For most, a summer in Brazil might include a visit to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, site-seeing in São Paulo or snapping a photograph of the breathtaking Christ the Redeemer. Lycoming College’s Dr. Ryan Adams, however, had a very different experience in the world’s fifth largest country. The assistant professor of anthropology spent his summer conducting cultural research in the Brazilian Amazon.
Adams’ ethnographic research sought to understand the place of large-scale landowners in the area around the city of Santarém in Pará State, Brazil. Despite its perception as a pristine rainforest, this area, in the heart of the Amazon, has seen a recent increase in large-scale industrial agriculture and modern agribusiness. As one of the poorest regions of Brazil, its people are concerned about the need to grow the economy and therefore see the recent business boom as a positive development.
In order to understand the conditions and changes of the area, Adams, a cultural anthropologist, spent his time building trust and learning how to understand the world through the eyes of the Brazilian farmers with whom he worked – an exercise that required patience, time and a willingness to question assumptions about other cultures. His study was one of the first ethnographic studies of wealthy landowning classes on the expanding frontier of industrial agriculture in the neotropics.
“Things are always changing,” said Adams. “It is essential for me to stay on top of these changes so I can bring things back to enrich the classes I am teaching at Lycoming. I have a commitment to that place, and it’s great that I have the chance to teach about it.”
The influence of Adams’ research will be reflected in his classes for the 2013 spring semester. He plans to teach a segment on Brazil in his Anthropology of Latin America course, a segment on cultural economy in Economic Anthropology and a segment on environmentalism in the Amazon for his Environmental Anthropology course. Students will also have the opportunity to learn how to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in a May Term class that will study food movements and “foodies” in Brooklyn, N.Y., this summer.
Adams joined Lycoming’s faculty in 2010. He received a Ph.D. from Indiana University. He has conducted research in the American Midwest and Brazil. His primary areas of anthropologic research include people and their relationship to food, farming and the environment.