The Mental Yoga of Environment & SocietyBill Dennison ·
Yoga is an ancient practice of combining mediation with exercise. Yoga is a sanskrit word (yuj) meaning ‘union’ or ‘to join’, which is what our Environment & Society course is attempting to do—making the union between natural and social science. Yoga is about connecting mind, body and spirit, not unlike the connections in coupled human and natural systems. A further distinction of yoga is ‘jnana yoga’, defined as the path of the scholar to achieve wisdom and developing the intellect through study. What we are finding when we explore different perspectives on coupled human and natural systems is that we need to employ jnana yoga, as we twist, turn and pivot our brains to different viewpoints.
Our guest lecturer, Dr. Jen Shaffer from the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, provided an introduction to ethnographic approaches and knowledge integration.
The readings that she assigned were both globally and conceptually diverse. The Early-Capistran et al. (2020) paper was about employing local environmental knowledge (LEK) to better understand and manage long lived green sea turtles in Baja California, Mexico. The Goldman (2007) paper was about utilizing indigenous knowledge by Maasai in Tanzania, Africa to track wildebeest for conservation purposes. The Delevaux et al. (2018) paper was about the ridge to reef resource management approach taken by native Hawaiians. In all these examples, scientific knowledge was contrasted to indigenous knowledge (IK), local environmental knowledge (LEK), and traditional environmental knowledge (TEK). In the Chesapeake experience, watermen from European ancestors, have local environmental knowledge, but they are not indigenous people.
These readings reminded me of one of my favorite books; “Words of the Lagoon” written by Bob Johannes in 1981. Bob was a tropical marine ecologist who pioneered marine conservation approaches that utilize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Bob worked closely with some of my friends and colleagues in Australia. He spent considerable time in Palau, a Micronesian archipelago, where he interviewed fishers in the mid 1970s. Bob was a good listener and “Words of the Lagoon” compared the traditional knowledge relayed to him by Palau fishers with the western scientific knowledge. Where there was overlap, the TEK was borne out by western science, but the TEK was much more comprehensive than western science. It is worth noting that Palau is the site of the world’s first marine protected area and when I visited Palau in 2007 to work with the Palau Conservation Society, I was struck by the incredible marine biodiversity, including large populations of reef sharks.
Jen referred to a paper by her Department of Anthropology colleague Dr. Yancey Orr about dogs in Bali, Indonesia. Orr found that Hindus and Muslims had differing abilities to discern dogs with rabies, which he attributed to the Muslim taboo on interactions with dogs. Muslims were less familiar with dog barking and thus less able to discern a sick, rabid dog. Jen mentioned during our discussion that dogs were the first domesticated animal roughly 14,000 years ago. I was surprised to learn that dogs and even cats (roughly 7,500 years ago) were domesticated well before farm animals.
Jen provided a pre-recorded lecture, which I found to be wide-ranging and very engaging. One of the topics that she covered was the linguistic component to anthropology. Jen had studied under Brent Berlin who collaborated with Paul Kay to write a book “Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution” (1969). This book provided an important counter argument to the prevailing theory of linguistic relativity. Berlin and Kay showed a fundamental universality of the discernment of colors by investigating color terms in 98 different languages. Beyond the distinction between dark and light, the next color that is discerned is red. Berlin and Kay surmise that red represents danger (fire, blood) and Jen pointed out the red is a Sinskrit word (rudhira) for blood. Jen also provided an insight into how Berlin and Kay obtained their data by sending paint swatches to missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers throughout the world.
On reflection, one of the reasons that I so enjoy teaching Environment & Society is the mental yoga that is provided by excellent guest lecturers, diverse readings and wide-ranging discussions. It is a great form of mental exercise.
Berlin, B. and P. Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Univ. of California Press, Berkelely, CA USA.
Delevaux, J.M.S.; Winter, K.B.; Jupiter, S.D.; Blaich-Vaughan, M.; Stamoulis, K.A.; Bremer, L.L.; Burnett, K.; Garrod, P.; Troller, J.L.; Ticktin, T. Linking Land and Sea through Collaborative Research to Inform Contemporary applications of Traditional Resource Management in Hawai‘i. Sustainability 2018, 10, 3147. https://doi-org.proxy-um.researchport.umd.edu/10.3390/su10093147
Early-Capistrán M, Solana-Arellano E, Abreu-Grobois FA, Narchi NE, Garibay-Melo G, Seminoff JA, Koch V, Saenz-Arroyo A. 2020. Quantifying local ecological knowledge to model historical abundance of long-lived, heavily-exploited fauna. PeerJ 8:e9494https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9494
Goldman, M. Tracking wildebeest, locating knowledge: Maasai and conservation biology understandings of wildebeest behavior in Northern Tanzania. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2007, 25, 307-331.
Johannes, R.E. Words of the Lagoon.1981. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA. 245 pp.
About the author
Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.