Monday, June 26, 2017

50 Shades of Chetek

Anthropology is not black and white.  It’s more shades of grey than would fit between the pages of an airport paperback.  And the next day, it might be pink or blue or plaid.  Dealing with humans and the way they understand this complicated world is a hard thing to measure, but it is vitally important to this picture that we are assembling of water quality.

In a lot of scientific fields, value is ascribed to the measurable.  Equations that work are a thing of beauty, and quantitative data tends towards the cut-and-dry.  In a world that is shifting and changing, often faster than we can process those changes, it is reassuring to have something solid- something that makes sense.  As much as I appreciate the firm footing of reckonable information, for the next 6 weeks I’ll be collecting qualitative data.  Less numbers, more stories… equally crucial.

In my research this summer, I’ll be conducting interviews and collecting oral histories in the Northern part of the Red Cedar Watershed, primarily in the Chetek area.  Chetek is situated on a chain of six lakes encompassing more than 130 miles of shoreline, and they have different insights to the issue of water quality than we’ve gathered from the community in and around Menomonie.  

In assessing what can be done to protect our water resources, understanding the mindset of the stakeholders really matters.  For the people that live within the 1,893 square-mile area that comprises the Red Cedar Watershed, this is home.  Water quality isn’t theoretical; it will have lasting effects on businesses, property values, and how future generations spend their summertimes.  To be truly sustainable, the project we are working on has to be connected to those lives, individually and as a community.  I’m thrilled to be able to spend my summer gathering those stories and perspectives to gain a deeper understanding of the people tied to the fate of our threatened water resources. 

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Georgakopoulos

    Wow. That sounds like an enriching summer experience.

    Following on your thoughts on types of data/information: One of the best classes I took at UW-Madison was on how to gather data on how people use and perceive landscapes and outdoor places. I was trained to keep in mind there were differences between the things I wanted to know and the things I could measure. What we really wanted to know was obscured in a "cloud of abstraction." What we could measure was troubled by not knowing how well it represented what we really wanted to know.

    Later I learned to use structural equation modeling, which is a mathematical modelling method that estimates the amount of "error" between reality and our data. The problem with structural equation modeling is it requires really large data sets.

    I look forward to seeing your results.

    Best wishes,
    Mark Leach (Ecologist)