Dilemmas of Representation in Contemporary Environmental Anthropology: Documenting Dynamite Fishing in Southeastern Tanzania

  • Justin Raycraft Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal.
Keywords: Participant observation, Ethnography, Destructive fishing practices, Illegal activities, Moral terrains, Interpretive anthropology


This paper draws from an ethnographic vignette of dynamite fishing in southeastern Tanzania. I consider the utility of participant observation as a method for examining ecologically destructive practices, especially in contexts where such activities are illegal or prohibited by conservation regulations. I raise self-reflexive critiques, internal to my home discipline of anthropology, and discuss the methodological, ethical, and analytical challenges of attempting to document cases of dynamite fishing and other related phenomena of pressing environmental concern. Ultimately, I maintain that participant observation remains a valuable tool for documenting and explaining environmentally destructive activities.

Author Biography

Justin Raycraft, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal.
Justin Raycraft is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University with interests in the social and political dimensions of biodiversity conservation in Tanzania.


Bennett, N. J., R. Roth, S. C. Klain, K. Chan, P. Christie, D. A. Clark, G. Cullman, D. Curran, T. J. Durbin, G. Epstein, A. Greenberg, M. P. Nelson, J. Sandlos, R. Stedman, T. L. Teel, R. Thomas, D. Verissimo, and C. Wyborn. 2017. Conservation Social Science: Understanding and Integrating Human Dimensions to Improve Conservation. Biological Conservation 205:93–108. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.006.

Blaike, P. 1989. Environment and Access to Resources in Africa. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 59:18–40. DOI:10.2307/1160761.

Boelens, R., J. Hoogesteger, E. Swyngedouw, J. Vos, and P. Wester. 2016. Hydrosocial Territories: A Political Ecology Perspective. Water International 41:1–14. DOI:10.1080/02508060.2016.1134898.

Bubandt, N., and A. Tsing. 2018. Feral Dynamics of Post-Industrial Ruin: An Introduction. Journal of Ethnobiology 38:1–7. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-38.1.001.

Clifford, J., and G. E. Marcus, eds. 1986. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Darwall, W. R. T., and M. Guard. 2000. Southern Tanzania. In Coral Reefs of the Indian Ocean: Their Ecology and Conservation, edited by T. R. McClanahan, C. R. C. Sheppard, and D. O. Obura, pp. 131–167. Oxford University Press, New York.

Escobar, A. 1999. After Nature: Steps to an Antiessentialist Political Ecology. Current Anthropology 40:1–30. DOI:10.1086/515799.

Fairhead, J., and M. Leach. 1995. False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking some West African Environmental Narratives. World Development 23:1023–1035. DOI:10.1016/0305-750X(95)00026-9.

Favret-Saada, J. 2012. Being Affected. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2:435–445. DOI:10.14318/hau2.1.019.

Figueroa, R. M., and G. Waitt. 2008. Cracks in the Mirror: (Un)covering the Moral Terrains of Environmental Justice at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Ethics Place and Environment 11:327–349. DOI:10.1080/13668790802559726.

Figueroa, R. M., and G. Waitt. 2010. Climb: Restorative Justice, Environmental Heritage, and the Moral Terrains of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Environmental Philosophy 11:327–349. DOI:10.5840/envirophil20107219.

Gan, E., D. Sullivan, and A. Tsing. 2018. Using Natural History in the Study of Industrial Ruins. Journal of Ethnobiology 38:39–54. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-38.1.039.

Gavin, M. C., J. McCarter, A. Mead, F. Berkes, J. R. Stepp, D. Peterson, and R. Tang. 2015. Defining Biocultural Approaches to Conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30:140–145. DOI:10.1016/j.tree.2014.12.005.

Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz. Basic Books, New York.

Ghosh, A. 2016. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Gilmore, M. P., and J. C. Young. 2012. The Use of Participatory Mapping in Ethnobiological Research, Biocultural Conservation, and Community Empowerment: A Case Study from the Peruvian Amazon. Journal of Ethnobiology 32:6–29. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-32.1.6.

Gilmore, M. P., and W. H. Eshbaugh. 2011. From Researcher to Partner: Ethical

Challenges and Issues Facing the Ethnobiological Researcher. In Ethnobiology, edited by E. N. Anderson, D. M. Pearsall, E. S. Hunn, and N. J. Turner, pp. 51–63. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ. DOI:10.1002/9781118015872.ch4.

Guard, M., and M. Masaiganah. 1997. Dynamite Fishing in Southern Tanzania, Geographical Variation, Intensity of Use and Possible Solutions. Marine Pollution Bulletin 34:758–762. DOI:10.1016/s0025-326x(98)00017-4.

Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, Durham, NC. DOI:10.1215/9780822373780.

Hardison, P., and K. Bannister. 2011. Ethics in Ethnobiology: History. International Law and Policy, and Contemporary Issues. In Ethnobiology, edited by E. N. Anderson, D. M. Pearsall, E. S. Hunn, and N. J. Turner, pp. 27–49. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ. DOI:10.1002/9781118015872.ch3

Hoffman, D. 2014. Conch, Cooperatives, and Conflict: Conservation and Resistance in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. Conservation and Society 12:120–132. DOI:10.4103/0972-4923.138408.

Holmes, G. 2007. Protection, Politics and Protest: Understanding Resistance to Conservation. Conservation and Society 5:184–201.

Hunn, E. 2014. To Know Them is to Love Them. Ethnobiology Letters 5:146–150. DOI:10.14237/ebl.5.2014.297.

Kalangahe, B., and L. Slade. 2014. Multi-stakeholder Consultation for Anti-Dynamite Fishing Campaign Tanzania. Report by Mwambao Coastal Community Network. Available at: http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/draft_report___mccn_multi_stakeholder_consultation_for_anti_dynamite_fishing_campaign.pdf. Accessed on September 15, 2017.

Kamat, V. 2014. The Ocean is our Farm: Marine Conservation, Food Insecurity, and Social Suffering in Southeastern Tanzania. Human Organization 73:289–298. DOI:10.17730/humo.73.3.f43k115544761g0v.

Katikiro, R. E., and J. J. Mahenge. 2016. Fishers’ Perceptions of the Recurrence of Dynamite-Fishing Practices on the Coast of Tanzania. Frontiers in Marine Science 233:1–14. DOI:10.3389/fmars.2016.00233.

Kohn, E. 2013. How Forests Think: Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. DOI:10.1525/California/9780520276109.003.0004.

Latour, B. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Lepofsky, D., C. G. Armstrong, S. Greening, J. Jackley, J. Carpenter, B. Guernsey, D. Mathews, and N. J. Turner. 2017. Historical Ecology of Cultural Keystone Places of the Northwest Coast. American Anthropologist 119:448–463. DOI:10.1111/aman.12893.

Levi-Strauss, C. 1962. The Savage Mind. G. Weidenfield, trans. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Marcus, G., and M. M. J. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Moore, D. S. 1998. Clear Waters and Muddied Histories: Environmental History and the Politics of Community in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. Journal of Southern African Studies 24:377–403. DOI:10.1080/03057079808708581.

Nabhan, G. P. 2009. Perspectives in Ethnobiology: Bridging Disciplines, Cultures and Species. Journal of Ethnobiology 29:3–7. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-29.1.3.

Nabhan, G. P., F. Wyndham, and D. Lepofsky. 2011. Ethnobiology for a Diverse World: Ethnobiology Emerging from a Time of Crisis. Journal of Ethnobiology 31:172–175. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-31.2.172.

Rabinow, P. 2007. Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. University of California Press, Oakland, CA.

Raffles, H. 1999. “Local Theory”: Nature and the Making of an Amazonian Place. Cultural Anthropology 14:323–360. DOI:10.1525/can.1999.14.3.323.

Raycraft, J. 2018. Marine Protected Areas and Spatial Fetishism: A Viewpoint on Destructive Fishing in Coastal Tanzania. Marine Pollution Bulletin 133:478–480. DOI:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.06.008.

Ryle, G. 1971. Collected Papers. Volume II: Collected Essays 1929–1968. Hutchison, London.

Saslis-Lagoudakis, C. H., and A. C. Clarke. 2013. Ethnobiology: The Missing Link in Ecology and Evolution. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 28:67–68. DOI:10.1016/j.tree.2012.10.017.

Scott, J. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Tsing, A. L. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Turner, N. J., and F. Berkes. 2006. Coming to Understanding: Developing Conservation Through Incremental Learning in the Pacific Northwest. Human Ecology 34:495–513. DOI:10.1007/s10745-006-9042-0.

Viveiros de Castro, E. 1998. Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4:469–488. DOI:10.2307/3034157.

Waitt, G., R. Figueroa, and L. McGee. 2007. Fissures in the Rock: Rethinking Pride and Shame in the Moral Terrains of Uluru. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32:248–263. DOI:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2007.00240.x.

Walley, C. J. 2004. Rough Waters: Nature and Development in an East African Marine Park. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Wells, S. 2009. Dynamite Fishing in Northern Tanzania – Pervasive, Problematic and yet Preventable. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58:20–23. DOI:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2008.09.019.

Wolverton, S. 2013. Ethnobiology 5: Interdisciplinarity in an Era of Rapid Environmental Change. Ethnobiology Letters 4:21–25. DOI:10.14237/ebl.4.2013.11.

Wolverton, D., R. M. Figueroa, and P. Swentzell. 2016. Archaeology, Heritage, and Moral Terrains: Two Cases from the Mesa Verde Region. Ethnobiology Letters 7:23–31. DOI:10.14237/ebl.7.2.2016.695.

Wolverton, S., J. M. Nolan, and W. Ahmed. 2014. Ethnobiology, Political Ecology, and Conservation. Journal of Ethnobiology 34:125–152. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-34.2.125.

Wyndham, F. S. 2009. Spheres of Relations, Lines of Interaction: Subtle Ecologies of the Raramuri Landscape in Northern Mexico. Journal of Ethnobiology 29:271–295. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-29.2.271.

Wyndham, F. S., D. Lepofsky, and S. Tiffany. 2011. Taking Stock in Ethnobiology: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Journal of Ethnobiology 31:110–127. DOI:10.2993/0278-0771-31.1.110.

How to Cite
Raycraft, J. (2018). Dilemmas of Representation in Contemporary Environmental Anthropology: Documenting Dynamite Fishing in Southeastern Tanzania. Ethnobiology Letters, 9(2), 289-298. https://doi.org/10.14237/ebl.9.2.2018.1115