David Rojas, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies
In this article, I ethnographically examine “the biggest experiment in tropical conservation history,” an environmental management approach designed in Brazilian Amazonia. I focus on research conducted by scientists who support this approach using the results of their work at an open-air experiment. Drawing on this ethnographic study I critically revisit Bruno Latour’s deservedly influential ethnography of an open-air laboratory in Brazilian Amazonia. I also engage with his claim that open-air experiments constitute spaces in which scientists can avoid seeing the world as “Nature”-a gigantic collection of inert objects that experts sense they have to bring into order on their own. Latour shows that while working in their Amazonian open-air laboratory scientists perceived the forest as a network comprising human and non-human entities bearing creative capacities. He suggests that such experimentation enables humans to envision environmental management strategies based on human/non-human collaborations. In the open air, experts could thereby transcend the pervasive fatalism that plagues environmental policy circles and rekindle a more optimistic and enthusiastic stance toward environmental management. I argue that Latour’s is a visionary ethnography that anticipates contemporary trends in environmental management approaches. However, I also argue that his celebratory conclusions regarding open-air experimentation are misguided. I show that, while working in the open air, the scientists situated their work within capitalist experiments wherein humans and non-humans creatively collaborate in the construction of new, less inhabitable worlds. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Rojas, David. “Environmental Management and Open-Air Experiments in Brazilian Amazonia.” Geoforum 66, (2015) : 136-145.