eric perramond on tracey heatherington’s wild sardinia


Tracey Heatherington. Wild Sardinia: Indigeneity and the Global Dreamtimes of Environmentalism. Culture, Place, and Nature Series. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010. Illustrations, glossary. 328 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-295-98998-3; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-295-98999-0.

Reviewed by Eric P. Perramond (Colorado College)
Published on H-HistGeog (May, 2011)
Commissioned by Robert M. Wilson

[T]here is useful material in the first half of this book even if you are not a specialist of Sardinia or the Mediterranean in general. This is not, then, just another anthropological “case study” of a place most of us will never visit. The volume speaks to wider issues that are of concern globally (conservation) and to regional issues (park establishment) as well. The comparative material drawn from African, Australian, Canadian, Latin American, and western U.S. contexts is well used by the author in her arguments. The material is useful for readers, and for the author, since she is arguing that environmentalism is a peculiar kind of global project that reflects culturally rooted views on nature and, yes, “wilderness” (p. 60).


While the ethnographic material found in Wild Sardinia is exemplary, there is a rather taxing and repetitive use of the subtitle (“global dreamtimes of environmentalism”) that becomes a tiring mantra. While this rhetorical wordplay is meant to echo (Australian) Aboriginal notions of space and time in a meaningful and playful way, to refer to how environmental groups spin indigenous identity to their own organizational needs and biases, the repetition of the phrase does little to drive the otherwise important arguments made by Heatherington. This does not diminish the importance of the author’s work. Critically circling around the concept of “indigeneity,” she is able to display the inherent local tensions of claiming both “indigenous” status and the local recognition that shepherding is a continuing practice. Pitching these as a combination of (Old) American West motifs, the “Indian and the cowboy,” and drawing on local vignettes that use exactly this language, Heatherington carefully portrays this paradox as stuck in a double bind. Are Sardinians usefully deploying a language of authenticity, of local indigeneity, that serves their purposes? Or are they falling into the very image crafted for them by conservation groups that depict livestock graziers as despoilers of the environment?

more about the book from the publishers:

Shared concern for nature can be a way of transcending national, ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries, yet conservation efforts often pit the interests of historically rooted or indigenous peoples against the state and international environmental organizations, eroding local autonomy while “saving” rural land for animals and tourists. Wild Sardinia’s examination of the cultural politics around nature conservation and the traditional Commons on an Italian island illustrates the complexities of environmental stewardship. Long known as the home of fiercely independent shepherds (often typecast as rustics, bandits, or eco-vandals), as well as wild mouflon sheep, magnificent eagles, and rare old oak forests, the town of Orgosolo has for several decades received notoriety through local opposition to Gennargentu National Park.

Interweaving rich ethnographic description of highland central Sardinia with analysis grounded in political ecology and reflexive cultural critique, Wild Sardinia illuminates the ambivalent and open-ended meanings of many Sardinians’ acts and memories of “resistance” to environmental projects. This groundbreaking case study of the tension between living cultural landscapes and the emerging ecological imaginaries envisioned through policy discourses and new media – the “global dreamtimes of environmentalism” – has relevance far beyond its Mediterranean locale.

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