EV’s recently graduated PhD student Macario Lacbawan has been awarded the 2023 Westinska prize for outstanding PhD dissertation in the humanities by the Royal Society of Humanists in Uppsala (Kungl. Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet i Uppsala) for his doctoral thesis, titled The Burden of Responsibility: Predicaments of Environmental Life in the Caraballo Mountains, Northern Philippines.
Macario conducted a year of anthropological fieldwork among the Ikalahan people of the northern Philippines to document what happens when the legal recognition of a group as an indigenous group simultaneously requires them to turn their traditional land into a nature reserve.
What do Ikalahan communities do with the environmental responsibility they have been given? The dissertation’s various chapters describe how villagers use traditional notions of shame to impose ecological obligations, but also how they constantly come up with cunning ways to circumvent and undermine such obligations. The text shows how the villagers use the rhetoric that they must not make money off the land to, precisely, make money off the land. The chapters also discuss how traditional moral principles of kinship and obligation enable Ikalahan villagers to both understand and facilitate the economic inequalities that have arisen in their communities since their land was turned into an ecological zone.
By addressing how different Ikalahan communities deal with the consequences of the state’s legal recognition of them as indigenous, the thesis makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how “indigeneity” is not a neutral label, but is instead a potentially burdensome position whose connection to the environment is anything but straightforward. The thesis also shows how well-intentioned rhetoric about an indigenous population’s “closeness” to nature in fact can be a trap that results in indigenous groups gradually losing the right to self-determination.
The Westinska Prize consists of the honor of presenting the thesis at the Royal Society’s annual dinner and awards ceremony in early 2024, and a sum of 40,000 SEK.
Warmest congratulations to Macario on this impressive achievement!