Restoring the Human in the Search for Nature: Homelessness, Ecology, and the Struggle for Change
Mokos, Jennifer Tara
This dissertation draws upon twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork on the ecological restoration of the Ventura River in Southern California. The restoration work involves the removal of two entities: (1) Arundo donax, a tall bamboo-like plant classified as an invasive species by the California Invasive Plant Council, and (2) homeless people living in encampments that often correspond with dense Arundo growth. The floodplain of the Ventura River is a site in transition where new definitions, identities, meanings, and borders are being shaped and defended. By attending to the everyday practices of environmental workers, social service workers, and homeless individuals, I documented how boundaries around and within human and nonhuman nature are constructed, legitimated, and resisted. This research contributes an empirical understanding of how the relationship between the environment and health is deeply intertwined with knowledge production and practice rather than an individual-level external variable. Additional findings include an understanding of how riverbottom encampments contribute to the health and wellbeing of residents by helping them resist social exclusion and mitigate experiences of violence and stigma, and how processes of Othering enacted through ecological restoration work are situated within broader socio-political dynamics.