Forests are in decline, and the threats these outposts of nature face—including deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation—are the result of human culture. Or are they? This volume calls these assumptions into question, revealing forests’ past, present, and future conditions to be the joint products of a host of natural and cultural forces. Moreover, in many cases the coalescence of these forces—from local ecologies to competing knowledge systems—has masked a significant contemporary trend of woodland resurgence, even in the forests of the tropics.
Focusing on the history and current use of woodlands from India to the Amazon, The Social Lives of Forests attempts to build a coherent view of forests sited at the nexus of nature, culture, and development. With chapters covering the effects of human activities on succession patterns in now-protected Costa Rican forests; the intersection of gender and knowledge in African shea nut tree markets; and even the unexpectedly rich urban woodlands of Chicago, this book explores forests as places of significant human action, with complex institutions, ecologies, and economies that have transformed these landscapes in the past and continue to shape them today. From rain forests to timber farms, the face of forests—how we define, understand, and maintain them—is changing.