About Laura

As an anthropologist specializing in the Amazon region, I am theoretically interested in the relationship between environment and society, including the ways in which deterministic assumptions associated with modernist ideologies continue to reify the nature/ culture divide and to perpetuate biased understandings of indigenous and peasant livelihoods, and of their historical dynamics.

I have worked extensively on rural development policies that attempt to counter extractivism and the predatory destruction of tropical rainforests. This has led me to collaborate with ecological economists, and to engage in a range of debates regarding markets in environmental goods and services, and polycentric systems of governance. I am currently working with policy makers, grassroots organisations and activists involved in redesigning rural development through innovative rural-urban linkages. Their proposals enrich, indeed renew, development studies’ thinking about the role of the state in the face of severe environmental degradation and accelerating climate change.

I am also working on a more historical project concerning the intellectual roots of modernization theory. Working on a wealth of unexplored historical documents is not only very useful in the light of fieldwork restrictions imposed by the pandemic; it also offers the promise of renewing analytical approaches to the development discourse.

My Books

The Social Life of Trees

The enduring quality of this book owes much to its effort to open a dialogue between anthropologists and cultural activists, with contributions from ecofeminist Angie Zelter and Zen Buddhist Jacques Brosse. The thirteen chapters comprised in this collection of essays examine ethnographically the relations people cultivate with trees in a wide range of locations, from Papua New Guinea, India, Indonesia, Africa, the Pacific Northwest Coast, Madagascar, and Japan, to Northern Spain and Great Britain.

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Trekking Through History

This monograph represents the first description of Waorani (Huaorani) society and culture according to modern standards of ethnographic writing. It provides rich empirical evidence of a persisting indigenous rainforest polyculture at the heart of a dynamic ecological and social system.

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Beyond the Visible and the material

This collection of 14 chapters written by an inter-generational group of Amazonianists was offered as a festschrift to Peter Rivière. Contributions discuss a wide-range of cultures: Jivaro, Makushi, Akawaio, Pemong (and other Carib and Arawak groups of the Guiana shield), Yagua, Matis, Makuna, Pira-Parana (and other Tukanoan groups), Panare, Kayapo, Huitoto, and Kulina.

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Governing the Provision of Ecosystem Services

Is the market economy compatible with ecological wealth? What are ecosystem services, and can they be paid for? Can state actors green markets? These are some of the fundamental questions addressed in the 23 chapters of the volume I co-edited with world-renown ecological economist Roldan Muradian.

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Transformaciones Huaoranis

Transformaciones Waorani, like my first book in Spanish (Hijos del sol, padres del jaguar. Los Waorani hoy, published by Abya-Yala in 1996), was presented to the Waorani people in an assembly. Half of the copies from the first print were deposited in AMWAE (the Waorani women’s organisation) and the proceedings used in support of AMWAE’s activities. Waorani authors Ima Fabian Nenquimo and Manuela Omari were invited at the book launch at Quito’s University Andina Simon Bolivar. This was the first time that Waorani authors were given a chance to converse with Ecuadorian academics and their ethnographer, and to share their experiences as researchers and writers.

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Houorani Transformations in Twenty-First-Century Ecuador

This is my last book on Waorani culture, synthesizing 25 years of on-going research. In addition to dwelling deeper on Waorani notions of sharing, abundance, and humanity, I show how this unique people have responded to the forces of a particular intense encounter with modernization and development.

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