Dr. Barbara Johnston: Examining Society and Environment

Dr. Barbara Johnston, via Dr. Johnston

Dr. Barbara Johnston, via Dr. Johnston

Barbara Rose Johnston began her interest in Anthropology with undergraduate courses at San Jose State University she transferred to University of California Berkeley, where she graduated with a BA and honors for her thesis on “Native California Medicinal Ethnobotany.” She continued her studies at San Jose State University earning a masters in Environmental Science with her thesis “A Problem of Water: A Cultural Ecological Study of St. Thomas, USVI”. For her PhD she studied Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, publishing a dissertation on “The Political Ecology of Development: Changing Resource Relations and the Impacts of Tourism, St. Thomas, USVI”.

Dr. Johnston has used the Center for Political Ecology as her primary affiliation, as this allows her to do the science and human rights work that has characterized her professional life. A prominent leader in the American Anthropological Association, she has served on the Environmental Task Force, as a founding board member of the Anthropology and Environment and the Feminist Anthropology sections, as chair of the AAA Human Rights and the Ethics Committees, and she just completed a 5-year term as Public Anthropology associate editor for the American Anthropologist. Her work as an advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, US EPA, UNESCO, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal and indigenous survivors of massacre and genocide in Guatemala is chronicled in some 150 publications.

She began her MSU relationship with Dr. Anne Ferguson, Dr. Bill Derman, and other colleagues who shared interests in human rights and the environment. They were brought together in professional advocacy through the Society for Applied Anthropology Human Rights and Environmental Committee which Dr. Johnston organized and chaired in the 1990s. In 1993, Dr. Ferguson invited Dr. Johnston to give an endnote address at a MUS-sponsored gender and environment conference. In 2004, the Anthropology Department invited Dr. Johnston to join as an adjunct full professor. She has served as an outside advisor and referee for MSU students and periodically visits to give lectures on topics related to her research.

In 2011 Dr. Johnston received the Society for Medical Anthropology’s New Millennium award for her  “Consequential Damages of Nuclear War – The Rongelap report”. Her most recent publications include a UNESCO and Springer co-published text entitled “Water, Cultural Diversity, and Global Environmental Change: Emerging Trends, Sustainable Futures?” which she served as the editor-in-chief. This interdisciplinary text uses case-specific examples to make a global case that water is a fundamental human need and right, and is a primary sustaining force in biodiversity and cultural diversity.

In 2012, Dr. Johnston also saw the Left Coast Press publication of  “Life and Death Matters: Human Rights, Environment and Social Justice.” It contains essays that consider the question of how social and environmental systems and struggles have been re-conceptualized within a post-9/11 security and biosecurity framework, when global warming and resource scarcity are not fears but realities, when global power and politics are being realigned, and when genocide, ethnocide, and genocide are daily tragedies.

[This article is featured in the Winter 2014 Department of Anthropology Newsletter]