Sally and Alvin V. Shoemaker Chair

Department of Anthropology

University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

University of Pennsylvania

Teaching: Courses

    In the popular consciousness, the dynamics of tropical ecosystems embody a single narrative  of catastrophic deforestation and land degradation. Emphasizing clearing,  fragmentation  and a unidirectional narrative of forest loss , this apocalyptic vision has held sway over the last several decades, and indeed, most of the scientific literatures on tropical development partake of this view. The approach in  development studies  and conservation biology, rooted as it is  in “islands” of conservation, and inevitable fragmentation of remaining  forests outside of parks and reserves, has however ignored a major  countertrend. There are now widespread  and complex processes of forest regeneration, and  woodland formation throughout the  tropical world. In fact, surprising reports from Malthusian “poster children” like El Salvador and the Sahel, show significant  and very rapid  woodland resurgence in areas, to quote ecologist John Terbourgh “where nature has been extinguished”.
         This trend  has been documented from the US and Europe and was widely associated with urbanization  and industrialization and the shift from a rural to an agrarian economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Populations fell, farming mostly relocated. Some authors  have sought to universalize this  model of what has come to be known as the “forest transition” where rural  populations migrated and took their families with them to the cities, reducing human numbers in the countryside. Trees regrew. The processes we see  in the developing world now are a good deal more complicated and involve areas that are often densely inhabited yet increasingly forested. This transformation  involves significant recasting of the meaning, nature  and politics of these landscapes. This is the topic of this book which we believe will recast the understanding of    the  nature/culture/development nexus.
        Woodland resurgences  in the developing world are complex. They have different historical roots, occur in far more diverse cultural matrices, different ecologies and reflect modern processes as well as traditional socio-nature regimes. Complex tenurial regimes,, emerging regional and global  markets , war , new ideologies and territorial identities, institutional rivalries and  competing authorities vie for the political spaces that  forests have become.  Hallmarks of globalization, such as International migration and their remittances,  energy markets,  environmental movements  and global commodity markets  now shape rural spaces in a new kind of rurality. Woodland recovery in inhabited landscapes, predicated as they are  in the Social Lives of Forests  provides the intellectual and practical context for the intersection of social theory, history, political ecology and tropical biology. The studies we have selected  have broad implications for understanding an “invisible” global process on the forefront of environmental and social  analysis. (Hecht, Morrison, and Padoch, from the introduction)

click here for a preliminary table of contents


click here for a Chicago magazine story on the conference

see the "features and press" section forback cover blurbs on the book.