Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Rebecca Zarger

Keywords

development, ethnography, Honduras, natural resource management, remittances, transnational migration

Abstract

Even from afar, transnational migrants influence how their households and communities of origin use natural resources. This study depicts the circulation of people, funds, and ideas within transnational families that extend from a Honduran village to the United States. Developing a "political ecology of migration" approach, I show how these circulations can reshape resource use practices and the socio-economic and bio-physical topographies of emigrants' former homes. The project advances anthropological thought by linking rich literatures on political ecology and transnationalism through a multi-method ethnography of transnational families. The study is also relevant to emigrants, community members, and practitioners interested in incorporating emigrants and remittances into development and conservation projects.

The multi-sited project is anchored in a 380-household Honduran village, located in Cerro Azul Meámbar National Park, and encompasses the movement and practices of its residents and emigrants, including two secondary study sites in the United States. Research began with four focus groups. These formed the basis for 51 household village-wide structured interviews on experiences, practices, and beliefs related to remitting, migration, communication, farming, and natural resource use. I worked closely with four of these families in Honduras and at their emigrant family members' homes in south Florida and Long Island, New York. Through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and diaries tracking remittances and discourse through phone conversations, the multi-sited project traces transnational flows of funds, people, and ideas within the families. The ethnography highlights factors that shape, encourage, or impede emigrants' participation in natural resource management and development activities, as well as unintended socio-economic and environmental consequences of their actions.

Study participants spend remittances not only on more commonly documented health, education, housing, and food, but also on a number of areas that directly impact the socio-natural landscape: farm inputs, cattle-ranching, land, labor, firewood collection, and a village-wide potable water project. How money is earned, sent, and spent is affected by emigrants' perceptions of home - perceptions shaped by phone calls, visits, nostalgia, precarious economic and immigration status, plans to return, and dreams of a better future for themselves and their children. Some environmental impacts are directly related to spending decisions, such as the decision to buy agrochemicals. In other cases, impacts arise from nonmonetary relationships, such as lending land.

The study's political ecology of migration approach shows how emigrants' remitting and communication practices within transnational family networks translate into material, landscape impacting practices in their households and village of origin.

The study contributes to a more nuanced treatment of material practices and places in migration research and provides political ecology with a network based approach to capturing transnational dynamics impacting local livelihoods and landscapes. Ethnographic understanding of these dynamics has the potential to assist researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to take migrants into account in development of interventions and as well as to understand how their practices and beliefs shape and reshape the topographies of their current and original homes.

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