Kull, Christian A.
Kull, Christian A.
Office—Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3800, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, assistant professor, 2000-03; Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, senior lecturer.
Isle of Fire: The Political Ecology of Landscape Burning in Madagascar, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including International Environmental Affairs, Professional Geographer, African Studies Quarterly, Environment and History, Journal of Cultural Geography, Political Geography, Environment, and Appalachia.
Christian A. Kull holds degrees in geography, forestry, and environmental studies, as well as environmental science, policy, and management. Currently a university teacher, his research interests include how the environment is changing and what is causing these changes, the politics behind both land development and conservation, and the science, practice, and policies behind fire management. After spending nearly two years of on-site research concerning this last field of interest, Kull published Isle of Fire: The Political Ecology of Landscape Burning in Madagascar, which Geographical Review critic S. Robert Aiken described as a "tour de force" on the topic of fire management.
Madagascar, a large island off the southeast coast of Africa, is an ecologically important piece of real estate for many environmentalists, who note that the island is home to endangered species that exist nowhere else in the world. Because the island is increasingly populated by human beings, these animals are quickly losing their natural habitat, and many environmentalists have been blaming local farmers who use fire to clear land for crops. Taking on this sensitive subject with an objective eye, Kull sets out to see just how big a problem fire usage is and who, in reality, is damaging the ecology.
Isle of Fire approaches the problem in three parts. In the first part, Kull provides empirical data concerning fire usage, taking his information primarily from eight case studies conducted out in the field. He also describes both the natural role of fire that benefits plants and animals, and the human use of fire as an agricultural tool. The second part of the book enlightens readers on how fire usage has been essential for the livelihood of local farmers in Madagascar; the author comments further on how fires have changed the tapia woodlands, highland regions, and rainforests of Madagascar. The final part of the book addresses the conflict between the government, which has criminalized land-clearing techniques using fire, and the farmers who resist such laws because they threaten their ability to earn a living income. Government pressure on farmers, the author relates, has been ongoing since the days when Madagascar was under French colonial rule, but prosecuting farmers has proven problematic, mainly because wildfires can occur naturally and because starting a fire is easy to do anonymously. Kull shows through his detailed research that the governmental efforts—often spurred by urban elites and foreign environmentalist groups—"only succeeded in worsening the [fire] problem, polarizing the peasantry against the state, and giving meaning to fire itself as a tool of resistance," wrote Aiken.
Kull further elaborates that fire usage is a symptom of the larger issue of access to good-quality farm land and resources, a tug-of-war problem between political leaders, urban dwellers, and rural communities. Thus far, the ongoing conflict has remained in a stalemate for years. Kull's "exploration of these matters dovetails with and contributes substantially to a growing body of literature on livelihood and resource struggles between generally hegemonic postcolonial states and rural communities in many parts of the world," asserted Aiken. Olga F. Linares similarly observed in the Geographical Journal that the author "convincingly argues that Madagascar's real ‘fire problem’ resides in the struggle between peasants and state over the nature of, and access to, natural resources," and asserted that Isle of Fire is an "important book." "Deftly combining the perspectives of fire ecology and political ecology and drawing on a variety of archival, documentary, interview, and field-based sources," concluded Aiken, "Kull's detailed, authoritative, gracefully written, and handsomely illustrated work is a major contribution to our understanding" about the issue of fire usage in Madagascar.
Since publication of his book, Kull has continued to explore environmental issues and their political, economic, and social implications. He has conducted aerial photography studies in Madagascar to analyze land usage, and he has been studying the effects of invasive species in the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean. He also studies fire management issues in Australia.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, September, 2006, Robert Kuhlken, review of Isle of Fire: The Political Ecology of Landscape Burning in Madagascar, p. 676.
Current Anthropology, February, 2006, "Islands of Political Ecology in Africa," p. 202.
Geographical Journal, June, 2005, Olga F. Linares, review of Isle of Fire, p. 180.
Geographical Research, July, 2006, J.B. Kirkpatrick, review of Isle of Fire, p. 226.
Geographical Review, January, 2006, S. Robert Aiken, review of Isle of Fire, p. 176.
Quarterly Review of Biology, March, 2005, Stephen J. Pyne, review of Isle of Fire, p. 141.
School of Geography and Environmental Studies, Monash University Web site,http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/ges/ (March 25, 2008), faculty profile.