Position: Professor

MAIL: ishikawa [at]

Research Departments

Global Humanosphere


Area Studies, Social Anthropology

Research Interests

・tropical biomass society
・plantation and society

The equatorial zone has accumulated the highest concentration of biomass due to greater solar radiation energy and heavier rainfall. The region under study has also been a most fertile ground for resource commodification. Such a tropical zone has gone through fast-paced metamorphoses in the past several decades with the changing status of biomass from jungle produce, cultivated rubber, timber, to oil palm and acacia mangium as potential energy sources in the post-petroleum era.

        The fundamental transformation of biomass is a common feature of societies of insular Southeast Asia. The landscape of rainforest-cum-plantation fields offers an analytical locale to examine a biomass shift under the organizational power of the state and structural power of capitalism, with new projects of time-space compression, where deforestation, plantation, and reforestation are simultaneously at work, with green agendas for the global energy crisis and climate change. The formula for co-existence of planted forest (acacia mangium and oil palm plantation) with the sound socio-economic base for the survival of local communities can only be figured out by cross-disciplinary studies composed of social and natural sciences.

        My project is a multi-sited, multi-disciplinary empirical study, a strategic combination of field sciences. To understand the transformation of biomass society in the tropics, the research seeks to examine the articulation points between social systems and natural systems. Both social and natural sciences have long engaged in the study of connections. From community, region, nation-state, to empire — or from patch to landscape, scaling and rescaling the units of analysis in time and space to comprehend how constituent parts of a system are related, and distant places linked. Such engagements in the study and theorization of interconnections, however, have usually been pursued without connecting their thoughts to other attempts, and a common ground for the confluence between geosphere, biosphere and human habitat has not been fully investigated. While the science of nature and technology deals with material flows such as water, gases, and minerals through physical and biological processes, social science looks into commodity chains and levels of socio-cultural, economic, and political integrations and disintegrations. The development of Bornean plantation field is morally endorsed and financially backed up by the international community in search of a sustainable development path for human society. Planted forests of oil palm and acacia mangium as a potential energy source are regarded as good for carbon emissions, and people on Wall Street produce products for the securitization of tropical biomass under the newly proposed REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiative. The threshold between nature and non-nature is now being arbitrarily manipulated by capitalists, the states, and international organizations. Articulating the field study of local peoples, cultures, and landscapes, namely anthropology, geography, history, political economy, environmental economics, plant and animal ecology, hydrology, soil science, area informatics, and forest ecology, a research team is organized for examining the multi-dimensional driving forces of change in human/non-human interactions in a heterogeneous landscape consisting of oil/acacia plantations, primary and secondary forests, and swidden fields.

  • Noboru Ishikawa and Ryoji Soda (eds.). Anthropogenic Tropical Forests: Interactions between Nature and Society on the Plantation Frontier, Tokyo, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London, Springer
  • Noboru Ishikawa and Jayl Langub, Community, River and Basin: Watersheds in Northern Sarawak as a Social Linkage, Borneo Studies: Past, Present and Future, (eds.) Victor T. King, Zawawi Ibrahim and Noor Hasharina Hassan, Singapore and London, Springer