Research

Research in the Human Spatial Dynamics Lab at the Stanford Anthropology Department draws attention to processes of spatial dynamics. It focuses on a range of issues that cut across conventional sub-fields, but are united by attention to the constitutive role of space in social affairs. Relevant work includes

Fire Ecology

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Most assumptions about the function of aboriginal mosaic burning in the arid zone of Australia center on the short term benefits men gain through increases in hunting returns, and the long-term benefits of increased density of types of food plants that do not compete well against spinifex grasses, particularly seed grasses and fruits, and maintenance of habitat for small mammals. However, the role of women in both burning and in reaping the benefits of mosaic burning has generally remained unexplored. Our research team is currently exploring Martu women's role in burning and land management using a combination of ethnographic observation and remote sensing/GIS technology. Women mosaic burning in the arid zone of AustraliaWomen mosaic burning in the arid zone of Australia Women benefit in the short term through burning patches of old-growth spinifex grass as a result of increases in their own hunting returns, particularly hunting sand goanna and perenti. Women may actually experience greater relative gains in foraging returns over the short term as a result of mosaic burning than men. Research opportunities are available for students with experience in remote sensing/GIS technology who are interested in pursuing topics related to the role of anthropogenic fire in the ecological dynamics of the Western Desert.

Project Website: http://www.stanford.edu/~rbird/RBIRD/FireEcology.html

Foraging and Gender

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There are commonly two alternative models of subsistence organization. The "economy of scale" model for household formation asserts that decisions about production organization are divided by gender in order to tap the relative skills and abilities (comparative advantages) of men and women in a cooperative effort to provide for their household. Alternatively, gender differences might be the product of differential variance sensitivity: one or both genders are biasing subsistence decisions either toward more variable resource types that may function to ensure efficient advertisement of underlying qualities or toward less variable subsistence activities that increase the certainty of a given reward. Relative to these models, I’ve investigated three specific hypotheses: 1) that women’s foraging decisions are patterned by the tradeoffs between caring for children and producing food; 2) that the different choices men and women make are designed to satisfy the shared goal of optimizing household economic production (in terms of an economy of scale in the acquisition of food for consumption); and 3) that men’s foraging is biased toward activities associated with particular "costs" that ensure the honesty of their social displays.

Project Website: http://www.stanford.edu/~rbird/RBIRD/ForagingGender.html