Portuguese Fulbright Schuman Scholar to Give Distinguished Lecture, Study Wind Power in Massachusetts

Anthropologist Ana Isabel Afonso, a Fulbright Schuman Scholar from the University of Lisbon, will deliver the Distinguished Lecture in the Anthropology of Europe on Monday, Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.  in W32 Machmer Hall. She will speak on “Wind Power and Environmental Conflicts in Portugal: The Social Construction of Landscape.”   

Afonso is spending the fall semester at UMass Amherst  and is being hosted by Krista Harper, associate professor of anthropology.

Afonso’s Fulbright research project focuses on how the production of wind energy is integrated into an overall understanding of landscape, and how the implementation of this new technology is reshaping political relations in different regions of the world. 

Her U.S.-based research will build on her experience as the Portuguese representative for the research program “Paysage et Développement Durable,” co-sponsored by the French Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the French Energy Council. That project brought together an interdisciplinary and multinational team to compare how wind power was impacting communities at the local level, and to trace the legislative processes involved in the building of wind farms in Portugal, Germany and France.

Afonso notes that “landscape culture” emerged as an important theme from this European project. Says Afonso, participants noticed how “people conceptualize the landscape really differently—either as a scenic backdrop, or as heritage, or as something you pick up from nature.” At the same time, the politics of reciprocity featured strongly in attitudes towards wind energy: “people don't want to feel that they are paying all the costs of global warming; they want to get something in return.”

During her Fulbright semester, Afonso plans to visit and compare local responses to wind farm sites in both eastern and western Massachusetts.  The different history of the Americans’ relationship with the environment—both in terms of landscape culture and policies of environmental protection—make the US a compelling site to explore how these themes play out while investigating "how are wind farms being installed and how are people reacting?"

Afonso says that this aspect of her research, which has met with positive results in Portugal, is “a way of dealing with the issue of the conditions of acceptability—of finding solutions with communities and not against communities.” As she notes, “wind power is something that has an enormous impact on the landscape both physically and symbolically.” Investigating how this impact is felt and mediated in Massachusetts will be an important contribution to a broader international comparison.   

While on campus, Afonso is connecting with other scholars engaged in research on wind energy and will lead a seminar on traditions of anthropological research in Portugal for students participating in the National Science Foundation-sponsored program Culture and Heritage in European Societies and Spaces.