PREFACE
Discursive Environments
for Environmental Discourses
The essays in this volume were gathered in a conference entitled Environ-
mental Discourses and Human Welfare in South and Southeast Asia held
in Hilo, Hawaii, in December 1995; they were subsequently revised by
the authors, to whom the editors tender their apologies for a substantial
delay in publication.∞ One of the several purposes of the Hilo conference
was to discuss the unexpected agency of nature, which sometimes rises
up against our most careful schemes and plans, and so it is perhaps fitting
that from the first many things did not go as we expected. The history of
the gathering that produced this particular set of essays is then of some
interest in explaining the shape and composition of the volume.
The conference owed its form to the then current organization of the
Social Science Research Council (ssrc), New York, which sponsored the
conference not only financially but intellectually. At that time, ‘‘joint
committees’’ of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social
Science Research Council were organized by world regions; one of the
tasks of these committees was to bring together interdisciplinary con-
ferences within and occasionally across regional specialties to explore
new scholarly directions. In the spirit of these committees, our confer-
ence was planned as a discussion between humanists and social scientists
about multiple discourses on environmental issues; we further hoped to
make use of the common knowledge of South Asian and Southeast Asian
specialists, respectively, at the same time as we began a dialogue across
these two regions. Yet none of these things was simple. Humanists and
social scientists have been talking to each other for decades, but every
newly imagined domain offers a tug-of-war; ‘‘environmental discourses’’
was no exception. The topic, indeed, had first been conceptualized
as ‘‘environmental narratives,’’ but humanists in the joint committees
objected that this conceptualization required specialized disciplinary
knowledge that social scientists who came together to talk about the
environment would not have. We changed the frame and rewrote the
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