The idea of Amazonia is very powerful. People tend to imagine huge trees with jaguars and parrots — the wild wilderness — but that image is problematic.
For Latin American Studies Professor David Rojas, traveling for fieldwork is more complicated than it is for most scholars. The trip from Lewisburg to recently deforested areas in the Brazilian Amazon involves at least two flights, several bus trips and lengthy motorcycle rides.
"You have to pack light," says Rojas, who works with landless peasants in Amazonia, non-governmental organizations, diplomats and scientists — all of whom are involved in global environmental policies designed to slow deforestation and lessen climate change. He is interested in the preconceptions held by people who create new environmental strategies.
"The idea of Amazonia is very powerful. People tend to imagine huge trees with jaguars and parrots — the wild wilderness —- but that image is problematic. There are about 20 million people living in the basin, which contains large cities, highways and dams. And this is precisely what the people with whom I work always point out. From peasants to scientists, they all argue that if we want to protect rainforest ecologies, we have to collaborate with the humans who live in these areas," he says.
To fully understand the ways in which environmentalists and peasants collaborate but also clash, Rojas carried out two years of ethnographic research in Amazonia, at United Nations forums on the environment and at environmental institutions. As part of this work, he lived with landless peasants for eight months in Amazonia, where he sought to understand the relationship between globally oriented environmental schemes and peasant livelihoods that rely on transforming forests into pastures and farmland.
"In my work, it is not enough to study only images of Amazonia — you have to go there and live with the people to assess what is happening," Rojas says. "Being there makes it easier to understand the relationship between everyday peasant practices on the one hand, and scientific research and environmental negotiations at the United Nations on the other," he says.
His scholarship crosses many disciplines, including anthropology, environmental science, politics and Latin American studies, which is the approach he emphasizes in his classes.
"I teach my students to make use of Bucknell's liberal arts environment. An interdisciplinary approach helps students explore conflicts and collaborations between diverse groups who build the worlds in which we live. And if we pay more attention to the ways in which our modes of living co-produce the worlds in which we live, then maybe we could learn to build worlds to come that are more hospitable for humans and non-humans alike."
Posted Oct. 7, 2015