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Situating Ourselves for a Deeper Understanding

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 6: October 15, 2018

In the field of Environmental Studies, it is easy to feel that environmental issues are too complicated to address. Situated research is the solution to this problem. By framing our research with these broad questions, and then choosing a place in which to situate our research, we can be more able to tackle environmental issues.

Studying environmental issues in the context of a specific place is important and necessary. As we know, environmental studies is interdisciplinary. Environmental issues rarely have a single cause or a single solution. Environmental issues are complex and can involve many different interlocking causes and effects that have to do with more than just environmental science. Most of the time, we will find that it is tied to other issues that cross disciplinary boundaries. Situating helps us identify these interlocking issues and ground them in a more comprehensible context.

The specific process of situated research begins with a broad, overarching question. This will be the framing question of the research. Then, zooming in to a particular situated context (place), we pose a focus question to guide our research. After the specifics, we zoom back out to connect our research to our framing question, and pose further questions. See Jim Proctor’s image of the situating hourglass.

Situated Research & The Hourglass

Photograph by
Jim Proctor


In order to fully understand a broad concept such as climate change, we should situate ourselves somewhere where climate change has an effect. This is why, in class, we situated climate change in the context of the Florida panhandle. We were able to gain a deeper understanding of climate change by analyzing specific issues and cause and effect relationships in the Florida panhandle.

I find it much easier to understand environmental issues in places that I have been. When you know all of the specifics, the issue and all the factors involved can be much easier to analyze. On Maui, deer are one of many invasive species. They overpopulate the island, so people are often encouraged to hunt them. However, many people find it inhumane to hunt without eating the game, and there are simply not enough hunters to consume all of the deer that need to be consumed. Why don’t local restaurants serve the meat? Unfortunately, Maui has very strict guidelines when it comes to what meat can be sold to consumers. Meat must actually be shipped to the continental US for to be inspected and then shipped back to the island. This inefficient process causes the price of meat on the island to be more expensive. By situating in a specific place, such as Maui, we are more able to understand different actors that have an effect on an environmental issue.

We cannot be everywhere at once. Environmental issues can be found anywhere. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding through situating. This will enable us to discover solutions that we may have never thought of before.