Portrait of Dr Miguel Alexiades

Dr Miguel Alexiades

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobotany

About

Dr Miguel Alexiades' background, training and approach to the study of the human-environment nexus - his area of interest - is multi-disciplinary and broadly placed across the natural sciences and humanities. An environmental scientist, botanist and anthropologist by training, Dr Alexiades is particularly interested in questions relating to multidimensionality, complexity, variability and change, and highly sympathetic to the integrative approach proposed by the New Ecologies and their concomitant attention to the interplay between historical, political and symbolic processes. 

Over the past thirty years, Miguel has carried out much of his research in southwestern Amazonia, often collaborating with indigenous organisations on questions relating to cultural landscapes, ethnoecology, indigenous territoriality and resource rights, as well as on medicinal plants and forest resources in relation to local well-being. 

An area of recent intense interest in both Dr Alexiades' scholarship and teaching relates to the Anthropocene and the accelerating transformations, cascading crises and enhanced period risk and uncertainty signalled by the concept, and, more generally, to the emergence of the planetary as a framework through which to reconsider and rethink many of our core categories and assumptions, including the role of science and Universities. Miguel also has a long-standing interest in, and commitment to, the practice of socially engaged and applied research. 

Dr Alexiades is co-director of People and Plants International and co-organiser of Anthropocene Exploratory, a cross-University and multi-disciplinary reading and study group. He also volunteers as the School focal point for the University of Kent's Sustainability Project, Future Proof.  

Research interests

Most of Dr Alexiades' research and applied work has focused on the Ese Eja - a small indigenous society living on several tributaries of the Madre de Dios river basin. His doctoral thesis examined Ese Eja health-related knowledge, attitudes and practices in the context of social and ecological change during the past century. Between 2002 and 2011, Miguel assisted Ese Eja in their efforts to map and document their history and knowledge regarding their ancestrally-occupied lands, serving in an advisory capacity in a number of negotiations, legal claims and capacity-building processes relating to land and resource rights in these areas. 

Other research interests include Amazonian medicinal plants and forest products and their role in indigenous well-being and development. Dr Alexiades has also collaborated with colleagues in central Mexico, working to develop courses and materials in a number of indigenous universities on questions relating to indigenous territoriality and land-use planning. 

Teaching

Dr Alexiades is passionate about his teaching and considers it a key and integral part of his research and scholarship. Miguel's postgraduate teaching is mostly centred around the Ethnobotany MSc and Environmental Anthropology MA/MSc. His undergraduate teaching connects with programs across the School, including Anthropology, Conservation Biology and Geography. Dr Alexiades' module The Anthropocene: Planetary Crises and The Age of Humans was flagged by the University's 2018 Periodic Program Review Assessment of School programmes as being of an excellent standard.

Undergraduate

  • SE308: Skills in Anthropology and Conservation
  • SE558: The Anthropocene: Planetary Crises and The Age of Humans (convenor)
  • SE579: The Anthropology of Amazonia
  • SE621: The Human-Environment Nexus: Contemporary Issues and Critical Perspectives (convenor)

Postgraduate

  • SE886: Anthropological Research Methods II
  • SE990: Contemporary Issues in Ethnobotany and Environmental Anthropology (convenor)

Previous teaching

  • DI311: The Green Planet
  • SE306: Animals, People and Plants: An Introduction to Ethnobiology

Dr Alexiades also teaches environmental anthropology in a Masters'-level module at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla, Spain) and has taught courses in Brazil (UNESP, Botucatú) and Mexico (Universidad Intercultural de los Pueblos del Sur, Guerrero, and Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural Sede Grandes Montañas).

Supervision

Current PhD students

  • Maria Cifre (co-supervised with Dr Joseph Tzanopoulos (DICE) and Alan Bicker) (University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship): Forest fires, social conflict and environmental management in the Mediterranean protected area of Serra De Tramuntana, Mallorca 
  • Oscar Kruger (co-supervised with Dr Matt Hodges and Dr Jonathan Mair) (Vice Chancellor's Research Scholarship): Making wine: towards an ecological anthropology of the good  
  • Craig Ritchie: Extinction in the Anthropocene

Alumni

  • Amber Abrams (co-supervised with Dr Daniela Peluso) (University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship): Wellbeing on the Edge: The Dynamics of Musundian Edge-Dwelling on the Boundaries of Protected Natural Areas in Limpopo, South Africa. PhD awarded in 2018
  • John Belleza (co-supervised with Dr Jonathan Mair): Invocation, Possession and Rejuvenation in Upper Tibet:
The Beliefs, Activities and Lives of Spirit-Mediums Residing in the Highest Land. PhD awarded in 2018
  • Natalia García Bonet (co-supervisor with Dr Daniela Peluso) (University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship): To the school and back: intercultural education, identity construction and Pemón-state relationships in Southeastern Venezuela. PhD awarded in 2018.   
  • Joaquin Carrizosa (co-supervised with Dr Daniela Peluso) (Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies Studentship Award): The shape-shifting territory: colonialism, shamanism and A'i Kofan place-making in the Amazonian Piedmont, Colombia. PhD awarded in 2015. 
  • Kay Evelina Lewis-Jones 
    (co-supervised with Dr Raj Puri) (ESRC South-East DTC Studentship): Saving Wild Seeds in the Anthropocene:
Pursuing More-than-Human Futures at the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. PhD awarded in 2018.
  • Laura Rohs (ESRC South-East DTC Studentship): Wild medicinal plant collection in central Bulgaria: a political ecology of commercial harvesting, local practices, social networks and resource access at the margins of the European Union.  
  • Jan M.A. Van der Valk (University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship)Tibetan medicine(s) in Europe: tracing the transformations of plants and meanings from their places of origin to the patient–healer interface. PhD awarded in 2016.

Professional

Dr Alexiades is available to comment on issues relating to indigenous people and the environment in Amazonia, ethnobotany, environmental anthropology and human–environment relations generally, including the Anthropocene.

A talk given by Dr Alexiades at the 2010 Society for Economic Botany Annual Meeting can be viewed here: Amazonian anthropogenic landscapes: the view from the 'new ecologies'

Publications

Article

  • Coelho de Souza, F., Dexter, K., Phillips, O., Brienen, R., Chave, J., Galbraith, D., Lopez Gonzalez, G., Monteagudo Mendoza, A., Pennington, R., Poorter, L., Alexiades, M., Álvarez-Dávila, E., Andrade, A., Aragão, L., Araujo-Murakami, A., Arets, E., Aymard C, G., Baraloto, C., Barroso, J., Bonal, D., Boot, R., Camargo, J., Comiskey, J., Valverde, F., de Camargo, P., Di Fiore, A., Elias, F., Erwin, T., Feldpausch, T., Ferreira, L., Fyllas, N., Gloor, E., Herault, B., Herrera, R., Higuchi, N., Honorio Coronado, E., Killeen, T., Laurance, W., Laurance, S., Lloyd, J., Lovejoy, T., Malhi, Y., Maracahipes, L., Marimon, B., Marimon-Junior, B., Mendoza, C., Morandi, P., Neill, D., Vargas, P., Oliveira, E., Lenza, E., Palacios, W., Peñuela-Mora, M., Pipoly, J., Pitman, N., Prieto, A., Quesada, C., Ramirez-Angulo, H., Rudas, A., Ruokolainen, K., Salomão, R., Silveira, M., Stropp, J., ter Steege, H., Thomas-Caesar, R., van der Hout, P., van der Heijden, G., van der Meer, P., Vasquez, R., Vieira, S., Vilanova, E., Vos, V., Wang, O., Young, K., Zagt, R. and Baker, T. (2016). Evolutionary heritage influences Amazon tree ecology. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences [Online] 283:20161587. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.1587.
    Lineages tend to retain ecological characteristics of their ancestors through time. However, for some traits, selection during evolutionary history may have also played a role in determining trait values. To address the relative importance of these processes requires large-scale quantification of traits and evolutionary relationships among species. The Amazonian tree flora comprises a high diversity of angiosperm lineages and species with widely differing life-history characteristics, providing an excellent system to investigate the combined influences of evolutionary heritage and selection in determining trait variation. We used trait data related to the major axes of life-history variation among tropical trees (e.g. growth and mortality rates) from 577 inventory plots in closed-canopy forest, mapped onto a phylogenetic hypothesis spanning more than 300 genera including all major angiosperm clades to test for evolutionary constraints on traits. We found significant phylogenetic signal (PS) for all traits, consistent with evolutionarily related genera having more similar characteristics than expected by chance. Although there is also evidence for repeated evolution of pioneer and shade tolerant life-history strategies within independent lineages, the existence of significant PS allows clearer predictions of the links between evolutionary diversity, ecosystem function and the response of tropical forests to global change
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2016). La urbanización indígena en la Amazonia. Un nuevo contexto de articulación social y territorial = Indigenous urbanization in Amazonia: a new context for social and territorial articulation. Gazeta de Antropología [Online] 32:1-22. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/10481/42869.
    La idea generalizada de la Amazonia como una región compuesta principalmente por poblaciones bosquesinas está desactualizada: una gran parte de la población indígena o rural vive o está fuertemente vinculada a los centros urbanos. Dicha tendencia no implica necesariamente un proceso de éxodo o abandono de los espacios rurales o una simple desterritorialización; más bien instaura un nuevo régimen caracterizado por la movilidad, la diversificación económica, y un patrón residencial y de apropiación territorial multisituado, distribuido y dinámico. Una consiguiente mayor articulación simbólica y material a lo largo del extenso y complejo interfaz urbano-rural se evidencia en nuevos procesos de transformación y coproducción a nivel corporal, social, étnico, ambiental y territorial. Situada en los márgenes de la modernidad neoliberal, dicha coyuntura muestra a la vez ciertas tendencias históricas y culturales, característicamente amazónicas.

    The generalized view of Amazonia as predominantly rural is outdated: a large part of the rural and indigenous population either lives in or is strongly linked to urban centres. Such a trend does not signify rural exodus, abandonment or straightforward de-territorialization, however but rather reveals the onset of a new regime characterized by a highly diversified livelihood and subsistence strategy with accompanying levels of circular mobility, multi-sited and distributed forms of settlement and territoriality. A greater degree of connectivity and increased symbolic and material exchanges along a large, complex urban-rural interface is reflected in multiple and simultaneous processes of corporeal, social, ethnic, environmental, and territorial transformation and co-production. Situated at the margins of neoliberal modernity this new juncture reveals certain historical continuities and cultural trends which we deem characteristically Amazonian.
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2015). Introduction: Indigenous Urbanization in Lowland South America. Indigenous Urbanization: the circulation of peoples between rural and urban Amazonian spaces [Online] 20:1-12. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jlca.2015.20.issue-1/issuetoc.
    Introduction to special-themed journal: Indigenous Urbanization: the circulation of peoples between rural and urban Amazonian spaces. This introduction provides an overview of indigenous Urbanisation in Lowland South America
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2005). Indigenous Urbanization and Amazonia’s Post-Traditional Environmental Economy. Traditional Settlements and Dwelling Review [Online] 16:7-16. Available at: https://doi.org/DOI not available.
  • Peluso, D. and Alexiades, M. (2005). Urban Ethnogenesis Begins at Home: The Making of Self and Place Amidst Amazonia’s Environmental Economy. Traditional Settlements and Dwelling Review [Online] 16:1-10. Available at: https://doi.org/DOI not available.
  • Alexiades, M. (2003). Ethnobotany in the third millenium: expectations and unresolved issues. Delpinoa [Online] 45:15-28. Available at: https://doi.org/DOI not available.

Book

  • Alexiades, M., Huajohuajo, G., Mamiyo, R., Peluso, D., Pesha, V. and Tirina, G. (2005). Ejjahuejjaquijji Ebiojonequi Semeno Ese Ejjaja: Para Conocer Nuestras Remedios Del Monte. Bolivia: CIRABO.
  • Alexiades, M., Huajohuajo, G., Huajohuajo, M., Mamio, R., Quioshe, R., Peluso, D., Pesha, V. and Tirina, G. (2004). Ejabawejakiji Ebiohoneki shemeño Ese Ejaha Sowiho =: Para Conocer Los Remedios Del Monte. Puerto Maldonado: FENAMAD.

Book section

  • Newing, H. (2009). Unpicking ‘Community’ in Community Conservation: Implications of Changing Settlement Patterns and Individual Mobility for the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Communal Reserve, Peru. In: Alexiades, M. ed. Mobility and Migration in Indigenous Amazonia: Contemporary Ethnoecological Perspectives. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 97-114.
    At a time when collaborative approaches to conservation are subject to an increasingly strong critique, there is an urgent need to move beyond this rather simplistic approach to "community". The first step is to build up a body of case studies that unpick the concept of "community" in community conservation, in order to inform the development of a more realistic framework for community conservation projects. This chapter attempts to provide such a case study, with a particular focus on changing settlement patterns and individual mobility of local residents, based on communities neighbouring the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Communal Reserve in Amazonian Peru.
  • Alexiades, M. (2009). The cultural and economic globalisation of traditional environmental knowledge systems. In: Heckler, S. ed. Landscape, Power and Process: A New Environmental Knowledge Synthesis. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2009). Plants ’of the Ancestors’, Plants ’of the Outsiders’: Esa Eja History, Migration and Medicinal Plants. In: Alexiades, M. ed. Mobility and Migration in Indigenous Amazonia: Contemporary Ethnoecological Perspectives. Oxford: Berghahn, pp. 220-248. Available at: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=AlexiadesMobility.
    In this chapter we present evidence to suggest that Ese Eja medicinal plant knowledge can be more productively understood as historically contingent. We suggest that the ways in which Ese Eja think, talk about and interact with many medicinals reflects recent historical, social and ecological transformations. Specifically, we propose that the concatenation of twentieth-century downriver migration, sedentarisation and heightened involvement with agriculture and market-based forest extractivism is reflected in how plants are used, both symbolically and materially.
  • Alexiades, M. (2004). Ethnobotany and globalisation: science and ethics at the turn of the century. In: Carlson, T. and Maffi, L. eds. Ethnobotany and Conservation of Biocultural Diversity. New York, USA: The New York Botanical Gardens Press, pp. 283-305.
  • Alexiades, M. (2004). Ethnobiology and globalization: Science and ethics at the turn of the century. In: Carlson, T. and Maffi, L. eds. Ethnobotany and Conservation of Biocultural Diversity. Bronx, New York, USA: The New York Botanical Gardens Press, pp. 283-305.
  • Alexiades, M. (2004). Foreword. In: Lopez, C., Shanley, P. and Fantini, A. C. eds. Riches of the Forest: Fruits, Remedies and Handicrafts in Latin America. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.
  • Alexiades, M. (2004). Presentacion. In: Paulino de Alburquerque, U. and Farias Paivade Lucena, R. eds. Metodos E Tecnicas Na Pesquisa Etnobotanica. Livro Rapido/NUEEA.
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2003). La sociadad Ese Eja: Una aproximacion historica a sus origenes, distribucion, asentamiento y subsistencia. In: Castillo, B. H. and Altamirano, A. G. eds. Los Pueblos Indígenas De Madre De Dios: Historia, etnografía Y Coyuntura. Lima: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), pp. 91-110.
  • Alexiades, M. (2002). Cat’s claw (U. guianensis and U. tomentosa). In: Shanley, P., Pierce, A., Laird, S. and Guillen, A. eds. Tapping the Green Market: Certification and Management of Non-Timber Forest Products. London: Earthscan Ltd, pp. 93-101.
  • Alexiades, M. (2002). Sangre de drago (Croton lechleri). In: Shanley, P., Pierce, A., Laird, S. and Guillen, A. eds. Tapping the Green Market: Certification and Management of Non-Timber Forest Products. London: Earthscan Ltd, pp. 136-155.
  • Alexiades, M. (2002). Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis spp. and admixtures): Appropriation and globalization of a sacred NTFP. In: Shanley, P., Pierce, A., Laird, S. and Guillen, A. eds. Tapping the Green Market: Certification and Management of Non-Timber Forest Products. London: Earthscan Ltd, p. 297.
  • Alexiades, M. and Peluso, D. (2002). Prior Informend Consent: the anthropology and politics of cross cultural exchange. In: Laird, S. ed. Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge: Equitable Partnerships in Practice. London: Earthscan Ltd, pp. 221-227.
  • Alexiades, M. and Laird, S. (2002). Laying the Foundation: Equitable Biodiversity Relationships. In: Laird, S. ed. Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge: Equitable Partnerships in Practice. London, UK: Earthscan, pp. 3-15.

Conference or workshop item

  • Alexiades, M. (2006). Fonseca-Kruel, V.S et al. Plantas Uteis da Restinga: O saber dos pescadores artesanais de Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro. In: Rio de Janeiro: Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botanico do Rio de Janeiro.
  • Alexiades, M. (2005). Appropriation regimes and management systems for biodiversity:some comments on environmental governance, the conservation of biodiversity and the role of science. In: Paris: UNESCO.

Edited book

  • Alexiades, M. (2009). Mobility and Migration in Indigenous Amazonia: Contemporary Ethnoecological Perspectives. [Online]. Alexiades, M. ed. Oxford Berghahn. Available at: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=AlexiadesMobility.
    Contrary to ingrained academic and public assumptions, wherein indigenous lowland South American societies are viewed as the product of historical emplacement and spatial stasis, there is widespread evidence to suggest that migration and displacement have been the norm, and not the exception. This original and thought-provoking collection of case studies examines some of the ways in which migration, and the concomitant processes of ecological and social change, have shaped and continue to shape human-environment relations in Amazonia. Drawing on a wide range of historical time frames (from pre-conquest times to the present) and ethnographic contexts, different chapters examine the complex and important links between migration and the classification, management, and domestication of plants and landscapes, as well as the incorporation and transformation of environmental knowledge, practices, ideologies and identities.
  • Alexiades, M. and Shanley, P. eds. (2004). Forest Products, Livelihoods and Conservation: Case-Studies of NTFP Systems. Vol. 3. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry.

Thesis

  • Garcia Bonet, N. (2017). TO THE SCHOOL AND BACK: Intercultural Education, Identity Construction and Pemo?N-State Relationships in Southeastern Venezuela.
    This thesis explores the relationship between the state and Pemon people of La Gran Sabana, in Southeastern Venezuela, through the lens of state-driven projects such as bilingual intercultural education and extractivism. I examine these relationships in the light of two broader twenty-first century processes; one global- multiculturalism and the paradigm of intercultural education- and one national- Hugo Cha?vez's Bolivarian Revolution.
    The Bolivarian government has probably lead the most effective project of state expansion in Venezuelan modern history, reaching out to the most peripheral areas of the nation and incorporating their population into the Venezuelan State. Throughout this thesis I argue that despite the Revolution's claims to celebrate internal diversity and pluralism, this process of state expansion has been driven by an extractivist agenda, associated with two different, yet complementary, commercial extractive projects; oil and gold. As such, its ultimate aim remains to ensure the state's control over the territory, and the resources on it, by establishing control over its inhabitants. The collapse between the state and indigenous people enacted in the Revolution's dominant discourse, therefore, outlines new forms of 'national indigeneity', and has the effect of prescribing people's possibilities to lay claims both to a Venezuelan citizenship and to 'legitimate' indigenous identities.
    Within such broad global predicaments, my research engages with key debates in anthropology about the relationships between Amerindian groups and the state, in terms of representation, interculturality and identity politics, illustrating how local responses to the processes of state expansion reflect complex interactions between multiple elements; gender, personal trajectories and identity construction, for example. The thesis also engages with the Lowland South American and Latin American literature about Amerindian strategies for counteracting the state's centralising (predatory) action, by outlining the multilateral, sometimes contradictory responses of local actors to the consecutive expansions and contractions of the state's extractivist and administrative frontiers. As the cases narrated in this thesis demonstrate, some individuals have actively sought to increase their political participation, embracing the opportunities for enfranchisement provided by the revolutionary government. Others have opted instead for a 'partial' retreat from the state's foregoing expansive motion. I argue that these movements towards reversal are associated with the state's inability to act as redistributor of resources and, as such, are the result of the general political and economic crises facing the country in the last few years.
  • Carrizosa, J. (2015). The Shape-Shifting Territory: Colonialism, Shamanism and A’I Kofán Place-Making in the Amazonian Piedmont, Colombia.
    This research attempts to bring into a serious dialogue critical ethnography and postcolonial historiography to analyse the Kofan indigenous peoples of the Colombian amazon frontier and the transformations of their socio-spatial practices and cosmographies in a long durée perspective. The thesis is chiefly focused on problematizing "indigenous territory", the notion that is taken for granted by a diverse range of actors, including the Colombian state, indigenous activist, as well as analysts. The ethnographic exploration presented unpacks the ways in which the Kofan people constructs and perceives the territory as complex and 'shape-shifting' in a context of historical violence, colonization, missionization, cocaine production, sorcery and militarization.
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