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I am excited to be joining Soka University as this year’s as the John D. Montgomery Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pacific Basin Research Center. As a native of Orange County, I am thrilled to be able to return to Southern California to continue my research, teaching, and writing in a university that I have a great degree of respect for and interest in. I am particularly intrigued by the international outlook and focus at Soka, and I look forward to the opportunity to mentor and otherwise work closely with students to advance toward the mutual aim of being “global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”
The Pacific Basin is an immense region consisting of diverse peoples, cultures, and ecologies. In the first portion of the course we will explore these diversities, especially through examining indigenous traditions and spiritual connections to their lands and territories. For example, we will learn about the role of music and dance in medicine and healing rituals among the Temiar of the Malaysian rainforest, or conceptions about “dreaming” and “Dreamtime” among aboriginals in Australia, which connect people to both their lands and ancestors. We will also examine histories of colonialism, trade, investment, and migration in (and between) Pacific Basin regions and countries. While such exchanges are often thought of as being (largely) unidirectional or analyzed in terms of impacts and imposition, we will follow the lead of Arjun Appadurai to consider how global processes can produce locality in new and interesting ways. For example, in examining the “theft” of rubber from Brazil and its introduction to Indonesia, we will come to understand how the transplantation of this cash crop facilitated the flourishing of new local knowledges and economies. We will also look at contemporary processes of neoliberal development and environmental management and the ways that they have interfaced with local peoples and cultures, including their tendency to prioritize certain forms of expertise and authority, while often depoliticizing or making invisible alternative claims and epistemologies toward the environment. We will draw on a wide range of case studies about the environment and development, including from Okinawa (Japan), Papua New Guinea, the United States, and British Columbia (Canada), as well as the instructor’s area study expertise in Latin America, drawing on additional case studies from Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia, among other locales. This course thus serves both as an introduction to the Pacific Basin, as well as to the sub-disciplines of social and political ecology.