Participants and Abstracts

Matthew Chew

Arizona State University, USA

Prescriptive Political Biogeography: National identity and ‘Invading Alien’ Species The advent of unfamiliar plants and animals resulting from long-distance commerce has been discussed since at least the early 1600s. In 1847 Englishman Hewett Cottrell Watson adapted the terms native and alien from Common Law to differentiate ‘truly British’ plants from those with ‘lesser claims’, i.e., those known (or suspected) to have been introduced from elsewhere by human agency. Swiss botanists Alphonse De Candolle and (later) Albert Thellung applied the distinction on the European continent, each using idiosyncratically labeled categories that were adopted and ‘stuck’ in various degrees in different countries and traditions. By the early 20th century, regulations, laws and treaties were being promulgated prescribing which plant and animal taxa would be protected, tolerated, or suppressed, typically according to belonging within national or quasi-national boundaries rather than ecological or habitat-based units. Today biotic nativeness is still conceived and mapped as a matter of national belonging by many (perhaps most) countries. Listings such as the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) database maintained by the US Geological Survey and the EU’s Project DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe) continue to use international borders as their primary baseline despite the non-correspondence of borders with biotic barriers actual organism respond to. This practice has arguable administrative advantages for governments, and assigning national identities to biota can help promote national conservation goals. But it also creates ethical dilemmas and management priorities many find redolent of ethnic cleansing, and exploits traditional international tensions to generate concern about species identified with particular nations. This presentation will use three cases to introduce the topic and some of its varied implications: despised American ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) in Spain, desired Scandinavian pool frogs (Pelophylax lessonae) in England, and commercially farmed Australian blue gum trees (Eucalyptus globulus) in Portugal.


Dorothy Zeisler-Vralsted

Eastern Washington University, USA

Emboldened by the success of the Panama Canal along with other large-scale engineering projects in the early 1900s, the United States entered the twentieth century confident that science and technology could transform nature. But the belief in technology, alone, was not enough either to justify or promote this radicalization of nature. A political imperative accompanied the harnessing and rerouting of rivers. Major projects, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, were not simply engineering feats and beacons for large-scale planning but examples of democracy’s superiority. David Lilienthal, one of the best spokesmen for the project, praised the project’s democratic underpinnings A great Plan, a moral and indeed a religious purpose, deep and fundamental, is democracy’s answer both to our homegrown would-be dictators and foreign democracy alike. In the unified development of resources, there is such a Great Plan: the Unity of Nature and Mankind. Under such a plan in our valley [TVA] we move forward. …But we assume responsibility…[for] the material well-being of all men and the opportunity for them to build for themselves spiritual strength. Yet the United States and its approach to nature in the 1930s were not unique. The Soviet Union shared these sentiments toward nature as Maxim Gorky told students We must cultivate our whole land like a garden, drain swamps, bring water to arid deserts, straighten and deepen rivers, lay millions of kilometers of road, and clean out our huge forests, the work is awaiting us, and it demands extensive scientific knowledge. My paper will explore how early twentieth century modernization and its impact on nature had little to do with political ideologies despite the rhetoric of Lilienthal or Gorky. Instead, nature experienced the same fate whether in a democratic or totalitarian state—the dialogue between the state and nature remained the same. The creed of modernization, with its faith in planning and technology, overshadowed discrete political ideologies in the 1930s. By looking at several rivers, the Mississippi, Columbia, Volga and Dnieper, my paper will illustrate how the conceptualization of large-scale projects in the 1930s, had little to do with opposing political ideologies. Perhaps, when recounting the past, history needs to be revisited from the lens of nature as these impacts will outlast the oratory of passing politicians.


Guivion Zumbado

Rachel Carson Center, Germany

Costa Rica: National Identity Building through State-Run Protected Areas. The role of state in Costa Rica’s policy-making history throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries offers a composite view of resource management and national planning in a country with a small landmass, albeit an enormous wealth of biodiversity and ecosystems. Especially in the nineteenth century and early to mid twentieth century, both through the state’s inaction and through its international land-ownership schemes for agriculture and livestock, Costa Rica’s territory underwent considerable habitat loss, deforestation and irreparable ecosystem transformations. In contrast to this period and following the rise and fall of a short dictatorship, the abolition of its national army and several bouts with natural disasters, Costa Rica’s late twentieth century tells a story of undisturbed rainforests, lush coastlines and scenic watersheds. This historical dichotomy can be seen as a catalyst for the birth of important state constructed change in the national character. In effect, the shift in the nation’s socioeconomic policies towards environmental sustainability was pivotal to the future representations of Costa Rica’s national identity. Starting with the state’s initial declaration of Poas Volcano as ‘protected’ in the fifties, the tensions between nation and nature take the route of institutional prevalence, by means of which Costa Rica’s governmental bodies begin to concentrate their efforts on ecologically sustainable development. This can be seen in the context of national parks creation, where the legal protections afforded to only a few areas in the system’s first decade grew enormously to encompass over 25% of the nation’s territory. The citizenry’s support of their state’s new-found stewardship over nature ushered in a discourse of national activism as well as a state mandated conservationist curriculum in the education system, state funded ‘ecotourism’ propaganda and iconographies, and stronger monitoring of landscape use and legislation. In this paper, I argue that Costa Rica’s idiosyncratic views of nature, along with the relationships facilitated by this nation-state’s historical, political and ecological symbolism effectively shaped the face of nationalism in today’s society.


Mauro Van Aken

University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy

Hidden waters. How Jordan reinvented water (and the hydraulic nation) The east bank of the Jordan Valley is today a post-modern laboratory of agronomic and hydraulic techniques of arid areas where irrigation represents an intensive interface between different cultural and historical life-worlds in the midst of anguishing water shortage in the close future. The contemporary huge socio-environmental changes (battlefields in the past, tense border between Jordan and the Occupied Territories by Israel, agribusiness) have been based on the new management of water resources. Water has been “nationalized”, inserted in new cultural logics and within a new spatial organisation, linked to centralization of resources and to resettlement projects for Bedouins and Palestinian refugees. Water,as mediated resource, has been pivotal for state-driven technical and social engineering projects through “modern” canal colonies, following the Indian colonial experience and later the Tennessee Valley Authority integrated model. Within a frame of high-modernist rural policies and planning, the nation and international expert system has redefined the meanings and values of water in relation to land, abstracting local savoir faire and knowledge patterns local populations and reconnecting water to a new regime system, to a new territorial and environmental order. Notions of “scarcity”, of water propriety, of new expert system, broadly new patterns of water-society relationship have led to new political interdependencies but also to a depoliticization and desocialization of water. Water in its new social life, is hidden in pressurized pipes as are the cultural and political relationships that it mediates: the role of the nation, of water bureaucracy, of the expert regime, of international aid. This is made visible only by daily manipulations of the technical order by local irrigators that reveal other and more ancient patterns of environment/society relationships.


Arnost Stanzel

Collegium Carolinum in Munich, Germany

Socialist Water-constructions in the Slovakian and Romanian Carpathians – A new Society through the Rule over Nature? One of the central characteristics of the state-socialist regimes that were established after WW II was the demolition of the old and formation of a new social order. Within this process, new infrastructures and the development of peripheral regions were important for the modernization process. With the role of the environment in the ideologies of state-socialism being until now of little interest, I am studying the infrastructural development of sensitive landscapes through water- related constructions like dams in the Slovakian and Romanian Carpathians – and by this I draw conclusions on the (socialist) relationship of man – environment in the period between 1945 till 1989. I have chosen an approach connected to environmental history for my study project: the goal is to examine the consequences of governmental infrastructural development for environment and society. Whether the regimes tied in with specific socialist modernization-ideas or if they followed rather cross-systemic patterns as well as whether this also counted for the regimes’ dealings with the environment and the interactions between mankind and environment are central questions of the project. The relationship between mankind and environment is highly visible in environments like the Carpathians: They were in the focus of governmental infrastructural actions because of their low economic development and are very sensitive on human interference. Regarding this framework, I would like to present a paper on the Slovakian case study. Drawing upon newspaper articles, scientific journals and archival materials I would like to give insights into the Czechoslovak regime’s ideology considering the environment, its approach to the use of the resource water, its rhetorical and symbolic presentation of the dams in the party press and the states role in preventive measures against floods during the state-socialist period.


Miroslav Taşcu-Stavre and Cristina Stanca

Bucharest University, Romania

When Green Cleans Red. Or Why Romanian Communists Turned to Green Ideology. The present paper shall present and explain the embracing of green ideology by the Socialist Republic of Romania (SRR). The following hypothesis is to be tested: green ideology offered a support for the credibility of the totalitarian regime instituted after 1945, regime that, by the 1970s, had less and less resources for mass mobilization. Therefore, the paper shall concentrate on analyzing the advantages that green ideology brings to consolidating state ideology. • Being shared by both the communist and the capitalist Blocks, green ideology became a common ground, that fostered the dialogue between East and West, in the same time offering SRR the possibility of: a) affirming itself on the international scene b) receiving international aid for overcoming major economic difficulties which started in the 1970s and c) reducing its dependency of USSR (a desideratum of the Romanian communist leaders dating from the 1960s, meaning from before the period we shall discuss – the 1970s and 1980s); • Adopting the principles of green ideology (as well as of disarmament or of those regarding the respect for human rights) constitutes an argument that SRR used for demonstrating its genuine support for the concept of ’popular democracy’; • A series of measures inspired by green ideology (re-usage, reconditioning, recovering, energy conservation) were used by SRR for both resolving and concealing the penury installed in the early 1980s; • Finally, the openness of SRR towards green ideology can be explained by appealing to the coherent transposition of ecologist ideas into the ideology of the Romanian Communist Party: both ideologies share a number of values – pacifism, anti-consumerism, anti-internationalist consumerism (and, in relation to this, of anti-capitalist imperialism).


Stefan Dorondel

coming soon..