Translation, Value and Space: Theorizing an Ethnographic and Engaged Environmental Anthropology

West, Paige

In this article, I argue for placing the politics of translation and theories of value and spatial production at the center of environmental anthropology. For the past ten years, the Gimi-speaking peoples living in Maimafu village, Papua New Guinea, have taken part in an integrated conservation and development project attempting to foster a local system of valuing “nature” by tying biological diversity to economic markets through the creation of “eco-enterprises.” However, the project fails to consider how Gimi produce, theorize, transmit, and express knowledge. Using ethnographic material concerned with hunting and song composition, I show that Gimi understand their forests to be part of a series of transactive dialectical relationships that work to produce identity and space. I also demonstrate that, as part of this project, Gimi social relations with their forests have been translated in ways that fit their beliefs into generic and easily understandable categories. This has been detrimental to the conservation project and it is politically problematic for an engaged environmental anthropology.

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American Anthropologist

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Academic Units
Anthropology (Barnard College)
American Anthropological Association
Published Here
February 2, 2017