Environmental Anthropology in the Kalahari: Development, Resettlement, and Ecological Change among the San of Southern Africa

Robert Karl Hitchcock, Megan Biesele, Wayne Babchuk


This paper addresses the ways in which environmental anthropology has affected – and been affected by – the San (Bushmen) of southern Africa, particularly the Ju/’hoansi of northwestern Botswana and northeastern Namibia. Anthropological research and development work carried out in the Kalahari Desert over the past 50 years has shed considerable light on issues ranging from the ecology of hunting and gathering to the impacts of sedentism, and from demography of small-scale societies to the effects of globalization and climate change. Ecological anthropology and conservation biology have focused a great deal of attention on the Ju/’hoansi and other San, who today are some of the best-known and most intensively studied populations on the planet. A wide range of variation exists among the lifestyles of San peoples, all of whom have undergone substantial socioeconomic changes. Here, particular emphasis is placed on the ways in which development, resettlement, and ecological change have affected the Ju/’hoansi and their neighbors. The lessons learned from these studies have affected both academic writing in ecological anthropology and policies aimed at enhancing the well-being of the San and conserving their environments.

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