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2014-15 I semestre: From determinism to complexity  

Corsi Dottorato II semestre 2014-2015


From determinism to complexity. Environment and society in anthropology and geography


Gaetano Mangiameli (Università di Bologna), Tania Rossetto (Università di Padova), Federica Cavallo (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari), Valerio Bini (Università di Milano)

Milano, 15, 16, 19, January 2015


The cycle of seminars “From determinism to complexity. Environment and society in anthropology and geography” aims to deconstructing “environment” as a taken-for-granted subject and to showing the variety of theoretical issues emerging from ethnographic researches about the environment. In spite of the current trend of hyperspecialization and reductionism, which, in turn, produce side effects as the naturalization and the reification of research subjects as objects immediately associated with a theoretical frame and then “ready-made” and neutrally available to analysis, this cycle of seminars will illustrate how environment has been and still is a conceptual place for ethnographic experimentation and theory-making.

In geography the notions of “nature” and, later, of “environment” deal with the conceptions of territory and with the representations of natural/human constructed landscapes. The role of water has been central in this processes, both in modernity, when it was mainly considered as a fluid to manage and engineerize, and in postmodernity, with a re-consideration of water as a multifunctional resource and as a socio-cultural object. The geographical case studies focus on the Adriatic shore of Veneto, regarding an outstanding wetland, as the Venetian Lagoon, and an “ordinary” hydraulic landscape (reclamation in the lowlands of Eastern Veneto). Both cases deal with coastal wetlands and wetlands reclamation; therefore they also allow a reflection on the identities and functions of such waterscapes nowadays.        

The schedule consists of six sessions, each of which will host one or two seminars and discussion. The first part of the cycle will provide an introduction to the variety of approaches to environment in the anthropological literature, drawing on the contributions of a number of  classic and contemporary authors (Marcel Mauss, Julian Steward, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz, Roy Rappaport, Gregory Bateson, Marvin Harris, Stephen Lansing, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Philippe Descola, Tim Ingold, Bruno Latour, ecc.), and will pave the way for the monographic focus of the second part of the schedule. Then, during Sessions 4-5-6, geographers and anthropologists will introduce their own researches about water in European and Extra-European contexts.


Recommended reading

Bateson G., 1972. «Effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation», in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, New York, Ballantine Books, 440-447.

Cosgrove D., Petts G. (edited by), 1990, Water Engineering and Landscape: Water Control and Landscape Transformation in the Modern Period, London, Belhaven.

Giblett R., 1996, Postmodern wetlands. Culture, History, Ecology, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.


Ingold T., 2000. «Culture, nature, environnent. Steps to an ecology of life», in The Perception of the Environment. London, Routledge, 13-26.

Kohn E., 2007. «How Dogs Dream. Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagement». American Ethnologist 34 (1), 3-24.

Rappaport R.A., 1971. «Ritual, Sanctity, and Cybernetics». American Anthropologist, New Series, 73 (1), 59-76.

Viveros de Castro E., 1998. «Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism». The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3), 469-488.



Bird-David N., 1990. «The giving environment: another perspective on the economic system of gatherer-hunters». Current Anthropology 31, 189-196.

Bird-David N., 1999. «“Animism revisited”: personhood, environment, and relational epistemology». Current Anthropology 40, Supplement: special issue, S67-S79.

Carneiro R., 1970. «A Theory of the Origin of the State». Science, New Series, 169 (3947), 733-738.

Chapin M., 2004. «A Challenge to Conservationists». World Watch Magazine, November-December, 17-31.

Descola, P., 2005. Par-delà nature e culture. Paris, Gallimard.

Ellen, R., 1986. «What Black Elk left unsaid. On the illusory images of green primitivism». Anthropology Today 2, 8-12.

Fairhead J., Leach M., 1995. False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking Some West African Environmental Narratives. World Development 23 (6), 1023-1035.

Geertz C., 1972. «The Wet and the Dry: Traditional Irrigation in Bali and Morocco». Human Ecology 1 (1), 23-39.

Harris M., 1966. «The Cultural Ecology of India's Sacred Cattle». Current Anthropology 7 (1), 51-54+55-66.

Ingold T., Pálsson G. (eds.), 2013. Biosocial Becomings. Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Ingold T., 2000. The Perception of the Environment. Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London, Routledge.

Kirksey S.E., Helmreich S., 2010. «The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography». Cultural Anthropology 25 (4), 545-576.

Lansing S., «Balinese “Water Temples” and the Management of Irrigation». American Anthropologist, New Series, 89 (2), 326-341.

Latour, B., 1999. Politiques de la nature. Paris, La Découverte & Syros.

Mauss M., Beuchat H., 1979 (1906). Seasonal Variations of the Eskimo: A Study in Social Morphology. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Milton K., 1996. Environmentalism and Cultural Theory. London, Routledge.

Rappaport R.A., 1968. Pigs for the Ancestors. New Haven, Yale University Press.

Steward J., 1955. Theory of Culture Change. Urbana, University of Illinois Press (Chapter 6 only).

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