UMass Amherst Anthropology Professor Arturo Escobar Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts anthropology professor Arturo Escobar has received a prestigious fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The $27,000 fellowship was awarded to Escobar for his research project, "Cultural and Biological Diversity in the Late Twentieth Century."

With the Guggenheim funds plus additional money provided by the University, Escobar intends to complete a book manuscript on the struggles over nature and culture, that, he says, "take place today everywhere from rainforests to biotechnology laboratories." In particular, he says, he will look at these struggles from the perspective of social movements in the Third World.

Escobar was one of 32 artists, scholars, and scientists from Latin America and the Caribbean who were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships this year totaling $840,000. He is native of Colombia and the author of numerous articles on Latin America and the Third World. In 1996, he won the Best Book Award from the New England Council of Latin American Studies for "Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World" (Princeton University Press).

Currently, Escobar is in Colombia, where he is investigating how indigenous peoples along the Pacific coast have struggled to maintain control over their destinies, according to anthropology department head Ralph Faulkingham. "These struggles have been as much about Colombian law and politics as about the practical meaning of what many take to be a universal and singular process - economic development," Faulkingham says.

The book Escobar will write builds on this summer’s research plus research undertaken in 1993-94 and in the summer of 1996, Faulkingham says. During these periods, Escobar has examined the experiences of biodiversity conservation planners, agricultural capitalists, and black communities and activists on the Pacific coast, the rainforest area of Colombia well known for its biodiversity.

According to Escobar, his book will fall within the growing field of political ecology, which examines the interrelations among development, capital, social movements, and the environment. It will build upon evidence amassed by anthropologists and others in recent years bolstering the notion that many local communities in the Third World "construct" nature in significantly different ways from the ways many industrialized capitalist countries do.

Escobar says the ultimate questions asked by political ecologists include the following: "Can the world be redefined and reconceived from the perspective of other ecological, cultural, and economic practices that can be observed still in existence today? What would be the ecological, social, and political requirements for doing so? And what ecological and social consequences would result from such?"