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We live in a time of accelerated changes, a historical zenith of the intensity and the scale of human activities encapsulated by the concept of the Anthropocene. Having experienced exponential expansion and intensification of human activities during the last 50 years, the Amazon is a microcosm of this global social acceleration. Furthermore, the development dilemmas of the region catalyze the challenges involved on reconciling economic growth, social justice, and environmental conservation amid a globalized economy and climate change. These processes make the Amazon also a microcosm of the challenges involved in connecting disciplinary specialties and levels of analysis. This is not a new task, but an increasingly pressing one.
Using examples from longitudinal ethnographic and comparative research in the Amazon, my intention is two-fold. First, I provide a brief reflection on the challenges faced by anthropology and the social sciences in general in dealing with social-environmental complexity in situations of accelerated changes and in bridging the gap between what can be observed in the field and what can be seen on the aggregate. Second, using evidence from different research sites, I want to call attention to the interplay between structural conditions and local actions in shaping the Amazon today. In a region marked by a history of central planning, the influence of global commodity markets, and by deterministic interpretations, social and environmental change are often thought of, and are often misunderstood, as hierarchically and linearly organized, i.e., conditions set at the macro-scale result in predictable responses at lower levels. On the contrary, understanding the region today and its emerging social-institutional-territorial complexity is predicated on the understanding of the interactions between local-regional level dynamics underlying social movements, rural-urban circulation, consumption and social networks, and the intersection of different social groups within the region’s territorial governance and resource economy.
Eduardo S. Brondizio, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Adjunct Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and Department of Geography
Faculty associated with the anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT) and the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis
Indiana University Bloomington http://www.indiana.edu/~anthro/