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Tameka Samuels-Jones

Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology and Criminology & Law
2018-2019 Rothman Doctoral Fellow


Tameka Samuels-Jones addressed questions about conflicting state regulations and indigenous cultural beliefs in the Blue and John Crow Mountains of Jamaica in her talk. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 the site is still threatened by illegal deforestation, water pollution, and poaching. Focusing on three groups — the maroons, Rastafarians, and local coffee farmers — Samuels-Jones’ work provided insight into the cultural and legal factors that determine how to govern natural resources successfully.

Samuels-Jones with one of the farmers in the Blue Mountains, Jamaica (PHOTO: Tameka Samuels-Jones)

Specifically, her dissertation research  examines how beliefs and cultural identities impact peoples’ compliance with state environmental regulations, and how non-compliance is managed.

With funds from her fellowship, Samuels-Jones traveled to the Blue and John Crow Mountains where there is ongoing environmental degradation from river contamination, deforestation, soil erosion, and solid waste dumping. She spent time with communities around Moore Town (a maroon community descended from escaped enslaved persons) and went on patrol with park rangers in Blue Mountains to get their perspective on groups engaged in environmentally damaging behavior. She also conducted document analysis to examine legislative documents and enforcement data.

She found that managing the area’s environmental health involved complex negotiations and combinations of state and NGO-co-management with individual local communities and their own socio-political and religious systems. Each group — the maroons, the Rastafarians, and the local farmers — all had their own political systems and engaged in different kinds of environmentally threatening behavior: maroons hunted protected coneys and were concerned about river poisoning, Rastafarians were concerned about habitat loss and encroachment, and local farmers used pesticides and slash/burn clearing. Furthermore, different religious laws produced varying perspectives on what kind of behavior is acceptable — or not — from an environmental point of view.

Samuels-Jones shared, “Trust, religion, and access to information all mediate how people decide to obey environmental law in complex ways.” She said, “as a result, each group may need a different incentive in order to obey environmental laws.”

Above all, Samuels-Jones advocated for a cultural sociological approach to environmental criminology/policy to help authorities understand the role of dialogue and stakeholder engagement in policy-making and to avoid situations of non-compliance by considering the cultural dynamics and belief systems of the various constituencies they have to work with.