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Cultivate your anthropology in the field of an enhanced ethnoecology

Vincent Battesti

HDR | Habilitation à diriger des recherches, discipline: Anthropology, Cultivate your anthropology in the field of an enhanced ethnoecology, defended in Paris, Oct. 20th, 2021.
Original title: Cultiver son anthropologie dans le champ d’une ethnoécologie augmentée, Dictionnaire notionnel intime d’un parcours de recherche

This synthesis and prospect dissertation on my scientific work is intended to constitute my file for a French HDR (habilitation to direct research, which has no equivalent in the Anglo-Saxon academic tradition). The HDR is the highest French degree, no degree exists above it.

Consisting of two volumes:
- volume 1: Curriculum vitæ for the habilitation à diriger des recherches, Doctorale school 227 of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle-Sorbonne Université « Sciences de la nature et de l’homme : évolution et écologie », Discipline: Anthropology
Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Oct. 2021, ill., 25 p.
- volume 2: Cultivate your anthropology in the field of an enhanced ethnoecology, An intimate notional dictionary of a trajectory, Synthesis report for the habilitation à diriger des recherches, Doctorale school 227 of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle-Sorbonne Université « Sciences de la nature et de l’homme : évolution et écologie », Discipline: Anthropology
Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Oct. 2021, bibl., 50 fig., 129 p.

- PDF volume 2: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/te...
- Report of defense:

Attestation + rapport de soutenance de l’HdR de M. V. Battesti, 2021

Jury composition:

- Referees:
Dr. Laure Emperaire, Ethnobotanist, IRD Research Director, UMR Paloc at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris,
Pr. David Howes, Anthropologist, Professor, Concordia university, codirecteur of the Centre for Sensory Studies and director of the Concordia Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, Montreal, Canada,
Pr. Anna Madœuf, Geographer, Professor, Université de Tours, lab. CITERES, Tours.
- Examiners:
Dr. Tarik Dahou, Anthropologist, IRD Research Director, UMR Paloc at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris,
Dr. Nicolas Puig, Anthropologist, IRD Research Director, UMR URMIS, Paris, IRD correspondent in Lebanon, Beyrouth,
Dr. Sandrine Ruhlmann, Anthropologist, CNRS Researcher, UMR Éco-anthropologie, at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Musée de l’Homme, Paris.

- Soon online: video of the defense.

couv. HDR Vincent Battesti, Cultiver son anthropologie dans le champ d’une ethnoécologie augmentée, vol. 1, Curriculum Vitæ, 2021.
couv. HDR Vincent Battesti, Cultiver son anthropologie dans le champ d’une ethnoécologie augmentée, vol. 2, Dictionnaire notionnel intime d’un parcours de recherche, 2021.

- Abstract:

If we play the game of a dechronologized biographical restitution of my research career, I can summarize it roughly as follows:

I have made oases my laboratory in ethnoecology: understanding how societies organize themselves in environments with strong constraints. Do constraints force one way of building one’s world? Aiming at a comparative approach, I conducted a multisite field research with observations and analyses in various oases of the Sahara and Arabia. It appears that various registers of oasis praxis (socioecological registers, which can form resources), different ways of inhabiting and constructing the world, coexist within the different studied oases-laboratories. Moreover, different models of oases and palm groves can coexist within the same type of environment, which is a priori unfavorable to human life with severe ecological constraints (Saharan and Arabian deserts).

From the study of the oasis agroecosystems, I derived an oasis model. I extracted then, for heuristic purposes, an element that is far from trivial: the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L. in binomial botanical classification). Besides a more global approach of the system formed by the collectives associating humans and non-humans in oases, I focused on this single date palm, which exists only in the sphere of humans, motivated by the conviction that by joining forces with colleagues in population genetics, I would be able to answer issues that would have remained unsolvable within the boundaries of my discipline. I explored notions of categorization of the living and in so doing bring together worlds with very different rationale (the DNA of biologists and the shape of date palm varieties grown in oasis gardens: the invention of the notion of “ethnovariety” ensued). I could also contribute to a history of the domestication of this plant and eventually to a history of oases.

I put the oasis and date palm objects to the test of what I call my insular theory of oases, which takes up notions from landscape ecology (theoretical models of dispersion) and network theories. Ecological and anthropological conceptual tools such as functional connectivity or the “principle of the little but effective” derive from this theoretical reflection.

To the ways of inhabiting and constructing the world (inherent approach to ethnoecology), I added the ways of being in the world, of knowing and acting on the world, with an anthropology of sensory perceptions, for proposing an enhanced ethnoecology. The ambition is to study the variety of sensory interactions that humans in society can establish with their environment. Despite a sensory equipment a priori common to all the representatives of the Homo sapiens species, there coexist ways of being in the world of an extraordinary heterogeneity because of culturally situated sensory learning. If the senses are the tools of knowledge of one’s environment and of action on it, the study of sensitivities, balances and sensory combinations privileged by humans in society, the in situ study of their sensory universes (sensorium) as well from a scientific point of view (etic) as in the perspective of its interlocutors (emic) on the ethnographic field should be integrated to ethnoecology.

This interest in the sensory stems from a work in urban anthropology, which had Cairo as its urban fieldwork. I demonstrated the construction (in the constructivist meaning) of public spaces, including public gardens, and the evolution over the last decades of the practices that take place there and the qualities that are assigned to them. One sensory modality was prominent: the sonic dimension, without the local natural language being structured to make the experience of it communicable. Part of my research activity was devoted precisely to inventing tools to enable anthropology to grasp this dimension of the urban experience of the inhabitants, who are both sound receivers and producers.

The Space Observatory of the CNES (French National Center for Space Studies) offered me the opportunity to invest the graviception as an object of research on the sensory: a limit-object, a quasi-universal unthought so much the variations of the terrestrial gravity are imperceptible to humans. The weightlessness, which until then belonged to the mythical narrative, to the mysticism or to the fiction, has, however, become the marker of this new extraterrestrial space invested by a little part of the humans. This “extraterrestrial” fieldwork is unique in that it takes us far from any reference known to humanity, and offers a definite and subversive disruption with the natural order of the world.

A short time ago, I initiated a new model, a new (terrestrial) fieldwork: the Orezza Valley in Castagniccia, a singular region of Corsica. The project is to establish an anthropology of the (almost) close, an ethnoecology that relies on oasis experiences, informed by the sensory, informed by the genetic. The idea is to make on the model of the date palm a population genetics applied to the agrobiodiversity of the chestnut tree (Castanea sativa Mill. in binomial botanical classification), also an engineering species, in this case of the chestnut agroecosystem, a declining one. At the same time, the project draws on historical demography and village genealogies (over two centuries) and cadastral land evolution (over a century).

This dissertation may seem unusual: a non-linear dissertation. It takes the form of an intimate and notional dictionary. As a reflexive exercise, this dissertation begins with a very autobiographical “self-definition” and continues with some forty somewhat arbitrary notional entries. Through this analytical approach, I hope to clarify issues, in this case anthropological ones, by examining and clarifying the language used to formulate them, with the ambition of shedding light on the path(s) I am taking and demonstrating the coherence of the whole.

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Vincent Battesti , "Cultivate your anthropology in the field of an enhanced ethnoecology " (online), Anthropoasis | vbat.org, page published 20 October 2021 (consulted 26 June 2022), available on: https://vbat.org/article905
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