Reflective Essay

My knowledge of human ecology before this class was very little. I grew up in a household that was environmentally conscious but I never really gave much thought about how humans living in different regions and of different cultures think about and interact with their environment. I have also never taken a course on environmental science. I was pleased to find out that this course focused on cultures and the relationship between people and their environment. I was expecting the information to be more black and white than it was. Some of the readings were difficult for me to interpret and I sometimes felt myself summarizing the more than analyzing them. Sometimes in class discussions I would wonder how in the world some of my peers made certain interpretations from the readings. However, throughout the course I think that I not only became more knowledgeable about the topic of human ecology and how humans interact with their environment, but also about critical and thinking and analyzing texts.
When we were asked to brainstorm potential topics for our e-portfolio at the beginning of the semester I really had no idea what I wanted to focus on. Usually with project, if there is the option to, I default to studying something involving gender. Gender is a topic that I am very interested in and have a lot of experience studying and thinking about critically. However, when it came time to finally pick something to focus our portfolios on I wanted to give myself a challenge and go a different route. This semester I also took a course on heritage and identity. For class we had to read a book by Jim Igoe Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota. The first portion of this book describes the experiences of the Maasai people of East Africa when western organizations arrived and tried to set up conservation practices and ecotourism activities. This is one of the case studies in my e-portfolio and was the inspiration for the topic. Igoe emphasizes the efforts of the west to homogenize the rest of the world. In East Africa people saw an issue of lack of nature and wildlife conservation and decided that the best idea was to take the land and make it a reserve where it and the animals living on it would be protected. They set up ecotourism activities such as a safari so that tourists would come and spend money on the experience. Tourists believed that they were spending their money on something that benefited the environment and the local people. They also thought they were experiencing the culture of the local people when, in fact, the whole experience was what Igoe called a “constructed reality.” The wester organizations made the visitors think they were helping so they would spend more money when in fact, most of it was going towards the organization’s profits. The locals were actually hurt and pushed off of their land and unable to herd cattle, their main form of livelihood.
After reading this I thought about some of our readings from class and recognized that this was a common occurrence around the world. There is a common idea that “west is best.” Meaning that the western, developed, part of the world has the best solutions for global problems. I always thought that this idea was incredibly ethnocentric and as someone who has traveled a lot and through developing regions I have learned that not everything about the west is positive and we do not always have the best solutions and practices. I learned that when western organizations use practiced that they think are best without considering the locals environment or the community living on it they are using one-size-fits-all policies. Usually these practices worked in one region of the world so it is assumed that they will work in another. After researching more and using our readings and information from class I learned that it is much more effective to use a holistic approach when thinking about environmental management. This means using different disciplines when creating projects and considering the local culture. Often times, these western organizations are more focused on minimizing their amount of work and risk while still maintaining profits and so the local environment and people actually suffer.
Finding information on this topic was not as simple as I thought. I found quite a few case studies but it took some time to find pieces that provided evidence against using one-size-fits-all policies. It also took quite a bit of time to navigate wordpress. I found it very difficult at first but once I got the hang of it I was impressed with how much you could do to customize your site to look just as you wanted. After the class ended I realized I had learned a lot more than I had thought. I enjoy classes like that. Sometimes along the way I didn’t see the point in some of the readings or didn’t feel like I was learning much but at the end, it all started to come together and I feel like I have a much better understanding of human ecology and the importance of studying the relationship between humans and the environment. I also feel like I improved my critical thinking and analysis skills as well as researching. I am also pleased that I can put wordpress as one of the technical sites I can efficiently work with on my resume.