So I won’t need to rob a bank…

Good news! I got my first research grant as an assistant professor.  It feels good, like I might have some ideas that could go places. The award comes through the BSOS Dean’s Initiative which provides funding for pilot and start up research to recently hired assistant professors.  The hope is that the newbie prof will use the results, techniques learned, etc. to write larger grants for submission to government funders like NASA, NOAA, and NSF.  However, with sequestration and the Recession who knows how much money will be left for funding scientific research – let alone social science research.

I was nervous.  I’m never quite sure if the crazy thoughts that wake me up at 3am or occupy my mind on the running trail every morning are worth anything.  Monkey on my back, thy name is Self Doubt.  I also submitted a gigundo proposal to NASA’s NSPIRES Terrestrial Ecology program this week, so the relief I felt with the news on the Dean’s Initiative settled me.

So what will I be researching with this pilot funding?  The work builds on my dissertation work in Matutuine District and adds a photovoice component.  I foresee a lot of self-study of visual anthropology over the next few years.  I am looking forward to this.  Finally, I can combine my personal loves of photography, story-telling with my lifelong passion for natural and social science.

I will be working with local residents to build a model of the local socio-ecological system, understand their perspective of how the different parts (plants, animals, human communities, markets, etc.) interact, and what signals they pay attention to anticipate change in the system.  I hope to present on the theoretical background of this project at the AAA meetings in November this year and get some feedback before the fieldwork starts.

Signals in the Noise: Local Indicators of Change in a Complex Savanna Socio-Ecological System

Local environmental knowledge (LEK) supports household and community-level decision-making about resource use and management during stable periods, and adaptation during uncertain times, when other information is limited and/or non-existent. Socio-ecological system (SES) complexity suggests that LEK users focus their attention on specific indicators to forecast future climate and other environmental changes. LEK of the connections and interactions between various SES socioeconomic and biophysical elements and processes is then drawn on a second time to analyze response risks and make decisions. This local SES model offers opportunities for exploring variation that may be lost in the large, aggregated datasets used for global and regional SES modeling. Considering recent findings that critical thresholds and tipping points in complex systems are often preceded by a slowing of key indicator variables, comparisons of LEK indicators with regional and global indicators may also suggest variables for further analysis. This proposal outlines a pilot project to investigate socio-ecological system (SES) complexity in Matutuíne District, southern Mozambique using local environmental knowledge (LEK). Living in one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries, residents of Matutuíne District use their LEK daily to navigate the uncertainties of climate, globalization, and conservation policy. Ethnographic, visual, and ecological methods are proposed to build a local model of the savanna SES, explore local indicators of environmental change, including climate, and examine local perceptions of environmental risk and uncertainty, as well as socio-ecological sustainability.

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