The World is Too Big and Too Complicated: The Importance of Situating in ENVS

*Ted Talk Presenter Voice* But what if we are all Swaziland?

This past week was a transition from the perspective of environmental philosophy to that of the strategy of the environmental scholar in analyzing situations and their causes. This week we focused on environmental health, and were introduced to the concept of “situating.” Situating is an analytical strategy that essentially takes one specific scenario, finds each of the actors and effects, and then uses that analysis to apply it to similar situations. 

Our in-class reading for the week was a paper written in part by our own Jim Proctor, titled Household-level environmental health in the Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland.” To quote directly from the introduction of the paper, The World Health Organization (WHO) states that environmental health “…addresses all the physical, chemical and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviors. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health.” Things that fall within the realm of environmental health include access to drinking water, adequate sanitation, hygiene, effects of rapid urbanization on pollution, and climate change. Swaziland struggles with issues faced by most developing nations such as water, sanitation, and health. The study in the paper was conducted after a five-year effort by WHO to improve conditions in Swaziland, which while met with a degree of success, the improvements were felt primarily by those in higher income brackets. Sound familiar?

A considerable amount of focus was put on access to “improved water” which is any piped water. However, improved water is often not safe to drink, even though it is seen as an improvement to wells and streams. Not only that, but Swaziland struggles greatly with HIV, reliance on wood fuel, and lack of adequate disposal methods for solid and human wastes. 

I feel like the analysis of the status of Swaziland is itself is evidence of the importance of situating areas before making statements about their condition. Having piped water is an important step forward regarding infrastructure, but that means nothing if that water is not safe to drink. Not to mention that one of the contributions for why that water is unsafe is because of contamination from unmonitored solid and human waste disposal. 

The concept of situating I feel also speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of ENVS. So many practices went into the conducting of this survey, including aspects of sociology, resource management, and climate science. Not only is it important, but I find it fascinating.  

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