Emilio Moran

Emilio Moran

Winner of the 2002 Robert McC. Netting Award

It is with great pleasure and some trepidation that I present Dr. Emilio Moran as the 2002 recipient of the Robert McCorkle Netting Award from the Cultural Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers.  Pleasure, because in the last few months I have had the opportunity to work directly with Dr. Moran at the Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change at Indiana University, connecting a face and person with the eye-opening works I have learned from since taking Greg Knapp’s cultural ecology class at the University ofTexas.  I feel trepidation though, not because Emilio is my boss.  Rather I feel it because I am afraid that I will fail to paint an accurate picture of the breadth of his knowledge, work, and the impacts that he has had on those who study human-environment relationships within his own discipline of Anthropology and in other disciplines.

Emilio F. Moran is the James H. Rudy Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT) and Co-director of the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change (CIPEC) at IndianaUniversity, Bloomington.  He was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to Florida during high school.  After graduating from high school Emilio attended Spring Hill College, a Jesuit College in Mobile, Alabama.  While there he focused on Latin American Literature, graduating in 1968.  His choice of major at Spring Hill was primarily due to the school’s relative strength.  “Spring Hill was a small liberal arts school and had a stronger literature program than history program, so I majored in literature with course work equivalent to a history major’s.”  The next year Dr. Moran completed an M.A. in Latin American History at the University of Florida at Gainesville, with a thesis about the abolition of slavery in Brazil that has been translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Florida at Gainesville in the field of Social Anthropology in 1975.  In addition he earned certificates in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida (1969), Economics at the Universityof North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1970), Ecology from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands (1972) and a certificate in Tropical Agriculture from the University of Florida (1975).  He joined IU in 1975, has served two terms as Chair of the Anthropology Department, between 1980 and 1987, and has been Director of ACT since 1992. He became Rudy Professor of Anthropology in 1996.

After Emilio completed his history Master’s degree he was advised that that field did not offer opportunities available in other disciplines at the time.  He developed an interest in Development Economics and wanted to pursue this line of study.  Investigating this field at the University of North Carolina, Moran quickly discovered that J.Arthur Lewis had published the seminal work on the subject only the year before and that it would be a long time before the field developed into the vibrant line of inquiry it is today.  He knew that he was interested in the processes of change that he was witnessing while studying Brazil and was convinced to begin the study of economic anthropology at the University of Florida under Dr. CharlesWagley who arrived that year from Columbia University.  Emilio was interested in understanding how people built the “economy from the ground up” and the problems that they encountered while doing so.  During the first semester at Florida, Wagley gave a lecture on the construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway, something that Wagley (quoting the Brazilian government) likened to putting the first man on the moon.  Wagley emphasized the need for researchers to study the economic, cultural and environmental impacts that the road held for the future.  Almost immediately thereafter, Moran–captivated by the project, Wagley, and the study–asked to develop a course of study that would allow him to understand these processes.  “The next day I volunteered to go…I felt that this was a chance to deal with issues of significance to the public.  If anthropology had something to say, something that could influence the social and environmental impact of a highway for the next 30 years…then someone ought to be there.”

Emilio’s exposure to geography began early by taking a course with Dr. Joshua Dickinson and learning about tropical swidden agriculture.  To further understand these systems he was encouraged to dig into soil science and did so at Florida with Dr. Hugh Popenoe, and later as a post-doc at North Carolina State.  To understand ecological systems, Moran worked with Dr. Howard Odum.  His work in cognate disciplines helped show Emilio that it was impossible to generalize about Amazonian ecology (thereby overlooking its varied ecosystems) and that theory building needs to be tempered with good, verifiable data.

Emilio claims that “from the very beginning I felt very close to geography.  One of my best friends was Nigel Smith, now Chair of Geography atGainesville,  who studied at UC-Berkeley with one of the biggest Amazon experts in geography, Hilgard O’Reilly Sternberg.”  While doing fieldwork, Moran and Smith discovered that they were asking similar questions about the cultural ecology of colonists in the Trans-Amazon Highway.  They found a way to collaborate on research, meeting every two to three months to share experiences and data.  Both cited each other in their dissertations.  He says, “While I have become increasingly spatial thereby shifting to a more geographic interest, Nigel has begun to study more anthropological questions about cultural processes”.  He says that if you “read Nigel’s book Rainforest Corridors, and mine, Developing the Amazon” one can see that both have “..similar conclusions with different starting points.”  What links many anthropologists and geographers together is a concern for the environment that allows one to use geographic and anthropological approaches.

As a graduate student in economic anthropology and cultural ecology, Emilio realized that no authoritative text existed about adaptation to (and of) the natural environment existed.  To address this lacuna, he outlined his plans for just such a text but was encouraged to shelve the project until completing his dissertation research. He picked up the project again and wrote Human Adaptability, published in 1979, and recently released again in a 2nd edition (2000).  In Human Adaptability Moran addresses the delicate questions of central concern to cultural ecologists.  He claims, “You don’t adapt to a region…you adapt to very specific resources within that region.”   At a meeting years later, Karl Butzer gave him a high compliment when he asked Emilio “how does an anthropologist ever write Human Adaptability and avoid the strange debates that you people get into?”  Emilio’s response was “I learned my cultural ecology from reading Carl Sauer and Julian Steward, my ecology from H.T. Odum and A. Lugo, and from long thoughtful discussions with Chuck Wagley, not in a cultural ecology class, per se…. I have always tried to avoid unproductive debates.  One of the difficulties in human-environment studies is that we keep renaming it so that they [new researchers] don’t recognize themselves for what they are — environmental social scientists.”  Moran is currently under contract to produce a book entitled Environmental Social Science, which will be a synthesis of the theories and methods from the social sciences that best speak to environmental issues today.

His advice to young scholars is straightforward. “Think of interesting combinations of skills that make you unique and interesting, and keep you going.”  He further urges scholars to look beyond the boundaries of their discipline. “More and more interesting work is done in the space between the disciplines…and teamwork is key” to successfully mounting studies at the point of human-environment interaction.  He has trained graduate students both in Geography and Anthropology who bring innovative approaches and unique skill sets to problem solving. He has mentored these and other students to follow him in applying multiple methods in environmental social science, and holds his students’ abilities and contributions in high esteem.  He takes particular pride in supervising and turning out ten Brazilian PhD students over the last decade, in anthropology and environmental science. He made a commitment in 1985 when the military dictatorship ended in Brazil to help build up ecological studies there, which had been virtually banned from 1964-1984. Those who work with him are truly co-principal investigators.

Moran himself develops expertise as new technologies and techniques become available.  He was one of the first social scientists to employ remote sensing.  In 1987 he attended a 1987 NSF-sponsored workshop on the applications of remote sensing to ecological anthropology.  Moran and colleagues immediately saw interesting possibilities for using remote sensing.  “I was very excited because we all came up with questions that we had always wanted to address but had never been able to—because there was no technical way to do it” he says.  Two years later, after completing Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, Moran obtained NSF funding to learn and then use the new technology to challenge conventional thinking about the dynamics of Amazon deforestation.  “There was tremendous pressure on Brazil” to limit deforestation, he says.  “To me, a lot of it didn’t ring true.  In almost every farm in the Amazon where I had worked, farmers were concerned less with deforestation that with the fact that the forest grew back too quickly.”  He applied remote sensing to the problem and showed that rates of deforestation and forestation in the Amazon were highly variable as a product of differences in biophysical endowments and land use practices.

Dr. Moran has helped develop the integration of remote sensing, GIS, and on the ground social research.  To that end he built the AnthropologicalCenter for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT) at Indiana University as well as developed the Center for the Study of Institutions, People, and Environmental Change (CIPEC) with Elinor Ostrom.  Moran also heads the LUCC Focus 1 office (employing two geographers) and strives to improve our total knowledge of human environment processes on a global scale.  He says “we can understand the human dimensions of global change only if we understand the total human environment.”  These centers are the conduit through which integrative work is carried out.  As a researcher in these institutes, Emilio can be found in Brazil nearly every summer expanding his field knowledge of the place that he has dedicated his life to studying.  While in the field, he helps Brazilian scientists develop their research skills and eventually to contribute to policy making in that country. The summer 2001 team is shown in the photograph below.

Moran’s publishing and dissemination career is impressive.  In addition to serving on the editorial boards of at least ten journals, he continues to publish books, articles, research notes, and monographs on his own.  Books of note are Human Adaptability:  An Introduction to Ecological Anthropology (2000), Through Amazonian Eyes:  The Human Ecology of Amazonian Populations (1993), Developing the Amazon (1981), and others.  As well, Moran has edited important works such as People and Pixels: Linking Remote Sensing and Social Science (1998); Transforming Societies, Transforming Anthropology (1996); The Comparative Analysis of Human Societies: Toward Common Standards for Data Collection and Reporting (1995); The Ecosystem Approach in Anthropology: From Concept to Practice (1990); and The Dilemma of Amazonian Development(1983) among others.  In terms of book chapters and journal articles, Moran has at least ten in press currently and nearly countless others already published (see below).  These articles and chapters address key concerns in the study of human-environment relationships with increasing importance being placed on the integration of remote sensing with more traditional cultural ecological approaches.  In addition, Moran can make a claim few of us can.  He has advised two film scripts while at Indiana University.

In his dedication to continued field study, Moran has been highly successful at attaining grants from a wide array of agencies and organizations.  He currently oversees grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  These, and former grants form other bodies, are written and won so that he may continue to pursue those studies that have been a passion of his since he began doctoral work in the late 1960s.  In addition, Moran is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

I am glad that Emilio is not a smallholding farmer. If he were I would have to study him and be forced to fit his behavior to the theories we currently use. Indulge this exercise for a moment. If we apply Chayanov to Emilio’s career, we are befuddled.  Clearly there is no drudgery avoidance in his behavior. His production began early in the demographic cycle, indeed before he finished his PhD at the University of Florida. By the time he received his degree, Emilio had written many articles, a monograph, and book reviews while researching Amazonian farmers, taking classes and displaying his continued success at grant writing.  This level has continued through the present day as his 27-page c.v. demonstrates. Clearly, there has been no adherence to avoiding drudgery for Emilio the anti-Chayanovian farmer.

Nor does Emilio fit the smallholder model espoused by this Award’s namesake, Bob Netting.  While his relation with this environment—academia—has been intensive to say the least, Moran has not let the boundaries of his training, discipline, or University constrain him.  In fact one of the most notable aspects of his career is the way that Dr. Moran has expanded his production and inquiries into new geographical and intellectual regions.  To this end Emilio works with geographers, political scientists, ecologists, remote sensing experts, and others in collaborative endeavors that have resulted in the creation of two renowned centers, CIPEC and ACT.  Furthermore, his research fields have spanned the wet and dry tropics in theAmericas, Africa, and Asia and most recently he has begun work in his adopted home of Indiana.  Now, as the Leader of the Land Use and Cover Change Focus 1 effort, Emilio’s reach and vision can accurately be described as global.

Finally if we adopt a classical economics stance we are once again frustrated.  Dr. Moran behaves in the market not solely for himself but for the advancement of science and the benefit of colleagues, students, and the people whose interactions with the physical environment he tries to understand.  Attesting to this generosity is Emilio’s impressive record of service within Indiana University, within academia, and as a consultant for local and international agencies. His desire to improve our understanding of the human-environment condition is exemplified in his bookDeveloping the Amazon.  Shortly after this book was published in 1981 his friend, and sometimes intellectual adversary Stephen Bunker responded in 1985 with the book Underdeveloping the Amazon.  Gracious as always, Emilio showed that he wanted most of all to better our knowledge when he said at a recent lunch, and I paraphrase, “as long as it makes us smarter, I don’t mind.”  Rather than thinking of his own advancement solely, Emilio wants to make sure that we get our stories right and that these stories have a real impact on people.  Describing his own work, Emilio poses a question that many of us should consider when doing research:  “Is there a way to balance these populations’ needs with the conservation of the richest biotic region of the world?”

I have tried to force Emilio into a theoretical niche here and failed.  But, my own shortcomings in theory creation do not diminish the lifetime of work that he has successfully completed at the intersection of human-environment interactions.  Because of his ability to speak across disciplines and for his past, present, and future work, the Cultural Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers awards Dr. Emilio F. Moran the 2002, Robert McC. Netting Award.

– Eric Keys (ASU Geography), 2002.

Author’s note:  The author would like to thank the people who helped fill out this biopic of Emilio Moran.  Emilio himself shared time to discuss his career and his views on environmental social science.  The author would especially like to thank Vonnie Peischl and Dr. Dennis Conway, both of Indiana University who gave time to provide background information about Emilio.  In addition, the Office of Research and the University Graduate School at Indiana University’s publication Research and Creative Activity (Despres, R.  1993.  “News From the Frontier”, Research and Creative Activity, XVI:1.  28-32) supplied many of the quotes above.   Pictures are taken from the ACT website.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s