Publication Details

This article was originally published as Head, L, Cultural ecology: the problematic human and the terms of engagement, Progress in Human Geography, 31 (6), 2007, 837-846.


As an intellectual container ‘cultural ecology’ is fraught with the same conceptual and ontological problems – what Anderson (2005: 280) calls ‘the stale binaries’ - that attend human impacts, cultural landscapes, indeed human and physical geographies. Yet the rich, detailed and diverse empirical material in evidence at the moment contradicts this in the doing. So perhaps we should be confident that in the public conversations we shall be known best by our works. Our students will be most effective if they can both groundtruth the satellite image of coastal vegetation and explain why the tsunami was experienced very differently by subsistence fishers living on a different coastal edge. To ‘begin… by assuming a radical or pure break between humanity and animality’ (Anderson 2005: 271) is a rather different thing to demonstrating spatially and temporally variable differences in the ecological roles of specific peoples and groups of nonhumans. Or showing, using a battery of diverse methodologies, how culturally variable associations of humans and animals have influenced the patterning of plant communities. It is to this body of work I will return in more detail in future reports, while continuing to take issue with the terms of engagement.



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