Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
The agrarian communities of Northeastern Madagascar have long faced the intersecting challenges of economic precarity and environmental uncertainty. Currently, Malagasy farmers are navigating a booming vanilla bean economy within shifting climates of production, which together prompt feelings of both possibility and anxiety. Individuals adopt a range of strategies in response, some that focus on more immediate crisis management and others that emphasize longer-term forms of social and ecological care. Yet, many of the stories circulated about farmers’ responses to the boom foreground narratives of crisis. This tendency raises a broader question: why do our environmental stories often gravitate towards the negative case? In considering this question, I note what I call the ‘Anna Karenina effect,’ following the book’s famous line that “all happy families are happy in the same way.” Such assumptions may cause people to conclude that ‘happy’ case studies prove uninteresting from an intellectual standpoint. However, as the case of Madagascar illustrates, there is much analytical depth and theoretical potential in examining how and why some things go right. Thus, as anthropologists, our ethnographies can productively complicate categories of crisis and care, engaging with the in-between spaces and entanglements of emergent landscapes.