Prof. Elle Ouimet is co-editor of the excellent ‘Handbook of Environmental Anthropology’, which just came out in paperback. To celebrate, we made her answer some tough questions for those who may not be entirely sure what an environmental anthropologist does!
I’m an environmental anthropologist which is a subfield of cultural anthropology that examines human-environmental interactions.
2. What made you interested in this field/specialization?
I came to this by way of a fascination with biological anthropology, human behavior, cross-cultural agricultural practices and a love of the outdoors.
3. What aspect of your research do you find most fascinating?
Examining what motivates people to act is a huge part of what I do. Why do some communities and cultures take preemptive action in the face of risks posed by natural disasters and climate change, while others don’t? Under what circumstances can individuals be motivated to modify their behavior and revise their environmental ethics? How do our underlying cultural values, norms, and beliefs influence the way we treat the environment, people, and other species around us?
4. What is on the horizon for you research?
Oh there’s so many exciting things going on – I’m really enjoying working with the Hartford Office of Sustainability’s efforts to improve energy efficiency, water conservation and solar energy use in Hartford. In addition, I have some really fascinating projects going on with UConn grad students – Anthropology graduate student, Ashley Graham and I are examining the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration between social scientists and engineers to promote resilience in disaster-prone areas. Communications graduate student, Adam Rainear, and I are researching on the role of social media in promoting environmental action. Last but certainly not least, I’m honored to be the PI on the Microaggression Research Survey – an interdisciplinary research effort to understand and assess the experience of racial microaggressions among students of color across all UConn campuses (more information here). This particular project is extremely important – it’s essential that we, as a university, address and remedy the impact of racial discrimination and microaggressions on the academic, physical and mental wellbeing of UConn students.
5. How useful is your specialization during a zombie apocalypse?
Oh, so very useful. Little known fact, but preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse is strikingly similar to preparing for a natural disaster or extreme weather event. At a minimum, you should have an evacuation route, food, water, a first aid kit, the ability to garner support from fellow humans, and a shovel.