Exploring the links between political ecology and material culture studies

Authored by: José E. Martínez-Reyes

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964


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In a review article comparing ecological anthropology and material culture studies, Tim Ingold wonders why both fields have always dealt with materials and material culture, yet their practitioners ‘are speaking past one another in largely incommensurate theoretical languages’ (Ingold 2012: 427). While the field of material culture studies focuses upon how ‘persons and things are bound in relational networks’, ecological anthropology emphasizes how ‘human beings and other organisms are bound in webs of life’ (Ingold 2012: 428). His solution for solving the impasse between both is that they should ‘focus on the active materials that compose the lifeworld’ (Ingold 2012: 429). While I agree with some of the main arguments that Ingold espouses above, I am left wondering – what about political ecology? Here I refer to political ecology as a part of environmental anthropology with a particular focus on power and conflicts over access to and use of resources. As I discuss below, the field of material culture studies has effectively incorporated a critical political economy of consumption and materiality, but has neglected environmental resource conflicts. On the other hand, political ecology (with few exceptions) has neglected materiality as an important dimension of human–environmental relations.

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