Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Environmental Studies

Dr. Melissa Johnson

Dr. Johnson’s environmental research in socionature-scape in Central Belize

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    Dr. Johnson taking an ecotour with guide Robert Pantain (who is also a long time friend), and freaking out at the baboon (howler monkey, Aloutta pigra) pulling her hair.

November 01, 2013

Dr. Melissa Johnson’s most recent scholarship engages the current ‘material turn’ in social theory, and aims at moving beyond the human-nature binary. She employs ideas of assemblages and meshworks in the analysis of a swampy socionature-scape in Central Belize, centered on the rural Creole  (Afro-Caribbean) villages of Lemonal and Crooked Tree. This location has a long history  of being both entangled in, and on the margins of, processes of global capitalism, conservation, tourism and migration; at the same time that people in these communities are locally focused on hunting, fishing, gathering, cattle raising, and ‘making plantashe’ or swidden cultivation. Hunting, fishing and farming are central to peoples’ identities in these communities, yet at the same time their lives are equally tied to the transnational.  Rural Belizeans negotiate their multiple ties to elements of the natural world, migrant communities in the US, conservation organizations and Belizean government activities in their communities, local and global markets, as well as discourses of race, nature, rurality, kinship among a host of other sets of ideas that shape their everyday lives. Johnson argues that the ‘place’ of rural Belize and the rural Creole identity associated with it, is produced through the coming together of human and non-human, inanimate and animate, in assemblages of varying stability in time and space.

Johnson will be working on developing material she already has written in a variety of conference paper formats into a book during her sabbatical in Spring 2014.  In late November 2013, she will be submitting a manuscript for a special issue of Social Analysis on Deleuze’s notions of assemblages and historical accelerations applied to different socionatural contexts around the world. In this article, tentatively entitled: “Hunters, Ecotourists and Hicatee: The shifting ground of socionature in Belize,” she is developing the overall frame and argument for her larger book project.

Johnson spend part of this past summer in Lemonal and Crooked Tree, but these scholarly projects are based upon repeated research visits to this area over the past 23  years, including a three year period of living in Crooked Tree in the mid 1990s. But some of her most insightful moments of ethnographic research come through her marriage to Elrick Bonner, who was born and raised in Lemonal and who spends at least two months there out of every year.

Her scholarship has been enriched by, and enlivens her course Global Environmental Justice this Fall; and indeed participants in the course will have the option of reading and commenting on the “Hunters, Ecotourists and Hicatee” and Johnson will incorporate their comments and suggestions into her editing.

Fishing for native (bay snook Petenia splendida and baca, a catfish, Ictalurus furcatus) and invasive (tilapia, likely  Oreochromis niloticus)Fishing for native (bay snook Petenia splendida and baca, a catfish, Ictalurus furcatus) and invasive (tilapia, likely Oreochromis niloticus)

Hunting for bocatora (Trachymys scripta, ornate terrapin), Lemonal, BelizeHunting for bocatora (Trachymys scripta, ornate terrapin), Lemonal, Belize

Dr Johnson and cows that belong to her and her husbandDr Johnson and cows that belong to her and her husband

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