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Notes on the Digital Jungle

I'll start with my notes of Raoni's video presentation.

Deforestation as an illegal act, contrasted with deforestation as a legitimate means of earning a living--as is the case for many farmers in Brazil. Raoni's work involves the study of satellite images as used to analyze deforestation. Farmer's challenging the evidence produced by satellite technology--the result is that these technologies are used to define what counts as deforestation and what doesn't.

Rangers then go to the site where they think deforestation has occurred and analyze the land to see if deforestation is what's happening.

This results in different versions of deforestation clashing with each other. For example, farmers might claim that the deforestation is the result of accidental fire, but rangers argue that if you plant seeds where a fire occurred, this is evidence that the deforestation was intentional.

Raoni concludes that deforestation should be understood in a number of ways, for example, that deforestation is ontologically multiple and that it is contested.

From the Discussion:
[Please bear in mind that these notes are simply my interpretation of the discussion. The stuff I put in square brackets is either my thoughts or parts of the discussions that I'm uncertain I understood what was meant.]

Q: You say reality is "enacted," can you unpack that for us a little?
A: Thinking of reality as enacted is used to contrast with the mainstream approach of thinking of reality as "out there." But an enacted reality is also different from the social constructionist account of reality. Enacted reality is perhaps somewhere in the middle: there is a material reality, but our understanding of it is socially determined, especially through people's practices. It's like the university: without the students and staff coming every day and doing their work, it wouldn't be a university, although it may have the material existence of a university.

Q: And multiple ontologies?
A: This is a way of looking at deforestation as having very different meanings for farmers and for the rest of the world. As far as the farmer is concerned, "deforestation" is the way they grow food for people to eat--as such it's just fine. For many in the rest of the world, it is a terribly environmental tragedy that puts the world in peril. These are multiple ontologies, or ways of understanding the world.

Q: Technology and relationships also impact the ways that people can interpret reality. Do you see farmers trying to change their practices as they develop relationships with the rangers and start to see the world differently?
A: It's not uncommon that farmers recognize deforestation as a bad thing, but they don't always recognize what they are doing on their farms as deforestation. When they see satelite images of their property, they sometimes recognize that connection. (Of course, some do know that what they are doing is deforestation...)

[Editorial Comment][ This reminds me of those of us city dwellers who drive to work every day, knowing full well that we contributing to local pollution and global climate change....] [/Editorial Comment]

Q: Who are the rangers? What is there social standing in relationship to the farmers?
A: There are two kinds of rangers. Some are technicians working in the area who took up the job. [These people used to work as a kind of ag extension] and then they find themselves in the position of working "against" the farming practices. The second kind of rangers are generally not from the Amazon, often come from big cities and usually from scientific disciplines which they trained for at the University. These people are in a sense foreigners in their own county, and they often have a more antagonistic relationship to the farmers.

Q: What about putting this in a wider historical context, especially considering the perspectives of native peoples?
A: Yes, that's a great question. A similar process can be seen in the original settling of the Amazon. Someone could show up with a royal seal and take your land away. The trouble is that the dominant culture has been seen as coming from the north, and that has in may ways been codified into hundreds of years of law. It's difficult to undo that with just a few words.


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