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Exploring the Role of Emigrants in Managing and Using Watershed Commons through Transnational Family Networks

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Taylor, Carylanna K.
Conference: Capturing the Complexity of the Commons, North American Regional Meeting of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Conf. Date: Sep. 30-Oct. 2
Date: 2010
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/6564
Sector: Social Organization
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Central America & Caribbean
Subject(s): migration
watersheds
ethnography
natural resources
resource management
family
Abstract: "As transnational labor migration stretches families and communities across national borders, the ways in which those remaining at home interact with their natural environment become colored by transnational social and economic relations. Physically distant emigrants play a tangible role in the development and conservation of the patchwork commons of privately and publicly owned farmland, pasture, forest, streams, and groundwater that is their watershed of origin. Among Honduran hillside farmers, emigrants contribute to ―watershed impacting practices‖ (WIP) by directly and indirectly investing remittances in cattle and agricultural inputs, communicating with family members, entrusting others with the use and management of their land, and contributing to potable water systems. This paper evaluates the methodology of a fourteen month mixed-method, multi-sited dissertation project designed to capture these and other ways in which transnational emigrants affect how their households and village of origin use this commons. At the heart of the study lie four transnational family networks that originate in a rural Honduran village and stretch to the United States. The case study was built through a) a village-wide survey of emigration and watershed impacting practices that led to the selection of families, b) site visits and interviews focused on watershed resources (firewood, water, land, pasture) and microwatershed conservation efforts, c) diaries and recall interviews tracking remittance transfer and expenditure, and d) four months of structured interviews and participant observation with transnational family members now living in New York and Florida. Tracing the interactions present in even a relatively small microwatershed is complex. Focusing on transnational family networks – balanced by the survey and informal interaction with nonmigrant households – has helped tame a potentially unruly project. The paper explores the successes and limitations of using transnational family networks to study the role of emigrants in their village of origin‘s watershed commons."

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