Mark Bonta

cycads, birds, Deleuze…

Current Research

I am a cultural geographer and geophilosopher with a wide range of interests at the intersections of assemblage thinking, the origins of domestication, multispecies ethnography, cycads, ethnoornithology, and environmental justice. My formal training in academic geography was at Penn State, the University of Texas, and Louisiana State University, and I have held academic positions in Mississippi and currently at Penn State, where I am an associate in the Environmental Studies program (Altoona College), teaching classes in the geography of sustainability and development as well as in environmental ethics. I am currently involved in several research projects in the Northern Territory (Australia), Mexico, and Honduras focused on ethno-ornithology, cycads, and participatory action research.

CYCADS & MAIZE: I have been researching the human geography of cycads (neurotoxic gymnosperms in the order Cycadales, with numerous sacred and alimentary uses) since 2000, and have carried out extensive fieldwork in Honduras and Mexico, where they are thought of as ancestors or maize or as a type of maize (and vice versa) in many regions. Since 2003, I have been following the path of the “teocinte” cycads in Mexico, resulting in several valuable collaborations with academics, conservationists, and local experts in Oaxaca, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Nayarit, Jalisco, and elsewhere, including Javier Fortanelli, Maria Teresa Pulido, and their students Teresa Diego Vargas, Aurelia Vite, and Elvia Tristan, who have written ground-breaking theses on the relationships between people and cycads, among the Xi’ui (Pame), Nahua, and Teenek (Huastec Maya). With my collaborators, I will be publishing the results of this long-term project over the next couple of years.

Brown_FalconRAPTORS AS FIRE PROPAGATORS: An intriguing and highly significant tool-using behavior by the Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Black kite (Milvus migrans), and Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)–intentionally spreading brush fires to flush prey–has long been widely recognized by Aboriginal peoples of Arnhem Land and other regions of the northern Australian tropical savanna, as well as by non-Aboriginal fire managers and several anthropologists. However, because the behavior has never been documented to the satisfaction of Western ecologists and biologists, our transdisciplinary collaborative is focused on garnering this evidence with the wider context of understanding complex interrelationships between people and avifauna. Robert Gosford, an ethno-ornithologist, lawyer, and environmental/social blogger based in Alice Springs, with extensive experience in Ngukurr and other communities in the Northern Territory, is spearheading an initiative to work with Aboriginal fire rangers, including the Jawoyn Association, the Yugul Mangi Land and Sea Management Corporation (based in Ngukurr), and other associations in Arnhem Land. Our other key collaborator is Erana Jae Loveless from the Fire and Restoration Ecology Lab at Univ of Arizona.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE & GEOGRAPHIES OF COMPLEX SPACES: Since 1991, I have worked in Honduras on numerous scholarly and activist endeavors. Due to the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, I am no longer undertaking fieldwork there, but I continue to engage with and supervise a variety of projects from a distance, involving assemblage thinking, environmental justice, and participatory action research (PAR) with a diverse network of practitioners and scholars. Principal current concerns include support for the formation of new community-managed protected areas, advocacy against unsustainable hydroelectric and mining projects, community-based conservation and ethnography of endemic cycad landscapes, links between birding and environmental justice, critical approaches to ‘lost city’ narratives and relationships to the Pech indigenous group, and the connections between socio-environmental transformation and narcotics trafficking. The eastern Honduran frontier has also served as inspiration for development of an ontology and epistemology of complex spaces, based on the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari.


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