Winner of the 2005 Robert McC Netting Award
Christine Padoch is a Ukrainian by origin, a New Yorker by upbringing, an anthropologist by training, and an ethnobotanist by experience. After graduating in 1969 she first went to Costa Rica to learn about tropical agriculture and ethnobotany, then undertook a three-year period of field work among the Iban in Sarawak, for a PhD in which she carried the study of shifting cultivation in Southeast Asia forward a long way. Developing anunusual taste for field research in the equatorial lowlands, she then moved her field to Amazonian Peru. There she and Bill Denevan pioneered the understanding of what really takes place in what is still often called the fallow stage of shifting cultivation. Production moves forward into a new phase in which natural processes are managed to yield a further range of products.
Migration and its Alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak was her first major international publication, and it has been widely quoted. Soon after it appeared in 1982 she joined the New York Botanical Garden as an Associate Scientist, the only social scientist among a staff of botanists and other hard scientists. She made her way there remarkably successfully, rising through four promotions to her present senior position. From the mid-1980s onward, she began increasingly to be involved in the international research scene. She joined the United Nations University PLEC project at its first meeting in Washington in 1992, and became one of its core members. Work with that project on people, land management and ecosystem conservation took her to China, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Brazil and Jamaica, as well as to meetings in Japan andFrance.
In spite of all this, Amazonia and Borneo remained the field base of her work. She continued to spend time in both regions up to the end of the old century, although this became increasingly difficult in the face of growing demands on her time. She has continued to go back to the field despite two life-threatening infections incurred during field work. One major aspect of her field persona has been her involvement in teaching and supporting colleagues in developing countries, helping them in very tangible ways, and being very generous in assisting them in publication. A high proportion of her published titles are joint titles, and in all of them she has a large contribution. As her co-author or co-editor at times, I can offer testimony to how exacting she can be with her collaborators!
Christine Padoch has become an intellectual leader in the field of cultural ecology through writings that now extend over a period of 25 years. Her work on the sequential use of tropical forests has had major influence both elsewhere in the neo-tropics and more recently also in Asia. She is a truly multi-disciplinary person, and inspires students in a range of fields. Introducing herself once at a meeting in Brazil she said ‘I am not a geographer, but I might as well be one’. Indeed she might, and is.