A special issue on “Phyto-Communicability” will be coming out in the journal Ethnos at the end of this year. My contribution to the issue examines the communicative capacities of plants that are used to “keep bad vibes away” or ward off unwanted presences in the city of Iquitos (Peruvian Amazonia). You can read a pre-print version of the article here.
Our latest article is out, which examines the history and cross-cultural management of human waste (or “night soil”) as an agricultural resource. The paper grew out of a collaborative class project that I proposed to Master’s degree students enrolled in my Environmental Anthropology course in the spring of 2017. Together, we delved into the archaeology and history of night soil use and management, as well as some recent ethnographic research on the subject. This paper synthesizes that work and puts it in conversation with contemporary theorizing of the “metabolic rift” — or the notion that the rise of industrial capitalism led to a fundamental rupture in human relations to the earth’s ecological systems. The article, titled “Night Soil: Origins, Discontinuities, and Opportunities for Bridging the Metabolic Rift,” can be found in the latest issue of the open access journal Ethnobiology Letters.
A tractor spreads biosolids (i.e. treated sanitation sludge) over a field in central Washington state.
This project has taken several years to come together, but I’m happy to share that “The Social Network of US Academic Anthropology and Its Inequalities” was recently published in American Anthropologist. Of course, one major problem is that it is hiding behind a paywall so I have uploaded a pre-print version of the article here. Comments, critiques, and questions are welcome. If you are also interested in working with this network dataset, I am more than willing to share it. You can also explore the data in an accessible (albeit somewhat limited) form here in Google Fusion Tables.
Gordon Ulmer, Sydney Silverstein, and I just published a short article (with lots of photos!) in the latest edition of Anthropology Today. It examines how projected environmental changes in the Amazonian city of Iquitos have been used by the Peruvian government to propose the resettlement of a low-income community and promote state-led redevelopment plans. The article is available free of charge over the next month. You can download it here.
“Across Brazilian Amazonia, it is common to find rural households that keep plants with magico-medicinal properties in their home gardens. Despite widespread occurrence of such plants, some Amazonians—especially in Evangelical communities—openly criticize their use as incongruent with Christian belief and practice. In this article, I offer ethnographic observations that indicate divergent attitudes toward magico-medicinal plants between Evangelical Christians and Amazonian folk Catholics, the latter of whom borrow heavily from Afro-Brazilian and indigenous religions. I contend that Evangelicals’ attempts to establish distance from such plants is due in part to histories of ethnic and racial marginalization that are indexed in their use. Still, many magico-medicinal plants are weedy species that actively colonize areas occupied by humans, thus openly defying Evangelical attempts to evade them. In this manner, magico-medicinal plants are not just subject to human agencies, but are arguably agents in their own right.”
I just completed revisions on an article titled “What Happens When We Flush?” that will appear in the September edition of Anthropology Now.You can read a pre-print version of it on my Academia.edu site. The article discusses how the modern flush toilet has perpetuated the illusion that human waste can be made to “disappear.” Examining the industrial origins of the flush toilet, I point out some of its problematic consequences as a model of sanitation in the contemporary world. Using examples from Pre-Columbian Amazonia and 19th century East Asia, I highlight alternative models of managing human excreta that have proven benefits for agricultural production, which might serve to reorient human relations to excrement in industrialized societies today.