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This book, Environmental Social Sciences, represents the best of what’s happening in social science right now: (1) it exemplifies the movement toward interdisciplinary research; (2) it rejects the pernicious distinction between qualitative and quantitative in the conduct of social research; and (3) it makes clear the value for all social scientists of training in a wide range of methods of collecting and analyzing data. I treat these in turn.
1. Interdisciplinary social science. Environmental science has always been an interdisciplinary effort. The Science Citation Index lists 163 journals in the category of environmental science. Look through the top 10 journals (the ones with an impact factor of 4.0 or more) and the range of disciplines is clear: biologists, chemists, meteorologists, paleontologists, geologists … Increasingly, it is common to see articles – like one by Clougherty (2010) on gender analysis in the distribution of the effects of air pollution, or one by Knoke et al. (2009) on reconciling the subsistence needs of farmers in Ecuador with the need for conserving forests, or one by Rosas-Rosas and Valdez (2010) on the impact of fees from deer hunts on the willingness of landowners in Mexico to suspend killing of pumas and jaguars – articles that can only be described as social science. (We see this as well in medical science, where the very best journals now also routinely publish articles that also can only be described as 100% social science.)
The relationship between human communities and the environment is extremely complex. In order to resolve the issues involved with this relationship, interdisciplinary research combining natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities is necessary. In this 2010 book, specialists summarise methods and research strategies for various aspects of social research devoted to environmental issues. Each chapter is illustrated with ethnographic and environmental examples, ranging from Australia to Amazonia, from Madagascar to the United States, and from prehistoric and historic cases to contemporary rural and urban ones. It deals with climate change, deforestation, environmental knowledge, natural reserves, politics and ownership of natural resources, and the effect of differing spatial and temporal scales. Contributing to the intellectual project of interdisciplinary environmental social science, this book shows the possibilities social science can provide to environmental studies and to larger global problems and thus will be of equal interest to social and natural scientists and policy makers.
This book resulted from our desire to achieve two goals. First, we wanted to assemble a volume that could help researchers and students interested in the social aspects of environmental issues to identify the methodological possibilities offered by social sciences. Second, we wanted to present the pluralistic, interdisciplinary mix of methods, and qualitative and quantitative approaches, found in contemporary research in this area. We hope readers will find our attempts successful.
We want to acknowledge our intellectual debt to the colleagues and teachers who have helped us understand the dynamic range of possibilities in environmental social science. Ismael and Eric specifically offer tribute to the Graduate Program in Environmental Anthropology at the University of Washington. Although now moribund, the “EA Program” flourished for over a decade and provided its participants (students and faculty alike) with a dynamic intellectual and social environment for exploring diverse and non-dogmatic approaches to environmental social sciences. In comparison to a decade ago, there are now a growing number of vibrant programs for environmental social science, and an expanding scholarly and applied literature.
Environmental social science has its roots in several disciplines and research traditions, ranging from anthropology to zoology Disciplinary identities and frameworks continue to play a significant role: environmental anthropology, political ecology (centered in geography), environmental social science, and similar named entities in several other disciplines have their own associations, scholarly journals, and sets of issues. But increasingly there is convergence, transdisciplinary interaction, and the forging of a coherent if loosely bounded research community, with scholars and practitioners from many different disciplines in the social sciences, humanities, and applied fields engaged in fruitful dialogue and collaboration. This volume aims to foster this emerging field by presenting authoritative summaries of central research methods in a manner accessible to all. In the next section, we summarize the organization of the volume and the content of each chapter; but first, in the present section, we wish to situate this emerging field in a broader intellectual and historical context.
There are many factors that helped generate environmental social science, but two are prominent. The first was the realization that landscapes and the multitude of components they contain cannot be understood without serious consideration of past and present human communities. It is now widely understood that most terrestrial and near-shore environments are profoundly shaped by human actions – they are “socionatural” systems (Balée 2006; Denevan 1992; Smith and Wishnie 2000). These anthropogenic impacts are not limited to large-scale societies, but extend back to the initial dispersal of Homo sapiens some 60 000 years ago, and include effects that both enhanced and diminished biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
The synthesis proposed by Gintis is valuable but insufficient. Greater consideration must be given to epistemological diversity within the behavioral sciences, to incorporating historical contingency and institutional constraints on decision-making, and to vigorously testing deductive models of human behavior in real-world contexts.
The relationship between game play and naturalistic cooperation, generosity, or market involvement is ambiguous at best, making it difficult to link game results to preferences and beliefs guiding decision-making in daily life. Discounting reputation-based explanations because the games are anonymous, while arguing that game play is guided by motivational structures or framing effects reflecting daily life, is inconsistent.
Although an excellent review, the target article displays a bias in favor of reciprocity-based explanations and against alternatives. Tolerated scrounging is more subtle and pervasive than portrayed here. Costly signaling need not be limited to public displays and generalized sharing. The theoretical basis for extensive sharing and other forms of collective action remains unresolved, and standard reciprocity-based explanations are insufficient.
The target article adopts an adaptationist research strategy that, while logically coherent, suffers from various limitations, including problems in reconstructing past selective environments, ambiguity in how narrowly to define adaptive problems or selection pressures, and an overemphasis on specialization in evolved psychological mechanisms. To remedy these problems, I support a more flexible approach involving phenotypic adaptation and cultural evolution.
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