anthropologists negotiate their respective contributions to understanding socio-ecological systems and stake out solutions to socio-ecological challenges.

Anthropology in socio-ecological systems: from applied research to a new transdisciplinary form of knowledge

Author: Francesca Marin (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Grounded on diverse collaborations with biologists, the paper discusses the tendency to include anthropological knowledge mainly in the applied stages of the study of socio-ecological systems. It also shows how the reflexive prerogative of anthropology can adjust to other disciplines’ schedule.

Long Abstract

The paper is based on research conducted in contact and collaboration with different groups of biologists. It presents heterogeneous experiences of how anthropological knowledge is understood, employed and produced by natural scientists, who acknowledge the need to include "the social" into ecological systems.

Firstly, I present my experience as invited lecturer at "Linking human and natural dimensions to improve the study and conservation of socio-ecological systems" course, (CADIC, Ushuaia 2015). There, a bizarre connection was suggested between the ethical commitment of natural scientists and their attention for "the social".

Secondly, I consider the emphasis placed - by both natural and social researchers working in conservation and sustainable management - on applied research and the extremely punctual contributions expected from anthropology. I present it as a probable unintentional beginning of the reduction of anthropology to the role of applying tool of "scientific" knowledge.

Thirdly, through the case of the draft process of a protected area management plan, I explain the difficulties faced by biologists opening up to social sciences: from the definition of "data" to the incompatibility between the timing of anthropological knowledge production and the pressing request for exploitable information coming from political and administrative institutions. The example shows how biologists may engage to produce a new transdisciplinary form of knowledge.

Finally, I recount some unexpected interstices social and natural scientists can find in very busy research schedules to reflexively discuss delicate categories too often taken for granted: resource users, community interests and natural resources.

Analysing social-ecological systems through an interdisciplinary perspective: an approach from Isla Mayor, southwest Spain

Authors: Sherman Farhad (Pablo de Olavide University)  email
Macarena Hernández (UPO)  email
Miquel A. Gual (Universidad Pablo de Olavide)  email
Esteban Ruiz-Ballesteros (Universidad Pablo de Olavide)  email

Short Abstract

Using a case study approach of rice farming in Isla Mayor (Spain), we discuss how we needed to complete our ethnographic approach with additional methods from Ecological Economics and Political Ecology, in order to analyze the relationship between governance system and ecosystem functions.

Long Abstract

Addressing complex environmental problems requires the analysis of social-ecological systems and their multiple complex dynamics. To study social mechanisms behind ecosystem functions, we have needed to take an approach from various relevant disciplines. Our experience is based on the study of Isla Mayor social-ecological system, a southern Spanish municipality with an intensive rice cultivation tradition, located in the Guadalquivir river marshes, close to Doñana National Park. At this location, as researchers with diverse backgrounds (anthropology, economics, ecology and biology), we have created the "Isla Mayor case" as an inter-trans-disciplinary endeavour through various research projects, which lessons we present here. In the search for social-ecological relationships through the study of social practices, the key role of governance systems in these society-environment relations was unfolded. All of which have required the use of different methods and techniques, which go well beyond ethnography. In fact, this inter-disciplinary approach has been key for the analysis of governance schemes constraining main socio-economic activities in Isla Mayor. It has contributed to improve our understanding of stakeholders and power groups, formal and informal norms, and cultural practices. Furthermore, some indicators have been used to analyse rice farming biophysical and economic flows. Lastly, using the Ecosystem Services Framework, we think that we have been able to pinpoint key factors for a resilient social-ecological configuration, and thus, the possibility to advise plausible policy directions for sustainability.

Social representation of coral reef ecosystems in Madagascar: an interdisciplinary research between "slow science" and "fast science"

Authors: Georgeta Stoica (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement - IRD France)  email
Tsipy Tantely Zola (Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marine - University of Toliara - Madagascar)  email
Jean Jacques Dieu Donné MANAHIRANA  email
Lola Masse (Marine Reserve of Reunion)  email

Short Abstract

Looking from the perspective of interdisciplinary research, the paper presents the exchanges and interactions between anthropology and marine ecology, between "slow science" and "fast science" while working on the social representations of coral reefs ecosystems in Madagascar.

Long Abstract

Coral reefs are amongst the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and provide food for people living along the coastline being also nursery grounds to many fish species, habitat for a large variety of organisms and natural barriers protecting the coastlines from waves. The South West coast of Madagascar, where the present research was conducted, represents the third largest coral reef in the world, known also as the Toliara reef system that extends for a distance of more than 300 km. In this context, an interdisciplinary research was carried out between 2014 and 2015 focusing on children's social representations of the coral reef ecosystem. Reflecting on this ethnographic experience in Madagascar, we will introduce the common research methodologies of "slow science" (anthropology) and "fast science" (marine ecology). In this sense, we will discuss the integration of knowledge coming from each discipline and the importance of teamwork and mutual understanding of the same research object: the coral reef ecosystem. From this perspective, we will discuss upon how we can get to have an interactive, integrative collaboration between disciplines and how, as researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds, we can learn about and from each other in a coordinated approach.

Greatness and vicissitude of interdisciplinary research: a love story between ecology, economics and anthropology for coastal marine socio-ecosystems

Authors: Jocelyne Ferraris (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)  email
Christian Chaboud (IRD)  email

Short Abstract

Through the story of our common experience, we will discuss how interdisciplinary practises have impacted our research. Sharing concepts and methodologies is a way to comprehensive understanding of society-nature relationships, but not easy in a context dominated by disciplinary standards.

Long Abstract

One upon a time two researchers from the Institute of Research for the Development (IRD), an ecologist and an economist, began their careers on the same object: small scale fisheries. This communication presents their common story since 25 years:

- In the nineties, in Africa, when fishery research tried to developed a holistic approach of fisheries dynamics.

- In 2000, in Polynesia, with the development of ecosystem based management and the necessity to reconciliate fisheries and biodiversity conservation.

- And now, in Indian Ocean, around the concept of "coral reef heritage" and regional fisheries management.

This narrative underlines the difficulties and the happiness to work with other disciplines through different experiences. Both researchers in the story are in fact hybrid researchers…. The first is a numerical ecologist that depended of field specialists collecting data and having an expert knowledge on components of the studied system. She now discovers anthropology, working on social representations of marine ecosystems. The second is a development economist with strong background in anthropology. They share a common interest for alterity and society-nature interactions. This story on interdisciplinary research is an experience on human relationships and opening to others, with a focus on methodological stakes; but also a critical view on research context using this buzzword but, in fact, not facilitating its real practise. Interdisciplinary research still is a challenge, because of the necessity of a comprehensive and socially useful understanding of the marine socio-ecosystem, to contribute to environment management and well-being of people depending of resources.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.