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Making Histories with Science: Paleoecology and Environmental Protection in the Midwestern United States

  • Author(s): Hare, Elizabeth Maree
  • Advisor(s): Mathews, Andrew S
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation in cultural anthropology examines how material traces on the landscape are used to construct the long-term environmental histories that inform conservation policy and land management decisions. The Anthropocene, both as planetary crisis and crisis of insufficient theorization, is the analytical starting point for this research, as it offers a framework from which to view the emergence of new kinds of environmental thought made manifest in science and politics. The dissertation is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among a network of scientists, PalEON (the Paleo-ecological Observatory Network), who were working to develop an ecological forecasting model and conservationists who are working on environmental protection issues in Northwest Indiana. By bringing together anthropologies of science and American environmental history, this dissertation critically analyzes the development and use of Big Data-driven ecological forecasting models in this process. The particular modes of environmental protection that emerge represent the extent to which market-based ontologies have become entrenched in everyday American life and inform ecological theory. These worldviews are not singular, however, and they contain within them examples of actually existing alternatives to environmentalism and the potential to reconceptualize this moment of crisis. Further, this dissertation makes a methodological intervention into Science and Technology Studies. Building on methodological techniques developed at the Science and Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, this research explores the potentials of critical collaborations between the anthropologist of science and the interlocutors who inform this study.

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