Global Mountain Regions: Conversations toward the Future

Global Mountain Regions: Conversations toward the Future


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No matter where they are located in the world, communities living in mountain regions have shared experiences defined in large part by contradictions. These communities often face social and economic marginalization despite providing the lumber, coal, minerals, tea, and tobacco that have fueled the growth of nations for centuries. They are perceived as remote and socially inferior backwaters on one hand while simultaneously seen as culturally rich and spiritually sacred spaces on the other. These contradictions become even more fraught as environmental changes and political strains place added pressure on these mountain communities. Shifting national borders and changes to watersheds, forests, and natural resources play an increasingly important role as nations respond to the needs of a global economy.

The works in this volume consider multiple nations, languages, generations, and religions in their exploration of upland communities’ responses to the unique challenges and opportunities they share. From paintings to digital mapping, environmental studies to poetry, land reclamation efforts to song lyrics, the collection provides a truly interdisciplinary and global study. The editors and authors offer a cross-cultural exploration of the many strategies that mountain communities are employing to face the concerns of the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253036865
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Series: Framing the Global Series
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ann Kingsolver is Professor of Anthropology and past director of the Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies Program at the University of Kentucky. Her research in the United States, Mexico, and Sri Lanka has focused on how people make sense of all that gets called "globalization" and act on those understandings. Her books include NAFTA Stories: Fears and Hopes in Mexico and the United States , Tobacco Town Futures: Global Encounters in Rural Kentucky , and several edited volumes.

Sasikumar Balasundaram is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. His research interests include refugees, humanitarian aid, global health, engaged anthropology with children and youth, and contemporary issues of the Up-country Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Read an Excerpt




Ann Kingsolver and Sasikumar Balasundaram

In the Appalachian Mountains, there is a centuries-old recipe for apple stack cake, which is made for weddings and other collective events. It is a practice attributed to indigenous communities in the region and embodies the opposite of capitalist individuation and performative consumption. Each household contributes one very affordable flat, round sweetened pancake made in a frying pan, and then as people assemble, the flat cakes are stacked together with apple butter between the layers to make a large communal cake to share during the public event. This seems to us to be a good model for social theorizing, in the epistemological path of First Nations, womanist, and participatory knowledge practices — each person contributing an equally valued vantage point to a collective analysis.

Most of the contributions to this volume emerged from a Global Mountain Regions conversation we organized at the University of Kentucky in 2012 between artists, social scientists, and activists from mountain regions on five continents, with everyone's participation and translation fully funded by the University of Kentucky and its College of Arts & Sciences. Given the shared experiences of social, economic, and political marginalization of mountain communities within each of our sixteen nation-states (while acknowledging other forms of inequality, e.g., Global North, academic, and English-speaking privilege), we aspired to create a context in which one's voice or presence did not have to be justified or represent a "token" perspective, and all participants — using verbal, nonverbal, visual, and musical forms of communication — could compare notes on equal ground. Mountain regions across the world were at the center of the conversation rather than its edges.

The goal of this comparative conversation, which others in this collection have since joined, has been to compare histories, analyses, and strategies. Communities in mountain regions have been stigmatized, silenced, and displaced while having fueled global economic development through the extraction of vital natural resources and labor for centuries. Far from being isolated, upland regions have played a key role in nation-building, whether by providing lumber for ships' masts and railroads, minerals for currency and trade, or cash crops like tea, tobacco, coffee and coca. Mountainous regions are labeled, in many languages, as wild, remote, "backwater" zones. The paradox is that this label can be both used disparagingly as an indication of social inferiority and with reverence to refer to sacred zones at the heart of cultures and religions. Mountain ranges are often the sites of violent contestations of national borders, political philosophies, and resource ownership. Control of watersheds, for example, is an essential issue in the twenty-first century, with mountains as a focus. Mountain regions, as the source of forest and biosphere reserves, the headwaters of watersheds, and inexpensive land for those displaced by economic inequality and climate change, will be critical sites in the coming decades.

People from mountain regions have been engaged in diasporic networks nationally and transnationally for generations. Today, many young people are returning to mountain communities with ideas about developing more interconnected and sustainable livelihoods, and that is one of the themes in this book, as they discuss the possibilities of sustainable forestry, agriculture, and beekeeping; arts and media production; diverse economies; green energy jobs; and intergenerational education. Another theme of the book is examples of environmental and social justice, as indigenous activists from the Amazon, Andean, Appalachian, and Odishan regions share the strategies, ideas, and actions that have been most effective in their work toward sustainable futures. Instead of protecting only their own regions, many occupants of mountain zones are also fighting for the well-being of those downstream in the watersheds that begin in their regions but affect the major urban centers of the world. The authors in this collection represent multiple generations, languages, nations, religions, disciplines, professions, and identities. From conversations across mountain regions, we have learned that diversity is not only the strongest aspect of bioregions (mountain regions contribute to the planet's oxygen and the development of new medicines through their forests, for example), but it is also the strongest contribution of upland human communities.

Mountain communities provide expertise in looking beyond the binary, a much-needed skill in dominant discourses in which those models have run their course. Living in edge environments in which the human and nonhuman, the secular and the sacred, the very old and the very young, and insider and outsider meet daily and which have endured the shifting boundaries of political claims and recognize their arbitrariness, has taught residents to parse plurality with fluency. Rather than waiting for ideas and plans to find their way to mountain areas, we suggest, those mountain regions may be seen globally as a powerful source of ideas and practices, just as they are the source of the rivers that feed the world. The scale and scope of watersheds, and the way they link regions together, are more easily seen from above than below; in mountain regions, interdependence has long been recognizable. This volume does not simply document histories of marginalization, but also assertions of communal rights, for example, that have become models for other movements. Bolivians in Cochabamba (Olivera and Lewis 2004) demonstrated how to contest privatization of water resources and redemocratize water rights, and examples of standing up to land grabbing (an effort requiring constant vigilance) and working for the restitution and rearticulation of land rights may be found in a number of marginalized contexts (Fay and James 2009). In a world in which there is a continuum of complex private and public arrangement — beyond a simple binary — in supplying water, for example (Bakker 2010), or labor, mountain resident are experienced navigators.

As the contributors to this volume have made connections between languages, regions, and disciplines, we have found that one of the most powerful means of sharing experiences across mountain regions is through art. The paintings of Pam Oldfield Meade, an Appalachian resident who paints stories of place, with her words written in streams of flowing water, tree trunks, and the hair of generations of women — evoking simultaneously the everyday and the timeless — moved everyone at the Global Mountain Regions conference and made it possible to talk about loss and survival. When we gathered in 2012 to begin this conversation, her community had just survived an unusual and devastating mountain tornado. The poetry of Crystal Good and Jeremy Paden brought the rhythm of bulldozers and dancers into the room, and showed how similar the open wounds of extraction were in Appalachia and Haiti. The songs of social justice balladeer Si Kahn, in English and Spanish, drew everyone into the music together, remembering histories of those who have been ground down and those who have stood up, time after time, place after place. The lyrics of Si Kahn run like a river throughout this volume, uniting voices from across mountain regions. The format of this volume is interdisciplinary, a multimodal stack cake, and we believe each layer makes the consideration of global mountain regions stronger through its difference.

Global Mountain Regions

Mountains, like notions of the global, are culturally constructed. As Rebecca Adkins Fletcher (2016, 284) has noted, "place becomes an active ideology rather than a static space." Mapping is always a political act, and that includes the mapping and conceptualization of mountain regions. In talking about natural preserves (many of which are in mountain zones), Agustín Coca Pérez (2014) mentions that sometimes it is forgotten that these environments are concepts because of human agency. Residents have been defined in national or world heritage park discourses, for example, as a nuisance in the very regions they have co-constructed and stewarded.

What is the difference between a hill, a mountain, and a plateau? Such terms are defined through scientific and political discourses (often politically charged boundary discourses), as well as cultural (including religious) ones, and these often conflict. The Himalayas, for example, have different names in India and China and are actors in different development dramas, each with its own plans for tourism, hydropower, and political control. Mountains are often the sites of such contestation, partly because of their combination of inhabited and uninhabitable zones — making political boundaries both likely and hard to police — and their larger-than-human scale and terrain. Larry Price (1981, xix) has articulated the role of mountains on the earth in this way: "Mountains serve to delineate, accentuate, and modify the global patterns of climate, vegetation, soil, and wild-life. Mountains establish the fundamental scenery of the earth and set the stage upon which the terrestrial play takes place. The ebb and flow of wind and water, of life and living processes, are expressed against this backdrop."

Along with oceans, the vastness of mountain ranges facilitates biodiversity and the planet's water cycle, and, for the same reasons, they are increasingly being monitored for signs of climate change. The international scientific agenda began to be established in 1971 through the Man and the Biosphere agenda of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Messerli 2012, S55). The United Nations declared 2002 the International Year of the Mountains, and, since then, transnational and interorganizational collaborations focusing on the well-being of mountain environments and (secondarily) populations have grown. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened a series of scientific research projects and conferences clustered under the "Mountain Agenda," which came out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (or Earth Summit) in Brazil. Agenda 21, chapter 13, of the plan of action emerging from the conference was called "managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development," and a number of entities have been formed for this purpose, for example, the Mountain Forum, the Mountain Research Initiative, the World Glacier Monitoring Service, the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment, and the journal Mountain Research and Development. In 2000, the first World Mountain Forum was held, leading to the organization of the World Mountain People Association (which cannot have individual members, but has governmental members). The United Nations established December 11 each year as International Mountain Day. There are now associations for most of the major mountain regions of the world, including the African Mountain Association, the Andean Mountain Association, and many others. As summarized by Debarbieux and Price (2012), the scholarship focused on mountain regions has led to findings that the greatest cultural and religious diversity, as well as biodiversity, can be found in mountainous areas, as well as high rates of political and food insecurity (with estimates of up to 50 percent). Arguments for mountain regions to be held as commons (for example, through World Heritage designations) have been both strongly advocated and strongly contested, related to the status of social movements (and their repression) based in mountain zones.

This global mountain regions conversation, then, joins a number of collaborations across mountain regions. The interdisciplinary and international Kassam Research Group, for example, is drawing on knowledge of centuries-old ecological calendars through which residents in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia have been adapting to changes in their glacial environment to educate climate scientists about ways to attend to more earth-centered and embodied knowledge practices in global research conversations. Sometimes such partnerships are spread across mountain regions, and sometimes their transnational and interdisciplinary focus is concentrated on the significance of a single mountain, like the Kailash Project of the India China Institute at the New School for Social Research, focusing on the plural understandings of Mount Kailash — a pilgrimage site in the Himalayas shared by India, Nepal, and China.

Mountains cover approximately a quarter of the earth's surface and are home to about one-eighth of the world's population (Debarbieux and Price 2012). Ironically, mountains figure in the widely accessible World Social Forum in relation to the voices of marginalized, often indigenous, mountain residents and also provide the site, in Davos, Switzerland, for the elitist World Economic Forum. Those inhabiting mountain regions may be "global citizens" with wealth and strong market participation, as in those who own personal ski resorts, or may be so economically and politically displaced as to not have citizenship or market participation in any national context. It must be noted that we do not claim to gloss mountain residents as homogeneous in identity or experience. But we do argue that there are, among mountain residents, those who share across national contexts experiences of (albeit in different forms) social, economic and political marginalization and also active efforts to analyze and counter such marginalization. The latter are those threads of conversation emphasized in this volume.

What does it mean to speak of global mountain regions? Hilary Kahn (2014, 4) has referred to "a plurality of globals that that emerge and come to rest in different guises, locales, and performances." One of the uniting discourses in this volume is a lived analysis of the extraction of material, labor, and political autonomy in regions considered "wild" by those in political and economic centers elsewhere, providing from the periphery the resources for building global trade networks for centuries that, as Andre Gunder Frank (1966) described, actively underdeveloped and stigmatized those responsible for the "development" of their oppressors. Such contorting power to name was brought home to us in the Global Mountain Regions Conference in the catalyzing moment Monica Chují described the Ecuadorian government labeling the snakes carried on the shoulders of her fellow indigenous Amazonian protestors in an organization she led as "'weapons of mass destruction,' and the activists as terrorists." The "threat" they represented to the state was blocking the extraction of oil from their communally held land for the global market, and speaking for means and foci of valorization other than capitalist logic; in the inversion Taussig (1987) speaks of as constitutive of the culture of terror, those who had been accused by their government of terrorism were actually being terrorized by logging, drilling, silencing by the state, and disappearances.

The editors, Ann Kingsolver and Sasikumar Balasundaram, met in a classroom at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka in 2004, while Kingsolver was teaching a course on globalization. She had been listening to how differently situated individuals made sense of capitalist globalization and had acted on those understandings for several decades, especially in rural places (cf. Kingsolver 2001, 2011) like her home community on the edges of Appalachia, in Kentucky, where the economy had been based on tobacco cultivation. She was in the Upcountry (or central mountain region) of Sri Lanka to compare interpretations of globalization by those in the tea sector with those she had listened to in the tobacco sector in Kentucky. Balasundaram was an undergraduate who had come to Peradeniya as the first university student from the tea estate on which he grew up, where his mother and grandmother had plucked tea — his grandmother as an indentured worker from India in colonial times caught in the statelessness that promised no admission to Sri Lankan citizenship and no return to India. With other students in the multilingual, multiethnic classroom, and from their vantage points as social scientists from rural Appalachia and the Upcountry, they built an understanding of globalization from the ground up. Topics on the students' minds were the generation-long ethnic war, with the United States, China, and India intervening in more and less obvious ways for strategic interests (mostly in Sri Lanka's deepwater ports), and the high rates of youth unemployment and suicide. Sasikumar Balasundaram came to the University of South Carolina, where Ann Kingsolver was a faculty member, to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology (writing his dissertation on long-term refugee camps and structural violence — see Balasundaram 2014), and their commitment to facilitate conversations between, and not about, those most marginalized by global capitalism continued. This led in 2012 to their organization of the Global Mountain Regions Conference (and subsequent exchanges between participants), after Kingsolver had moved to the University of Kentucky to direct the Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies Program with a global comparative focus.


Excerpted from "Global Mountain Regions"
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Table of Contents


Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Hard Times"

1: Introduction: Listening to Voices across Global Mountain Regions ​

Ann Kingsolver and Sasikumar Balasundaram

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Mother Jones’ Farewell (I Was There)"

2: After Coal, through Film

Tom Hansell and Patricia Beaver

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Wigan Pier"

3: Mountains, Coal, and Life in British Columbia and West Virginia

Paul S. Ciccantell

4: Black Diamonds

Crystal Good

5: Historicizing Poverty and Marginalization in the Southern Mountain Regions of Malawi

Tony Milanzi

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Momma Was a Union Woman"

6: Voices for Community Rights in Amazonia

Monica Chují

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Blue Ridge Mountain Refugee"

7: Indigenous Social Movements in Mountain RegCarmen Martinez Novo, Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Subhadra Mitra Channa, Annapurna Devi Pandey, and Luis Alberto Tuaza Castro

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "People Like You"

8: Rebuilding Mountain Communities after Natural and Human-Made Disasters

Jude L. Fernando, Lina Maria Calandra, Stephanie McSpirit, Pam Oldfield Meade, Jeremy Paden and Shaunna L. Scott

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "The Border Line"

9: Moving Heaven and Earth behind Mountains

Daniel Joseph

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Black Gold"

10: Environment, Health, and Justice

Mary K. Anglin, Gregory V. Button, and Dolores Molina-Rosales

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "When the Morning Breaks"

11: Circulating News in Rural China and Appalachia

Al Cross and You You

12: Thinking About the Future

Jane Jensen, Marco Pitzalis, Mir Afzal Tajik, and Alan J. DeYoung

13: Jirga: Everyday Peace-Building in Rural Mountain Communities of Pakistan

Sajjad Ahmad Jan

14: Mapping and Measuring Digital Divides in Mountain Regions

Stanley D. Brunn and Maria Paradiso

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "My Old Times"

15: Artifacts of Home

Saakshi Joshi

16: Resonating with the Trees

Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Traveler"

17: Appalachian and Carpathian Exchanges

Jessica Murray and Iryna Galuschchak

18: Appalachian and Columbian Connections through Cerulean Warbler Migration

Regina Donour

19: Experience and Expertise

Lisa B. Markowitz

20: Sustainable Livelihoods in Extreme Lands

Dipak R. Pant

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Aragon Mill"

21: Comparing Rural Livelihood Transitions in the Catalan and Sardinian Regions of Europe and the Appalachian Region of the United States

Domenica Farinella, Ann Kingsolver, Ismael Vaccaro, and Oriol Beltran

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Wild Rose of the Mountain"

22: Honey Corridors in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and Appalachian Coal Production Areas

Tammy Horn Potter and Kunal Sharma

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "The Gap ($8,825) an Hour"

23: Agricultural Sovereignty and Arabica Coffee Production in Ethiopia

Aklilu Reda

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "The Flume"

24: Creating Sustainable Post-extraction Livelihoods in the Central Appalachian Coalfields

Nathan Hall

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "Gone, Gonna Rise Again"

25: Reforestation Can Contribute to a Regenerative Economy in Global Mining Regions

Christopher D. Barton, Kenton Sena, and Patrick N. Angel

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "We’re Still Here"

26: Palestinian Responsible Tourism for Cross-Cultural Understanding

Asma Jaber and Michel Awad

Song Lyrics by Si Kahn: "A Time for Us All"

27: Conclusion: Looking Toward the Future in Global Mountain Regions

Felix Bivens, Sasikumar Balasundaram, and Ann Kingsolver


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