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    Fire, smoke, and expertise in South Africa’s grasslands

    Pooley, Simon (2018) Fire, smoke, and expertise in South Africa’s grasslands. Environmental History 23 (1), pp. 28-55. ISSN 1084-5453.

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    Fire as a management practice in South Africa’s grasslands inflamed heated debate throughout the twentieth century. Imported ecological ideas meshed with home-grown sectoral land management traditions to reinforce a powerful anti-burning narrative among experts. Farmers, however, developed their own theories on burning, and the history of fire research, policy, and management reveals a series of entanglements between ecological theory, management policies and recommendations, and practice, which complicate narratives grounded in historiographical traditions focussed on critiquing settler and colonial expertise. This paper recommends three distinctions to make when thinking about the history of scientific expertise: first, between an individual’s abstract theorizing and their “thinking in the field;” second, between the influence of accepted scientific findings, and the thinking guiding official policies of land management sectors; and third, between official policies and actual land management practices. This paper provides overviews of long-term fire use in the country’s grasslands, the ecology of grasslands and fire in South Africa, of early debates over fire, and scientific fire research and management in the country. It assesses the contributions of key actors to developing knowledge and policy on the ecological effects of fire in grasslands, using their trajectories as a means of reconsidering scientific expertise in light of recent developments in South African historiography in particular, and in the “new imperial history” more generally. The paper provides a more nuanced view of the development of fire research, policy and management practice in South Africa’s grasslands over the course of the twentieth century.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication following peer review. The version of record is available online at the link above.
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): environmental history, fire, south africa, grasslands, history of science
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Simon Pooley
    Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2017 12:00
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:34


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