EDGES, FRINGES, FRONTIERS
Integral Ecology, Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability in Guyana
During my intellectual rehabilitation from writing my PhD thesis (which I later released as the book Wapishana Ethnoecology), I first came across the work of Ken Wilber. His Integral Theory opened many doors for me, not least of those a new relationship with anthropological theory. Rather than struggling to express my thoughts within the restrictive confines of existing theory, I found myself looking down on various theoretical perspectives from above, so to speak, able to shape them into new patterns to fit the problem under consideration.
Thus empowered, and supported by a post-doctoral grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, I spent much of 2004 and 2005 in a deep exploration of the central question arising from my research, and indeed from the interface of indigenous studies and sustainability science more generally: why sustainability and resilience are reliable, apparently unplanned, outcomes of self-organised subsistence activity among indigenous resource users (at least when not exposed to the ravages of the global capitalist economy), but apparently impossible goals for deliberate western efforts at conservation, supported by political will, scientific and technological mastery, and ample financial resources.
The answer lies in a novel integration of Resilience Theory, Gregory Bateson’s Ecology of Mind, and Jean Gebser’s Structures of Consciousness, reworked in the light of understandings of the cultural production of nature from Environmental Anthropology and a detailed ethnographic account of the social, cultural and ecological bases of subsistence among Wapishana people in Guyana, South America. In short, prevailing social and cultural conditions among Wapishana and other indigenous peoples historically dependent on a geographically delimited resource base, out of practical necessity predispose them towards actions that enhance – or at least do not negatively impact upon – underlying ecological processes. On the other hand, Babylon – the socio-cultural legacy of the globally dominant political-economic system’s historical ability to expand into new resource frontiers – is systemically and chronically unable to do anything but destroy ecological, social and cultural value: addicted, in Bateson’s terms, to inherent unsustainability.
The argument of the book will be available in condensed, simplified and updated form as my Earth Jazz essay, here on this website. A follow-up essay, Babylon, deepens the socio-cultural critique of extractive economics. A third, Earth Punk, explores the applications to western grassroots environmentalism. The three together form the theoretical foundation of my Earth Punk Chronicles blog and article series.
What with one thing and another, it was 2019 before the book was finally completed and released, but it’s certainly worth the wait! It is available, at a price apparently targetted at wealthy university libraries, direct from the publisher Berghahn Books.
Anyone who can’t afford that price but wishes to read the book is welcome to get in touch and I will be happy to send them a draft manuscript.