Research Groups

Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography

Coordination: Luís Silva and Paulo Mendes


This Research Group focuses on environmental issues through a wide and open approach that reintegrates nature and society as indivisible ontological elements. In fact, contemporary anthropology proposes the ecological (re)integration of the social: human and non-human, biotic and abiotic, as constitutive of life in the planet. Research interests on the interconnections between humans and their environment(s) range from the understanding of how hunter-gatherers map their territories to processes of adaptation to the current climate change, or to the study of the environmentalist movements. Sustainability and ethnography are proposed as political and methodological frameworks to stress the local-global interconnections.

This group implements research projects funded by national and international organisations, public and private, for profit and non-profit.

This Research Group has three aggregative topics:

  • CONSERVATION of nature, comprising: the description and analysis of how local actors integrate or object nature conservation processes; an implicated perspective for conservation in which participatory and mediation processes facilitate the interests of groups dependent on natural ecosystems; case studies of conservation projects; and a critical perspective of the policies and ideologies around nature and biodiversity, and of the policies of conservation and the processes of commodification of natural resources.
  • SUSTAINABILITY, focusing on the connections between humans and the environment, including: the forms of coexistence between humans and non-humans, mainly primates and predators, taking into account memories, interactions, sharing of resources, but also the transmission of zoonotic diseases; landscape change, specifically in Protected Areas and places where there are renewable and non-renewable energy sources, tourism or natural heritage; and issues associated with political ecology, conflict and the appropriation of natural resources.
  • CLIMATE CHANGE, addressing: the factual and perceived consequences of climate change and “ecological disasters” (fires, droughts, floods), during and after their occurrence; the processes of adaptation and resilience; and the effects of mitigation strategies at the local level.

This research group is interested in carrying out this agenda in several contexts, namely, Europe (mainly Portugal) and Africa.

Ethnography has proved to be a very solid method for a profound and intricate approximation to peoples’ daily life and therefore for critical assessments on sustainability and environmental issues. The applied perspective is also informed by two main assumptions: anthropological knowledge must be shared with non-academic audiences in order to inform environmental policies, while creating dialogues with other scientific domains. Therefore, interdisciplinarity is required, complementary to the ethnographic method, while reinforcing the connections and intersections between Cultural and Biological Anthropology.

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