Tracey Heatherington. Wild Sardinia: Indigeneity and the Global Dreamtimes of Environmentalism. Culture, Place, and Nature Series. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010. Illustrations, glossary. 328 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-295-98998-3; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-295-98999-0.
Reviewed by Eric P. Perramond (Colorado College)
Published on H-HistGeog (May, 2011)
Commissioned by Robert M. Wilson (Syracuse University)
Sardinian Cowboys and Indians
The nature and types of historical conflicts regarding indigenous people and established protected areas in the Global South are now well known. What is less common, although increasingly needed, is the kind of scholarship that documents an eerily familiar parallel in areas typically thought of as already developed. Here, anthropologist and ethnographer Tracey Heatherington has established a type of benchmark study on local political-ecological norms of land use, the role of conservation organizations, and environmentalist rhetoric and its articulation with those local norms of resource use and understanding in small Sardinian villages. The interior of Sardinia, specifically the area around the town of Orgosolo, is the setting for a park, Gennargentu Park, that does not currently exist but that has been proposed numerous times by both outside organizations and the national government of Italy. How does one evaluate a park that does not actually exist? This volume provides one possible answer, and is a remarkable academic intervention on both the thematic topics and the area in question.
The volume is organized into five parts, providing material on context, ecology, alterity, resistance, and what the author terms "post-environmentalisms." The individual chapters, in my opinion, are coherent in and of themselves, so much so that I plan on using single chapters for future courses on environmental management. The first five chapters touch on themes that will be familiar to many researchers interested in so-called paper parks, which have generally been more common in the development and conservation literature on the Global South, while the last four chapters turn toward more specifically Sardinian themes. I mention this for a reason; there is useful material in the first half of this book even if you are not a specialist of Sardinia or the Mediterranean in general. This is not, then, just another anthropological "case study" of a place most of us will never visit. The volume speaks to wider issues that are of concern globally (conservation) and to regional issues (park establishment) as well. The comparative material drawn from African, Australian, Canadian, Latin American, and western U.S. contexts is well used by the author in her arguments. The material is useful for readers, and for the author, since she is arguing that environmentalism is a peculiar kind of global project that reflects culturally rooted views on nature and, yes, "wilderness" (p. 60). And for Mediterranean region specialists, the material gets richer and deeper in chapters 6 and 7, where Heatherington treats with subtlety Sardinian "resistance" in a way that is still rare even in anthropology. Perhaps one should expect no less from an author who titles one of her chapters "Walking in Via Gramsci" (p. 6). It is one of the most convincing and nuanced uses of Gramsci that fully fleshes out the mosaic of consent and coercion in a satisfying way, and is not by any measure, as Kate Crehan has termed it, "Gramsci Lite" (Gramsci, Culture, and Anthropology ). Any current or future student who asks me how to use Gramsci will be directed to these particular chapters as a reference point.
While the ethnographic material found in Wild Sardinia is exemplary, there is a rather taxing and repetitive use of the subtitle ("global dreamtimes of environmentalism") that becomes a tiring mantra. While this rhetorical wordplay is meant to echo (Australian) Aboriginal notions of space and time in a meaningful and playful way, to refer to how environmental groups spin indigenous identity to their own organizational needs and biases, the repetition of the phrase does little to drive the otherwise important arguments made by Heatherington. This does not diminish the importance of the author's work. Critically circling around the concept of "indigeneity," she is able to display the inherent local tensions of claiming both "indigenous" status and the local recognition that shepherding is a continuing practice. Pitching these as a combination of (Old) American West motifs, the "Indian and the cowboy," and drawing on local vignettes that use exactly this language, Heatherington carefully portrays this paradox as stuck in a double bind. Are Sardinians usefully deploying a language of authenticity, of local indigeneity, that serves their purposes? Or are they falling into the very image crafted for them by conservation groups that depict livestock graziers as despoilers of the environment? No tidy answer to these compelling questions is provided, but the author treats them with respect and complexity.
Wild Sardinia is an eloquent and complex piece of engaged anthropological scholarship that will find a home in many academic debates and fields. Heatherington grapples honestly and openly with difficult questions, those that typically haunt most academics who continue to do long-term fieldwork in places far and near to their home institutions. One of her Sardinian friends states to her, emphatically, that "it's impossible to be both an anthropologist and an environmentalist" (p. 4). The author demonstrates otherwise. A limiting factor in convincing conservation organizations and individuals that this is possible is the complex use of terms, academic jargon, and rhetorical acrobatics in Wild Sardinia. If, as the author argues, we "must learn to speak to a new generation of environmentalists" (p. 160), then we must also learn to write clearly to be easily understood. The tightrope of accurate representation and clear expression is a difficult one for all authors, but Heatherington mostly walks this rope gracefully. The production quality of the manuscript is high, with useful appendices, an index, numerous illustrations and photos, and a handy glossary of Italian and Sardinian words. Apart from anthropologists, geographers, historians, conservation biologists, and political scientists will all benefit from parts or the whole of Wild Sardinia. Regardless of your own regional focus or disciplinary approach, you will find richly engaged and engaging material in this book.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-histgeog.
Eric P. Perramond. Review of Heatherington, Tracey, Wild Sardinia: Indigeneity and the Global Dreamtimes of Environmentalism.
H-HistGeog, H-Net Reviews.
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