Managing nature: a look inside the salmon arena
Pergola, Tanya Alexandra
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The declining runs of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States are an ideal case of an environmental problem. Like global climate change, declining water quality, and population density, the decline in salmon runs are both caused by and cause change in diverse sectors in human societies---including economic, political, technological, and cultural systems. Despite salmon's ability to mobilize allies in support of their continued existence, their numbers continue to decline. I employ the concept of "non-human actors" to explain how the natural world and social world interact, conflict, and shape each other. Both non-human and human actors have a limited repertoire of behaviors that define what they do. Ecological actors, such as salmon, are constrained by biologically programmed "rules," while human actors are constrained by the rules of what they are used to doing within the organizations where they work. I argue that when new information becomes available that suggests a new interpretation of the rules---in this case, new scientific knowledge about what salmon's needs are---many of the rules familiar to actors within the social worlds that deal with salmon do not seem to make sense anymore. These types of changes result in conflicts, negotiations, and compromises between actors within an institutionalized field of activity. The methodology employed in this study can be used as a template for the study of other environmental problems. I use an arenas perspective as a heuristic tool that allows the researcher to "see" how organizational structures create repertoires of behavior that dictate the rules of action for actors involved both directly and indirectly with a particular environmental issue. By exploring the salmon arena as it changes over time, I am able to (1) mark significant events (e.g. rise of ecosystem management) that cause changes in the field of action; and (2) locate places of inertia within the arena. Identifying the patterns of human behavior in such a manner gives one a deeper understanding of the nature of environmental problems.
- Sociology