This semester I took Dr. Mara Dicentas Environmental Anthropology Course at William and Mary. Before I take any class that discusses people, topics of decolonization, and themes of intersectionality, I am conscious and reflect on what I hope I will gain from as well as be critical of the things I am learning. As a Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies and Environmental Policy double major, I feel conditioned to want to ask these questions, but as a first generation Latina student of color, I feel that I must ask these questions. In Dr. Dicenta’s class, a part of the course work, was a research project that would enable us to incorporate class content and act as anthropologists. I wanted to focus on something that I felt passionate about. Since a lot of my work on campus revolves around community work, I wanted to explore that in Williamsburg. I explored many topics initially ranging from the Latine community in Williamsburg to segregation in Williamsburg and finally I chose to focus on capitalism. I have a lot of opinions on capitalism so it seemed fitting to choose a topic I have much to say about. In order for my project to meet the criteria, it has to be connected to class context and the environment and I couldn’t think of anything more impactful on the environment than capitalism.
Capitalism & Environmental Anthropology
Growing up in an immigrant Latinx family, I found it really difficult to find a sense of community. It was something that many immigrant families didn’t have the opportunity to experience either because of colonialism, war, U.S. intervention, lack of opportunities, natural disasters, etc. It was only after attending college that I reflected on the role that capitalism played in erasing this sense of community. Capitalism is inherently exploitative, selfish, greedy, and individualistic. It is anti-community. Ideas of self interest, rational thinking, and profit are the same ideas that have wiped out whole communities of people. Adam Smith’s ideas that humans are self-serving by nature and that if every individual worked in their best interest that society would be better for it is the foundation of society today. I don’t agree with capitalism for many reasons, but I think that connecting it to environmental anthropology can help understand why it isn’t working and help find alternative political and economic systems that can function more effectively and efficiently. For my project, capitalism is defined as an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production, profit, and commodification of ideas, resources, nature, people, and animals. It’s through environmental anthropology for example, that it’s evident how strong communal efforts have been as a working system for so many people and for many years. I can reflect on so many communities like my own in Bolivia that have lived through communal efforts and in solidarity with one another. Entire communities have lived off of the understanding that the basic necessities of humans must be met and that we must care for one another. For me, the relationship between capitalism and environmental anthropology was evident.
For my research project, I chose to focus on this relationship and focus it in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s evident the way that capitalism has altered the original environment and culture of Williamsburg. Because of the time crunch of the project, I had to choose a topic that I could quickly observe and find someone to interview. This is why for my project, my research question was: How has tourism environmentally redefined, reshaped, and changed native lands in Williamsburg, Virginia?
How has tourism environmentally redefined, reshaped, and changed native lands in Williamsburg, Virginia?
While my research question was broad, it was through my observations that I found underlying themes that created more focused research questions that guided my project. My smaller focused question became: How have fences and borders environmentally redefined, reshaped, and changed native lands in Williamsburg, Virginia? These are my findings and observations.