The study of the relationship between humans and the environment and the ways in which humans use, abuse, or protect the environment is in part a study of motivation. Understanding the basis for motivation requires not just understanding individual or community sentiment towards the environment but researching the cultural norms, values and beliefs that underlie and foster cultural perspectives in the first place. But how do we begin to determine where, when and how those cultural norms, values, beliefs get developed, taught and inculcated?
The following paper presents the collection of life hisories as one methodological approach to accessing the basis for motivation and local level environmental knowledge on an individual and ultimately, community, level. I begin by examining a few of the theories and philosophies, such as hermeneutics and phenomenology that underlie ethnographic writing, in general, and life history writing, specifically. This touches upon the role of the ethnographer in the production of ethnographic writing and lends credence to the notion that anthropologists can also be environmentalists, even activists, concerned with cultural as well as environmental wellbeing. I then discuss the specific relevance of this research method to environmental anthropology, highlighting the benefits it offers for understanding cultural behavior as well as for initiating environmental efforts amongst local communities. I close the paper with examples and an analysis of life histories that address how they helped to reveal the root of certain 'anti-environmental' behaviors and sentiments among the large commodity farmers in the Mississippi Delta and the reasons how and why this community of farmers was effectively persuaded to adopt on farm conservation practices by private, local level conservation organizations in the Delta.
Shoreman-Ouimet, Eleanor. "Personal History Ethnography in Environmental Anthropology: A Methodological Case Study." Journal of Ecological Anthropology 19, no. 1 (2017): 64-71.
Available at: https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jea/vol19/iss1/4