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Troubles with Turtles

Troubles with Turtles: Cultural Understandings of the Environment on a Greek Island

Dimitrios Theodossopoulos
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Troubles with Turtles
    Book Description:

    The people of Vassilikos, farmers and tourist entrepreneurs on the Greek island of Zakynthos, are involved in a bitter environmental dispute concerning the conservation of sea turtles. Against the environmentalists' practices and ideals they set their own culture of relating to the land, cultivation, wild and domestic animals.

    Written from an anthropological perspective, this book puts forward the idea that a thorough study of indigenous cultures is a fundamental step to understanding conflicts over the environment. For this purpose, the book offers a detailed account of the cultural depth and richness of the human environmental relationship in Vassilikos, focusing on the engagement of its inhabitants with diverse aspects of the local environment, such as animal care, agriculture, tourism and hunting.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-679-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This monograph is an in-depth study of the relationship some people have with the natural world. The inhabitants of a Greek island community, who are simultaneously farmers and tourist entrepreneurs, are involved in a bitter environmental dispute concerning the imposition of conservation regulations on the local environment. Their community,Vassilikos, is located in the southwest corner of the island of Zakynthos, a major tourist destination in the Mediterranean. Vassilikos’s prolonged and persistent resistance to environmental conservation has inspired this monograph.

    Twelve years ago I began my investigation of the human environmental relationship in Vassilikos, considering that an anthropological study of...

  7. 2 Vassilikos: past, present and turtle troubles
    (pp. 13-28)

    Vassilikos is the name of a narrow peninsula, in the southwest corner of Zakynthos.¹ It is also the name of a socially inhabited space, the local administrative community. Its three major settlement concentrations hardly fit the stereotypical notion of a Greek village as a tight cluster of households with a central square and a church. The community itself is composed of households dispersed in among green fields and olive groves. As one of the currently available tourist guides maintains: ‘Vassilikos is more of a concept than a place. The houses are spread over a considerable area, in among the greenery;...

  8. 3 Conservation and the value of land
    (pp. 29-48)

    This chapter examines the Vassilikiots’ intense and intimate relationship with the land, ‘their land’ (ti gi tous). Divergent sets of cultural meaning – such as, the personal significance of land ownership in a community where land has been a scarce resource, the importance of land for the development of tourism, the association of the family name with particular plots of land and the value attributed to the notion of toil or ‘sweat’ embedded in the land – figure prominently in the Vassilikiot discourse. In the last twenty years, however, environmental conservation has challenged the immediacy and intimacy of the human-land...

  9. 4 ‘Both tourism and farming jobs involve struggle’
    (pp. 49-66)

    Vassilikiots’ relationship with the productive resources of their land is realised through a practical working engagement with it that is often confrontational. The work ethic pertaining to the everyday lives of men and women in Vassilikos derives from a more general combative attitude towards the environment, a constant ‘struggle’ (agonas, pali) with life. Work, and the physical fatigue that work entails, have connotations of effort or contest, a ‘struggling’ attitude noticed by several other ethnographers studying Greek workers in the countryside (Friedl 1962: 75; du Boulay 1974: 56, 1986: 154; Kenna 1990: 149–50; Hart 1992: 65–6; Dubisch 1995:...

  10. 5 Gendered labour in the olive harvest
    (pp. 67-88)

    Olive cultivation has a long history in Zakynthos and Vassilikos. The rich culture associated with it includes words and terms indicative of the specifics of cultivation, material objects or equipment used, specific roles assigned to the cultivators and harvesters, stories and memories, the cumulative experiences evocative of local social and economic life. The lack of mechanisation of the harvest contributes to the image of olive cultivation as a purely ‘agricultural’ form of work (cf. Brandes 1980: 138–9; Gilmore 1980: 42), a realm of the Vassilikiots’ life which is still relatively independent of the tourist economy.¹ Olive cultivation in Vassilikos,...

  11. 6 Ordering animals about
    (pp. 89-110)

    The people in Vassilikos maintain that they ‘keep’ animals ‘on their land’ because animals are ‘useful’. They also say, that they ‘keep’ animals ‘on their property’ because ‘they always did’, that is, because ‘they are used to having’ animals and ‘they like’ to do so. But then they conclude that they ‘like to have animals because their animals are useful!’

    The concept of usefulness is central in most local rationalisations concerning animals and animal husbandry. Some Vassilikiots claim that they prefer to work ‘on the’ animals (sta zoa), rather than working on building construction (stin oikodhomi) or ‘for the tourists’...

  12. 7 Classifying the wild
    (pp. 111-138)

    Rarely do Vassilikiots’ refer to wild animals and birds in contexts other than hunting. The threat of attack by small predators on the farm stock, or the occasional encounters with wild animals during their daily activities in the fields, are the rare exceptions. They usually respond to questions about wild animals by evaluating the animal’s qualities, such as the animal’s capacity to do good or harm. They often start by examining the possibility of harm and finish by considering the possibility of benefit. Most of these discussions are bound to centre on the issue of whether the animal or bird...

  13. 8 Unlawful hunting
    (pp. 139-160)

    This chapter is concerned with hunting, a little studied topic in the ethnographic literature on Greece, which well deserves to be ‘explored in social and cultural terms’ (Marvin 2000b: 196). The hunters I examine are Vassilikiot men, whose passionate involvement with hunting, and especially their participation in the turtledove hunt, is renowned in Zakynthos. My objective here is to present a thorough piece of ethnography on hunting and approach hunting as a context of action where men co-operate with each other, compete with outsiders, and negotiate their identities in masculine performances of defiance towards the hunting regulations, the state authorities...

  14. 9 Relating to the ‘natural’ world
    (pp. 161-178)

    In this final chapter I bring together some conclusions drawn throughout the book regarding the cultural principles that inform Vassilikiots’ resistance to ecological conservation. First, I shall discuss the confrontational, pragmatic spirit of Vassilikiots’ engagement with the productive resources of their land, and the meaningfulness of this agonistic disposition for the local protagonists. Then I shall illustrate the relationship between this confrontational attitude and the indigenous worldview towards the natural world, reflecting upon the caring, but anthropocentric, attitudes that permeate Vassilikiots’ relationship with animals and the environment, and the continual practices of labour or ‘struggle’ that inform those pragmatic attitudes....

  15. References
    (pp. 179-192)
  16. Index
    (pp. 193-196)