Does ecosystem services valuation reflect local cultural valuations? Comparative analysis of resident perspectives in four major urban river ecosystems

Economic Anthropology, Forthcoming January 2019. DOI:10.1002/sea2.12128

Anthropologists have long considered how people create and perceive the value of goods and services. While valuation of nature as a commodity is one means of conservation, locally resonant values of nature may not follow market logic. We apply the ecosystem services valuation (ESV) framework to four major urban river ecosystems (Australia, New Zealand, United States, and United Kingdom) to compare and contrast value (the alienable goods that are readily commodified and monetized) and values (the inalienable goods and rights that defy easy comparability and recognition). In interviews, respondents (N = 283) living near the rivers described the local river-associated ecosystem services (ES) they experienced. Thematic content analysis of coded interview data showed that respondents in all four sites recognize ES in their local areas related to rivers, and these resonate with the value-oriented ESV frameworks. While the ESV framework offers a way for scholars and policy makers to easily compare the monetary value of ES, our results indicate that rivers have locally ascribed value that defies easy commodification. In particular, our work highlights the local importance of priceless, inalienable values perceived to be conferred across ES and not just restricted to cultural services.


Ayni real and imagined: Reciprocity, indigenous institutions, and development discourses in contemporary Bolivia

Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Vol. 22 (3), pg. 475-494, 2017

The last decade has seen a major shift in Bolivian politics, marked by a rejection of neoliberal governance and the ascendency of indigenous activism. Ayni (Quechua, “reciprocity”) has come to represent new possibilities for Bolivia’s nascent socioeconomic order. We explore the role that NGOs play in the promotion of ayni as an alternative model of development. Drawing on historical analysis of ayni, this article compares NGO’s ayni rhetoric and reciprocity as practiced in communities. We find, first, that NGO discourses around ayni both broaden and weaken the concept and, second, that they re-envision ayni in ways that are more compatible with new reciprocal practices linked to commercialization and evangelization occurring in these communities. We conclude that ayni, as re-envisioned in development discourses, helps NGOs strike a balance among the different currents of social change—economic, political, and religious—that have so profoundly changed Bolivia over the last thirty years.


Blogs as Elusive Ethnographic Texts: Methodological and Ethical Challenges in Qualitative Online Research

International Journal of Qualitative Research, Vol. 16, pg. 1-12, 2017

Burgeoning online environments offer completely new opportunities for ethnographic and other forms of qualitative research. Yet there are no clear standards for how we study online texts from an ethnographic perspective. In this article, we identify barriers to the application of traditional qualitative methods online, using the example of a systematic thematic analysis of weight- loss blogs. These barriers include the influence of the technology structuring online content, the fluid nature of online texts such as blogs, and the highly connected and public nature of online identities, which may span multiple social media platforms. We discuss some potential approaches to addressing these challenges as preliminary steps toward developing a tool kit suited to ethical, high-quality online modes of ethnographic research.



Can Informal Water Vendors Deliver on the Promise of A Human Right to Water? Results From Cochabamba, Bolivia

World Development, Vol. 79, pg. 14-24, 2016

We examine the role of informal water vendors in the urban poor’s efforts to secure safe and affordable water in the squatter settlements of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Using an economic justice framework, we evaluate (1) how informal water markets operate, (2) differences in client and vendor perceptions of distributive, procedural, and interactional (in)justice, and (3) how cooperation among water vendors impedes or assists in achieving justice in water delivery. The research includes a comparative institutional analysis of three key data sets: long-term participant-observation in water-scarce squatter settlements; interviews with 12 water vendors; and interviews with 41 clients from 23 squatter settlements. We find that informal water vendors organize themselves to safeguard distributive justice (e.g., fair pricing, good water quality), but clients are distressed by procedural and interactional injustices (e.g., unreliable and inequitable service). Our research also shows that unionized vendors are more effective than non-unionized vendors in creating and enforcing rules that advance distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. We make concrete recommendations for improving justice in informal water markets, including a larger role for unions and community consultation. We conclude that, despite challenges, the informal economy may play an important role in advancing the human right to water.


Community Development in 'Post-Neoliberal Bolivia': Decolonization or Alternative Modernizations?

Community Development Journal, bsv049, 2015

Latin America is at a pivotal moment, as many nations reject neoliberalism as a tool for development and search for alternative approaches. Two competing counter-ideologies may have the potential to reshape Latin American society: alternative modernizations and decolonization. In this study, we examine the extent to which these ideologies have become influential in Bolivian community development. Drawing on interviews with Bolivian development professionals, we examine community development projects deemed successes and failures to determine whether they reflect neoliberal, alternative modernization, or decolonial ideologies. We find that community development projects deemed successful tend to follow alternative modernization and decolonial ideologies, while projects deemed failures tend to follow neoliberal ideologies. Our results demonstrate concrete ways in which transformative approaches to community development – which are often depicted as nascent or unrealized in the literature – are being implemented successfully in Bolivia. We also explore some limitations of the alternative modernization and decolonial approaches for those seeking transformative approaches to community development.


Children's Perceived Water Futures in the Desert Southwest

Human Organization, Vol. 73 (3), pg. 235-246, 2014

This study examines children’s perceptions of water via 3,120 pieces of artwork collected from 1,560 schoolchildren (age 9-11) in Arizona, United States, with a specific focus on how these are gendered. Each child produced two pieces of art, one depicting water in their community today and one 100 years in the future. Using content analysis, the study finds that (1) students’ depictions of the future contain statistically significantly more pollution and scarcity and less vegetation than those of the present; (2) girls are significantly more likely than boys to draw vegetation in the present and future, domestic water uses in the future, and everyday technologies in the future; and (3) boys are significantly more likely than girls to draw natural sources of water in the present and technological innovations in the future. The study also explores thematic differences in children’s depictions of natural environments, domestic water use, water technologies, and dystopic water futures. Our results indicate that gendered perceptions of water are evident by middle childhood in some arenas (domestic water use, technological innovation) but not in others (environmental concerns, such as pollution).